Monday, February 25, 2008

Marion Cotillard best actress, 'No Country' leads Oscars

France's Marion Cotillard was crowned best actress at the 80th Academy Awards here Sunday as violent thriller "No Country for Old Men" bagged two early Oscars.

Cotillard, 32, won for her astounding performance as tragic chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose," becoming the first Frenchwoman to win the best actress Oscar since Simone Signoret in 1960.

It was the only second time in Oscars history that the best actress award had gone to a performance in a non-English speaking role. Italian legend Sophia Loren was the other woman to achieve the feat in 1962.

Cotillard, who received the award from 2007 best actor Forest Whitaker, paid tribute to her director before exclaiming: "Thank you life, thank you love. It is true that there are some angels in this city. Thank you so, so much."

In other early honors, pre-Oscars favorite "No Country for Old Men" took an early lead in the overall awards stakes by winning two statuettes in the best supporting actor and adapted screenplay categories.

Javier Bardem became the first performer from Spain ever to win an acting Oscar for his portrayal of a psychopathic hitman in the film.

"This is pretty amazing, it's a great honor for me to have this," Bardem told guests in his acceptance speech.

"Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think that I could do that and put one of the most horrible haircuts in history on my head," he added, referring to the bizarre coiffure given to his character in the film.

The film's directors -- Joel and Ethan Coen -- later won the best adapted screenplay Oscar for "No Country for Old Men."

Britain's Tilda Swinton was crowned best supporting actress for her performance as a scheming corporate legal chief in the drama "Michael Clayton."

"Oh, no. Happy birthday, man," Swinton said, clutching her Oscar statuette. "I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this. Really truly the same shape head and, it has to be said, the buttocks."

In other early awards, Disney-Pixar's "Ratatouille", about a Parisian rat who attempts to become a master-chef, won the best animated feature Oscar.

Earlier, dark clouds and rain failed to put a dampener on the movie industry's biggest party of the year as stars lit up the red carpet.

Streets around the venue were cordoned off as authorities draped a security blanket over the neighborhood where guests arrived on a red carpet that has been shielded by a waterproof canopy.

The Oscars are expected to be carved up between several violent movies, with the eight-times nominated "No Country for Old Men" heading the field and its directors, the Coen brothers, eyeing a place in history.

Oscar host Jon Stewart quipped about the crop of "Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies" in his opening monologue.

"Does this town need a hug? What happened? 'No Country For Old Men?' 'Sweeney Todd?' 'There Will Be Blood?' All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy. I think the country agrees," Stewart said in a nod to best picture nominee "Juno."

The Coens could set a new record if they sweep all four categories they have been personally nominated in -- best picture as producers, director, adapted screenplay and editing.

It would be the first time ever that anyone has won four Academy Awards for the same film in one year, although Walt Disney scooped four Oscars for different projects in 1953.

On paper, "No Country for Old Men's" biggest rival is the eight-time nominated oil industry epic "There Will Be Blood," which is joined in the best picture category by legal thriller "Michael Clayton," historical drama "Atonement" and comedy "Juno."

Beyond the contests for best picture and best director clear front-runners have emerged in most of the acting categories.

Daniel Day-Lewis is regarded as a shoo-in to win the second best actor statuette of his career for playing an oil baron in "There Will Be Blood," ahead of George Clooney ("Michael Clayton") and Tommy Lee Jones for "In the Valley of Elah."

This year's Oscars are taking place after months of uncertainty following the Hollywood screenwriters strike that wreaked havoc with the entertainment industry's awards season.

The Golden Globes were canceled after stars vowed to boycott the event in support of striking writers and fears of a similar no-show had plagued the Oscars until the strike was called off earlier this month.