First-timers rule at this year’s Oscars

“If there were no blacks, Jews or gays, there would be no Oscars,” Ellen DeGeneres said in her opening speech as this year’s host of the Academy Awards. The light-hearted and celebratory nature created by DeGeneres in the first 10 minutes of the often dry and monotonous award show set the stage for a night full of well-produced performances and welcomed comic relief.

To revive the dying plain of televised award shows, much care was put into making this year’s Oscars entertaining while retaining the integrity that the awards hold.

Compared to recent years’ Academy Awards, Sunday’s broadcast featured many genuine laughs, such as a musical number where Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly lamented over the self-proclaimed “snub” of modern day comedians at high-name award shows.

Other standout moments included the performance of a choir specializing in sound effects and the presentation of the award for best animated film in which the 10-year-old star of “Little Miss Sunshine,” Abigail Breslin, and co-star to father Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” 8-year old Jaden Smith, stumbled over the words on the teleprompter.

However, the night wasn’t completely focused around pure entertainment; this year’s show set a record for the most nominated foreign films and actors, with Mexico’s surprise critical hit “Pan’s Labyrinth” leading the pack. Although it failed to win the award for best foreign film, it did pick up three for art direction, makeup and cinematography.

The night was also for first-time winners, as each of the five main awards were won by novices to the Academy Awards’ stage. In an unexpected win, Alan Arkin got the award for best supporting actor as the drug-addicted grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine,” beating expected category winner Eddie Murphy. However, Murphy’s “Dreamgirls” castmate, former “American Idol” contestant Jennifer Hudson, made her much-anticipated walk to the podium for her incredibly moving portrayal of the emotionally-destructive Effie White in the Motown-inspired musical.

The best actor and actress awards were also received by first-time winners: Forrest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland” and Helen Mirren for “The Queen.”

In the much-coveted award for best director, six-time nominee Martin Scorsese accepted his first Oscar to a standing ovation for “The Departed.” Along with best editing and adapted screenplay, “The Departed” also triumphed over “Babel,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “The Queen” for top prize: best picture of the year.

The awards show also featured a collection of musical numbers, with performances by Melissa Etheridge, who sang “I Need to Wake Up,” which later went on to win best original song, and Celine Dion, who sang as part of a tribute to famed Italian film composer Ennio Morricone.

There was also a medley of songs from “Dreamgirls,” performed by Hudson, Beyonc? Knowles, Anika Noni Rose and Keith Robinson.

Although the show began to drag after midnight, the performances and fresh air brought about by the bright-eyed, first-time winners made this year’s Oscars one of the most memorable in recent history.