The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow battled her way into Oscar history books on Sunday, topping her movie's best film honor with her own Academy Award for directing to become the first woman ever to earn that distinction.
The low-budget film, which has earned USD billion at box offices, picked up six awards in all and bested Avatar, directed by Bigelow's ex-husband James Cameron. Avatar is the top-grossing movie of all time with USD 2.5 billion.
In a ceremony that harkened back to old Hollywood with glamour, music and comedy, the gritty drama about a squad of bomb-defusing specialists also secured writer Mark Boal the Academy Award for original screenplay and claimed honors for film editing, sound editing and mixing.
"This really is, there's no other way to describe it, it's the moment of a lifetime," said Bigelow, the first female best director in the Academy Awards' 82-year history.
She said she hoped to be the "first of many" women filmmakers to win the honor and that the female modifier "would be a moot point" in the future.
Boal highlighted the struggle to make the movie when only a few years ago in Hollywood money for such true-life drama was hard to find after audiences turned their backs on war films.
"This has been a dream, beyond a dream," said Boal, a journalist who was embedded with US troops in Iraq.
At best, he said, the film's makers hoped "we would find a distributor and someone would like the movie."
For its part, Avatar walked away with three Oscars, but in technical categories -- visual effects, cinematography and art direction.
FAMILY NIGHT AT OSCAR
Veteran Jeff Bridges claimed best actor for playing a drunken country singer in drama Crazy Heart.
The son of Hollywood star Lloyd Bridges held his trophy high over his head, looking to the heavens and thanking his deceased parents.
"Mom and Dad, yeah," he shouted. "Thank you Mom and Dad for turning me on to such a groovy profession."
Sandra Bullock was named best actress for The Blind Side in a first for the actress once dubbed America's Sweetheart because she won so many early fans in her romantic comedies.
For The Blind Side, however, she took the part of a real-life, strong-willed mother who helps take a homeless youth off the street and makes him into a football success.
"Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?" she joked on the Oscars stage.
She held back tears when thanking her own mother, whom she called "a trailblazer" and major influence in her own life.
"To the moms who take care of the babies, no matter where they come from. Those moms never get thanked," Bullock said.
Family film Up, one of the best-reviewed movies of 2009, won two Oscars for best animated movie and original score with its tale of an elderly man who ties balloons to his home and flies off on an adventure with a young boy.
Dark drama Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire also earned two Oscars including best supporting actress for Mo'Nique and, in another piece of Academy Award history, adapted screenplay for writer Geoffrey Fletcher, who became the first African American to claim that honor.
RECALLING HOLLYWOOD HISTORY
Mo'Nique told reporters backstage that in her hair she wore the same gardenia Hattie McDaniel had when she won supporting actress in Gone With the Wind -- a trailblazing win because it was the first ever Oscar for an African American.
"I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all she had to so that I would not have to," Mo'Nique said on stage.
Austrian actor Christoph Waltz won best supporting actor for his turn as a menacing Nazi officer in revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds, which follows a band of American Jews killing their enemies behind lines during World War Two.
But it was the only trophy Quentin Tarantino's Basterds could claim from eight nods, behind nine apiece for Hurt Locker and Avatar.
Oscar organizers promised a fast-paced show with lots of laughs from co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. And after an old-style musical from by Neil Patrick Harris with showgirls and men in tuxedos and tails, Baldwin and Martin put on a stand-up routine picking out stars in the audience.
"There's that damn Helen Mirren," Martin said.
"No Steve, that's Dame Helen Mirren," Baldwin came back.
On the red carpet fashion parade before the awards, Hollywood's leading ladies like Bullock, Cameron Diaz and Zoe Saldana dazzled fans with gowns in many colors and shimmering metallics.
Choices were bold and less restrained than in previous awards shows this season.