The one Oscar surprise _ a minor one _ came at 11:25 p.m. EST Sunday. "Crash" provided it, breaking the script that had been written for the 78th Academy Awards for months _ that Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney, Ang Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel Weisz and "Brokeback Mountain" would win Oscars, as they had all the pre-Oscar awards.
But "Crash" crashed the party at the end of a long, utterly predictable night.
All night long, Hollywood celebrated being "out of touch, out of step," as host Jon Stewart put it. Movies out of the mainstream were honored as Hollywood celebrated a past notable for its activism, and being ahead of the curve on issues from civil rights and AIDS to the dangers of nuclear power.
Clooney, winner for best supporting actor in the controversial oil-government-terrorism thriller "Syriana," proclaimed pride at being a member of a community that "is a little bit out of touch," noting how Hollywood honored "Hattie McDaniel (for "Gone With the Wind") when black people were still having to sit in the back of theaters."
Best supporting actress winnerWeisz singled out "The Constant Gardener" author John Le Carre "who wrote this unflinching, angry story" about governments and big drug companies and corruption in Africa.
Adapted screenplay co-winner Diana Ossana declared that "the duty of art is to send a light into the darkness of men's hearts," a reference to the controversy over "Brokeback Mountain's" gay love story. And Paul Haggis, the writer-director of "Crash," quoted Bertolt Brecht, that "art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer" to help shape it.
Honoring a year where the movies drew fewer movie-goers, the Oscars looked backward, spinning tributes to film biographies, film noir and director Robert Altman.
And Oscar simply recapped the motion picture awards season, and rewarded the actors, directors and films that have earned all the plaudits since last fall. Clooney, Weisz, best-actor winner Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote"), best actress Witherspoon ("Walk the Line") and "Brokeback" director Ang Lee.
To counter the forgone-conclusions, the show was slicked up, if not sped up, with glitzier production values and string music layered underneath the acceptance speeches, which tended to hurry and occasionally distract the winners.
Still, Clooney managed to joke about his future obituary ("sexiest man alive, 1997"), and Witherspoon had the grace to remember the woman she played, the late June Carter Cash.
"People used to ask June how she was doing, and she'd say, `I'm just tryin' to matter.' And I know what she means. I'm just tryin' to matter."
This was the least buzzed-about Oscars in recent memory. Although "Brokeback Mountain" has entered the cultural vernacular, few of the nominated films were widely known.
After the team that won the Oscar for best original song for "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow" joyously celebrated, Stewart cracked, "How come they're the most excited people here tonight?"
Because the other winners had seem liked sure things, for months.
"Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" won best animated film, and "March of the Penguins" won its expected Oscar for best documentary.
"Brokeback" took Oscars for direction, score and adapted screenplay. "Crash" won best picture, original script and editing. "Memoirs of a Geisha" took Oscars for cinematography, art direction and costumes. The blockbuster "The Chronicles of Narnia" won an Oscar for makeup, and "King Kong" won for visual effects, sound editing and mixing.