Ten-year-old actress Abigail Breslin has earned Bafta and Oscar nominations for the comedy Little Miss Sunshine, but lost out on the UK honour to Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson.
Breslin's co-star and fellow nominee Toni Colette said before the ceremony that she would "prefer not to win, then I don't have to get up and speak in front of anyone".
The ceremony at London's Royal Opera House saw Pedro Almodovar's Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, beaten to the foreign language film prize by Pan's Labyrinth.
The latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, took just one award for best sound from nine nominations. But Bond girl Eva Green won the rising star honour voted for by the public.
Forest Whitaker was honoured for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. This follows Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and numerous other successes.
The best director award went to Paul Greengrass, for United 93, ahead of rivals including Martin Scorsese and Stephen Frears. The drama depicts one of the 9/11 plane hijackings.
Frears' The Queen took the best picture prize. The drama about the Royal family's reaction to the death of Princess Diana is a contender for the same award at the Oscars.
British acting legend Dame Helen Mirren has enjoyed the greatest awards success of her career with The Queen and is clear favourite for the best actress Oscar later this month.