The winner takes it all

Los Angeles, Feb 25 | Updated: Feb 26 2008, 05:54am hrs
The Coen brothers completed their journey from the fringes to Hollywoods mainstream, their crime saga No Country for Old Men winning four Academy Awards, including best picture, in a ceremony that also featured a strong international flavor.

On Sunday night, Europeans swept the acting categories. British actor Daniel Day-Lewis and Frances Marion Cotillard were best lead actor and actress. The supporting actor and actress prizes went to Spains Javier Bardem and British actress Tilda Swinton.

The only other time in the Oscars 80-year history that all four acting winners were foreign born was 1964, when the recipients were Britons Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Peter Ustinov and Russian Lila Kedrova.

Bardem won for supporting actor in No Country, which earned Joel and Ethan Coen, best director, best adapted screenplay and the best-picture honor as producers.

Accepting the directing honor alongside his brother, Joel Coen recalled how they were making films since childhood, including one at the Minneapolis airport, called Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go. What we do now doesnt feel that much different from what we were doing then, Joel Coen said. Were very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox.

Day-Lewis won his second best-actor Academy Award for the oil-boom epic There Will Be Blood, while La Vie En Rose star Cotillard was a surprise winner for best actress, riding the spirit of Edith Piaf to Oscar triumph over British screen legend Julie Christie, who had been expected to win for Away From Her.

Swinton won for her portrayal of a malevolent attorney in Michael Clayton.

As a raging, conniving, acquisitive petroleum pioneer caught up in Californias oil boom of the early 20th century, Day-Lewis won for a part that could scarcely have been more different than his understated role as a writer with severe cerebral palsy in 1989s My Left Foot. My deepest thanks to the academy for whacking me with the handsomest bludgeon in town, Day-Lewis said.

Day-Lewis walked up the steps to accept his trophy from Helen Mirren, then went down on one knee before her, head bowed. Mirren, last years best-actress winner for The Queen, picked up his cue, touching Lewiss Oscar to his shoulders as she would a royal sword. Thats the closest Ill ever come to getting a knighthood, the Englishman said.

The Coens missed out on a chance to make Oscar historyfour wins for a single filmwhen they lost the editing prize, for which they were nominated under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.

The Bourne Ultimatum won the editing Oscar and swept all three categories in which it was nominated, including sound editing and sound mixing. Past winners for their screenplay to 1996s Fargo, Joel and Ethan Coen joined an elite list of filmmakers to win three Oscars in a single night, including Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Part II), James Cameron (Titanic) and Billy Wilder (The Apartment).

Cotillard, the first winner ever for a French-language performance, tearfully thanked her director, Olivier Dahan. Maestro Olivier, you rocked my life. You have truly rocked my life, said Cotillard, a French beauty who is a dynamo as Piaf, playing the warbling chanteuse through three decades, from raw late teens as a singer rising from the gutter through international stardom and her final days in her frail 40s.

Thank you, life; thank you, love. And it is true there (are) some angels in this city, she said. AP

A relatively fresh face in Hollywood, Cotillard has US credits that include Big Fish, A Good Year and the upcoming Public

Enemies, featuring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

With a heartbreaking turn as a woman succumbing to Alzheimers in

Away From Her, Christie had been expected to win her second

Oscar. She won best actress 42 years ago for Darling.

Heavies ruled the first acting prizes. Along with Day-Lewis greedy oilman, Bardem played an unshakable executioner in No Country and Swinton played a conniving attorney who stops at nothing to achieve her goals in a $3 billion class-action lawsuit in Michael Clayton. I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this, said Swinton, fondly looking at her Oscar statuette.

Really, truly, the same shape head, and it has to be said, the buttocks. And Im giving this to him, because theres no way Id be in America at all, ever, on a plane if it wasnt for him, said

Swinton, who was born in London into a patrician Scottish military family. Talking to reporters backstage, Swinton still was in disbelief, saying she initially thought I heard someone elses name and suddenly, slowly heard my own when she was announced as the winner for her role as a ruthless attorney. Im still recovering from that moment, and I have absolutely no idea what happened after that, Swinton said. So, you know, you can tell me my dress fell off and Id believe you, so dont be cruel.

Bardem won for his fearsome turn in No Country. Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head, said Bardem, referring to the sinister variation of a pageboy bob his character sported.

Mickey Mouse gained a rival as Hollywoods favorite rodent as the rat tale, Ratatouille was named best animated film, the second Oscar win in the category for director Brad Bird.

The ceremonys montage of photos and film clips of stars, filmmakers and others in cinema who died in the past year ended with a scene from Brokeback Mountain featuring Australian actor Heath Ledger, who died of a drug overdose last month.

Glen Hansard, of the Irish band the Frames and Marketa Irglova, both non-actors who starred in the musical romance Once, won the best-song Oscar for Falling Slowly, one of several tunes they wrote for the film. What are we doing here This is mad, Hansard said, recounting the low-budget history of Once. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred-grand. We never thought wed come into a room like this and be in front of all you people.

Irglova, a 19-year-old Czech, did not get a chance to speak because the orchestra played after Hansard spoke. She was brought out a second time to make her victory speech.

The song won over three nominated tunes from Enchanted, written by composer Alan Menken, an eight-time Oscar winner, and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, a three-time winner, whose previous academy prizes included their song and score collaborations for Pocahontas.

The sound-mixing win for The Bourne Ultimatum extended the years of Oscar futility for Kevin OConnell, a nominee for Transformers, who holds an academy record: 20 nominations, no wins.

The documentary prize went to Taxi to the Dark Side, a war-on-terror chronicle that centers on an innocent Afghan cab driver killed while in detention.

Box-office dud The Golden Compass scored an upset for visual effects over the blockbusters Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End.

Other early winners included Elizabeth: The Golden Age for costume design, La Vie En Rose for makeup and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for art direction.

The Oscar broadcast began with a fanfare and an effects-laden opening segment, showing key characters and creatures from past films lining Hollywood Boulevard.

Host Jon Stewart started his opening monologue with a wisecrack about the 100-day writers strike that ended just in time for the Oscars to come off as usual. These past three and a half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writers strike, but Im happy to say that the fight is over, Stewart said. So tonight, welcome to the makeup sex.

AP