A Kiwi connection helped the blockbuster Avatar save some face yesterday as its low-budget rival The Hurt Locker took out the most coveted Academy Awards.
The director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, battled her way into the Oscar history books to top her movie's best film honour with her own award for directing to become the first woman ever to earn that distinction.
The low-budget film, which has earned US$20 million ($28 million) at box offices, sidelined Avatar, directed by Bigelow's ex-husband James Cameron.
'This really is, there's no other way to describe it, it's the moment of a lifetime," said Bigelow. Backstage, she said that she hoped she was only the first of many women directors to win an Oscar.
Avatar is the top-grossing movie of all time with US$2.5 billion of takings.
New Zealand-based Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones won the special effects award for Weta Digital for their work on the film.
Aucklander Kim Sinclair won a gong for Avatar's set decoration. The movie also won for cinematography.
Sinclair's cellphone was "going off" as he stood on stage to accept his Oscar.
Speaking to the Herald from the Hollywood ceremony, he said he was feeling "amazing".
But while on stage he was also very mindful of his phone, which he had failed to turn off.
"I was getting texts on stage. My phone was vibrating on and on in my pocket, on stage, and I thought: 'What the hell's going on'?
"I knew it was all my family and friends and the Wellington lot sure to be getting drunk."
As he was on stage, a party was going on at the Loaded Hog in Wellington where a crowd had gathered to celebrate New Zealand's successes.
Weta Digital staff were toasting their special effects win.
One of the company's visual effects supervisors on Avatar, Wayne Stables, said: "We are incredibly proud of everybody we work with."
Back in Hollywood, Letteri thanked Eileen Moran and "everyone at Weta Digital for your talent and creativity" during his acceptance speech.
Sinclair acted as supervising art director while Avatar was being filmed in Wellington.
It was disappointing the film had not come out on top for best picture, he said, but he still believed Avatar was the pick of the crop.
The hard work on the movie put in by "hundreds" of New Zealanders had been recognised, he said, and he acknowledged that Kiwi talent was still on the rise and in demand.
Other awards went to veteran actor Jeff Bridges, claimed best actor for playing a drunken country singer in drama Crazy Heart.
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.
"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.
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 honour.
Austrian actor Christoph Waltz won best supporting actor for his turn as a menacing Nazi officer in the controversial revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds, which follows a band of American Jews killing their enemies behind lines during World War II.
- additional reporting Agencies