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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 11:01 GMT
Backstage with the Oscar winners
By Victoria Lindrea
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Los Angeles

Dame Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren said an award 'win' was a 'silly word'

A slow start to this year's Academy Awards gave way to a thrilling conclusion, as the winner of the best picture award was finally revealed after weeks of industry speculation.

And it was definitely Martin Scorsese's night. No other winner was greeted with the same exuberant applause both in the ceremony and in the press room.

Stars in the Kodak Theatre rose to their feet in unison as the Academy finally honoured the five-time nominated director.

"Could you double-check the envelope?" quipped the 64-year-old film-maker, as he received his award from a trio of directing contemporaries, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and the man he called his "big brother", Francis Ford Coppola.

'Overwhelming'

When The Departed went on to scoop the biggest award of the night, his triumph was complete.

In the press room, he described his euphoria: "It was an overwhelming moment for me.

"People say it's your year... but I've just been used to not winning it. The winning for me is making the pictures."

Best supporting actor winner Alan Arkin
My preference is to do small films that make absolutely no money whatsoever
Alan Arkin champions independent film

He described how Steven Spielberg "gave me a look" before opening the envelope.

"Perhaps it's a good thing I didn't get it before, because maybe it would have changed the kind of movies I would have made," he told us.

"I wanted to see him bring it home," said Graham King, the 45-year-old British producer of The Departed, who also worked with Scorsese on Gangs of New York and The Aviator.

"There is no-one in this world who respects film and loves film like Marty. He is the king."

It was a rare sight to see just one producer collect the best picture award - and one that must have delighted the Academy, who have been at pains to cut down on the number of producers accepting the award.

Vodka Gimlet

But it must have been another kick in the teeth for Paramount chief Brad Grey, who was denied a producer's credit on The Departed - and went on to see Paramount pic Babel win just one of its seven nominations.

"Brad deserved a credit on the film, he did so much for the picture," said King. "But I don't make the rules."

In contrast to The Departed's triumph, the acting honours largely followed predictions.

Melissa Etheridge
He's the only naked man that will ever be in my bedroom
Best song composer Melissa Etheridge on her Oscar statuette

Best actress winner and longtime favourite Dame Helen Mirren, a Vodka Gimlet in one hand and an Oscar in the other, launched effortlessly into French with a journalist in the press room.

Shimmering in gold, she said she felt "quite calm" ahead of the ceremony, but denied that there was any truth in the rumour she would received call from the Queen and an invite to Buckingham Palace.

"I wouldn't expect it," she said. "I think it's wonderful that I live in a country where we are allowed to make a film like this."

She added that despite being the limited British success at this year's Oscars, there was still much to celebrate.

"Win is such a silly word. British talent won big time in their recognition. Who walks away with the award is not important."

"Film is getting more global and I think that's great."

It was a common theme of the evening, with host Ellen DeGeneres, Al Gore and best actor winner Forest Whitaker all seizing on the evening's international flavour.

'Tingling'

Whitaker said the 79th Oscars had honoured "people from all over the world, stories that are reflecting the diversity of humanity".

"And right now we need that. We have to pay attention and understand that I affect them, and you affect me."

Reflecting on his personal triumph, he added: "I thought something magic was going to happen to me because I could feel the breath on my neck, the tingling in my body - to me that's like my ancestors speaking to me."

"This is a great night."

A beaming Jennifer Hudson made a belated entry to the press room, after her robust performance in the Dreamgirls song sequence.

And she was still in good voice, insisting it was "going to take a long time" to get used to her newfound Oscar-winning status.

Academy Award-winning actors
The acting winners shared one another's triumph

In time-honoured tradition, the winners fell over themselves to pay tribute to fellow nominees, crews and co-stars.

Best foreign film director Florian Henckel von Donnersmack even thanked California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Arnie seems to be the ultimate embodiment of the fact that you can achieve anything you dream of," said the exuberant German film-maker. "He really inspired me as a child."

At least best supporting actor Alan Arkin brought the evening's events to an irreverent close.

The 72-year-old star was last nominated in 1969.

"Everybody thinks I'm going to keel over in a year or two, so they thought they would give me a little bonus," he said.

"I feel like a hypocrite because I don't believe in competition between artists. I think it's insane."

Insane it may well be. But this was certainly one of the saner Academy Award ceremonies, honouring finely crafted, thoughtful films - and a classic Hollywood statesman.


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