LOS ANGELES - "No Country for Old Men" was living up to its front-runner status at Sunday's Academy Awards, winning the first two of its eight categories, adapted screenplay for the Coen brothers and supporting actor for Javier Bardem.
Marion Cotillard rode the spirit of Edith Piaf to Oscar triumph, winning the best-actress prize as the French singer in "La Vie En Rose" over favorite Julie Christie, who had been expected to a second Oscar for "Away From Her."
Joel and Ethan Coen are mainly known for their original screenplays, making only two films based on adaptations, "No Country" from Pulitzer winner Cormac McCarthy's novel, and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," loosely inspired by the ancient Greek epic "The Odyssey."
"I think whatever success we've had in this area has been entirely attributable to how selective we are. We've only adapted Homer and Cormac McCarthy," said Joel Coen.
Previous original-screenplay winners for 1996's "Fargo," the Coens came in as the best-picture and directing favorites for "No Country."
If they were to sweep all four categories where they were personally nominated — which included best director, editing under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes and best picture as producers on "No Country" — the Coens would become the first ever to win four Oscars for a single film.
Walt Disney is the only previous winner to earn four Oscars in one night for three short films and a documentary he produced in 1953.
Cotillard tearfully thanked her director, Olivier Dahan.
"Maestro Olivier, you rocked my life. You have truly rocked my life," said Cotillard, a French beauty who is a dynamo as Piaf, playing the warbling chanteuse through three decades, from raw late teens as a singer rising from the gutter through international stardom and her final days in her frail 40s.
"Thank you life, thank you love. And it is true that there are some angels in this city."
A relatively fresh face in Hollywood, Cotillard has U.S. credits that include "Big Fish," "A Good Year" and the upcoming "Public Enemies," featuring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.
With a heartbreaking turn as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's in "Away From Her," Christie had been expected to win her second Oscar. She won best actress 42 years ago for "Darling."
Heavies ruled the first acting prizes: The supporting-performer awards went to Bardem as an unshakable executioner in "No Country" and Tilda Swinton as a malevolent attorney in "Michael Clayton."
"I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this," said Swinton, fondly looking at her Oscar statuette.
"Really, truly, the same shape head, and it has to be said, the buttocks. And I'm giving this to him, because there's no way I'd be in America at all, ever, on a plane if it wasn't for him," said the Scottish actress, who played a conniving attorney who stops at nothing to achieve her goals in a $3 billion class-action lawsuit.
Bardem won for his fearsome turn in "No Country," the first prize of the night for the Coen brothers' front-running crime saga.
"Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head," said Bardem, referring to the sinister variation of a page-boy bob his character sported.
Bardem's character was a terrifying yet perversely amusing presence in "No Country," the best-picture favorite in which his character tosses a coin to decide whether some people he encounters should live or die.
Host Jon Stewart joked that Bardem's haircut in the film combined "Hannibal Lecter's murderousness with Dorothy Hamill's wedge-cut."
Mickey Mouse gained a rival as Hollywood's favorite rodent as the rat tale "Ratatouille" was named best animated film, the second Oscar win in the category for director Brad Bird.
Bird thanked his junior-high guidance counselor, who expressed repeated skepticism over his desire to become a filmmaker. "It went on like this until we were sick of each other," said Bird, who also won the animation Oscar for 2004's "The Incredibles" and shared a nomination for original screenplay for "Ratatouille," a $200 million blockbuster. "I only realized just recently that he gave me the perfect training for the movie business."
The win left Bird with two of the seven Oscars ever given for feature animation, a category added in 2001. It was the third Oscar in the category for the partnership of Pixar Animation and Walt Disney, the studio where Mickey Mouse has been the standard-bearer for 80 years.
Kevin O'Connell, a sound-mixing nominee for sound mixing on "Transformers," extended his years of Oscar futility, padding his academy record of 20 nominations without a win. That prize went to "The Bourne Ultimatum."
Box-office dud "The Golden Compass" scored an upset for visual effects over the blockbusters "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."
Other early winners included "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" for costume design, "La Vie En Rose" for makeup and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" for art direction.
The Oscar broadcast began with a fanfare and an effects-laden opening segment showing key characters and creatures from past films lining Hollywood Boulevard.
Stewart started his opening monologue with a wisecrack about the 100-day writers strike that ended just in time for the Oscars to come off as usual.
"These past three and a half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writer's strike, but I'm happy to say that the fight is over," Stewart said. "So tonight, welcome to the makeup sex."
Stewart joked about this year's crop of "Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies."
"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, referring to best-picture nominee "Juno."
As rain fell throughout much of the day, thousands of fans packed the bleachers and streets around the Kodak Theatre, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hollywood's biggest stars as they arrived for the 80th annual Oscars.
The rain, often heavy, arrived hours before the stars did, drenching fans on Hollywood Boulevard. But the red carpet remained dry under a tent, as did the bleachers where people lucky enough to win tickets by lottery sat waiting to cheer on their favorite stars.