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'Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow wins best director Oscar

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the best director and her low-budget war film "The Hurt Locker" earned best picture, roundly trouncing her ex-husband James Cameron's big-budget "Avatar" at last night's Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

"The Hurt Locker" took home six Oscars, including best screenplay, while "Avatar" earned three awards for cinematography, art direction and visual effects.

Another big winner, the urban drama "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," earned Oscars for best adapted screenplay and supporting actress for Mo'Nique, who used her speech to shoot down criticism that she had not campaigned hard enough for the film.

"First," she said, "I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics."

As expected, the leading actor and actress awards went to two veterans but also first-timers. Jeff Bridges won for his role as a broken-down country singer in "Crazy Heart," while Sandra Bullock put her lightweight reputation behind her by winning for leading actress for her portrayal of a Southern mother in "The Blind Side."

"Did I earn this," Bullock wondered aloud in her speech, "or did I just wear y'all down?"

Bridges dedicated his Oscar to his father Lloyd and mother Dorothy: "They loved show biz so much, and I feel an extension of them. This is honoring them as much as it is me."

The close Oscar race played into a broadcast tailored to appeal to an audience that has been dwindling in recent years. A newly expanded best picture category with 10 nominees, up from the usual five, aimed to recognize popular hits like the sci-fi flick "District 9" along with lesser-seen critical favorites like "An Education."

But the show also sought other ways to become a must-see event. A lengthy tribute to horror films gave "Twilight" stars Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner something to present. By contrast, a nostalgic tribute to the late writer-director John Hughes reunited Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and others on stage.

The show recruited two popular comedians, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, as co-hosts, but still threw in awards-show fixture Neil Patrick Harris for a Vegas-style song-and-dance opener.

Among the other major award-winners were "Up" for best animated feature and original score, "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" for best original song and Christoph Waltz for best supporting actor in "Inglourious Basterds."

Some other memorable moments:

HAPPY TO BE HERE. In the show's opening lineup of leading actor and actress nominees, first-timer Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious") celebrated with a little hip-shaking dance.

DEUTSCHE THANKS. Waltz, accepting his award for supporting actor in "Inglourious Basterds" from presenter Penelope Cruz, marveled: "Oscar and Penelope - that's an uber-bingo!"

REAL COUNTRY. Ryan Bingham, accepting for best original song for "The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)," offered a lyrical thanks to his wife: "I love you more than rainbows, baby."

MOMENT OF TRUTH. Baldwin glowingly introduced his "30 Rock" co-star Tina Fey talented and brilliant, adding: "And I'm not just saying that because she revived my career."

WORKING BLUE. Ben Stiller presented the award for best makeup wearing an "Avatar"-style costume (complete with tail), noting that the movie wasn't even nominated.

NICE TOUCH. James Taylor strummed an acoustic version of Lennon and McCartney's "In My Life" to accompany the roll call of celebrities who died in 2009.THE OUTSIDER.

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