Her tense Iraq war drama, The Hurt Locker, was named Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Bigelow became the first female Best Director winner ever Sunday at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.
What was supposed to be a tight pas de deux between The Hurt Locker and the technically groundbreaking Avatar turned out to be no contest. Aside from picture and director honors, The Hurt Locker topped Avatar in the editing, sound mixing and sound editing categories en route to collecting a field-leading six Oscars, out of nine chances.
Avatar, relegated to technical wins in the end, bagged Oscars for art direction, visual effects and cinematography.
Though the acting wins were foregone conclusions, they still supplied some lovely moments.
From America's sweetheart to Academy darling, Sandra Bullock capped off the best year of her career with the win for Best Actress for playing a well-off Southern woman who completely turns around the life of an underprivileged black teen in the based-on-a-true-story The Blind Side.
"Did I really earn this, or did I just wear y'all down?" Bullock, fighting tears already, asked when she reached the stage. In nods to her fellow nominees, she said how much she loves Gabourey Sidibe, how Carey Mulligan's elegance, beauty and talent "make me sick," how words can't describe how she feels about Helen Mirren and, last but not least, what a good kisser Meryl Streep is.
She also gave an emotional shout-out to her late mother, and a final thank-you to "my lover, Meryl Streep."
Jeff Bridges, after years of unsung consistency, finally got what was coming to him, scoring the Oscar for the Best Actor for playing Crazy Heart's Bad Blake, an alcoholic country singer in need of redemption. (And he should also win an Emmy for best use of the word man in an acceptance speech.)
"Thank you, Mom and Dad, for turning me on to such a groovy profession," Bridges said, looking skyward in tribute to his late actor parents, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges.
"First, I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics," the 42-year-old comedian said in accepting the award for her breakout dramatic role as a monstrously abusive mom in Precious.
"I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to," Mo'Nique said, nodding to the Gone With the Wind star, the first black woman to win an Oscar, "[Precious producers] Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, because you touched it—the whole world saw it." She went on to thank her lawyer, her families from Precious and BET, and, as always, her husband.
But while the supporting actress category was about as unsuspenseful as it gets, it's not like its male counterpart was a nail-biter or anything.
Christoph Waltz, a winner at Cannes nearly a year ago, capped off the most dominating awards seasons in recent memory for a European actor with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
"Quentin, with his unorthodox methods of navigation, this fearless explorer, took this ship across and brought it in with flying colors, and that's why I'm here," the eloquent Austrian said, bringing his metaphorical tale of a journey well taken to a close.
But Inglourious Basterds' winning streak ended there, with the gory reimagining of World War II ultimately only going one for eight.
The Hurt Locker scribe Mark Boal ended up blowing past Quentin Tarantino, the early favorite to win for Best Original Screenplay. In addition to the usual suspects, including Bigelow, he thanked the 200,000-plus troops still serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, the thousands who didn't make it home, and his late father, who died just last month.
Tarantino didn't seem to let the loss spoil his time, though, going on to heartily applaud John Travolta, who introduced Inglourious Basterds as a Best Picture nominee, and to join Pedro Almodóvar in presenting Best Foreign Language Film to The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos) from Argentina.
"I want to thank the Academy for not considering Na'vi a foreign language," director Juan José Campanella said, more earnestly than not.
More of an upset occurred when Geoffrey Fletcher, who adapted Precious for the big screen, sent the favored Up in the Air team of Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner plummeting to earth with his win for Best Adapted Screenplay. In the end, Up in the Air flew home empty-handed, zero for six.
"This is for everybody who works on a dream every day," Fletcher began and, after singling out his brothers and director Lee Daniels, ultimately became overcome with emotion and just thanked "everyone."
"I wrote that speech for him," quipped Oscar cohost Steve Martin, who, along with Alec Baldwin (and at times, George Clooney, whose smooth-shaven face had to have been the one most panned to throughout the ceremony), kept the tone light, the jokes plentiful (if at times corny) and Meryl Streep laughing hysterically.
Though the theme of the night is always Hollywood glamour and good-natured ribbing among colleagues, producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic were looking to improve flagging ratings tweak the traditional format from minute one.
There's only so much you can do to tweak a classic, but they gave it the old-school try.
The ceremony kicked off with all the actors nominated for lead roles taking the stage for a special introduction, perhaps a routine moment in the spotlight for the likes of Streep and Morgan Freeman, but a well-deserved debut for Oscar newcomers Colin Firth, Jeremy Renner, Mulligan and Sidibe, who made the most of it with a cute little "aren't I hot" pose-off when her name was called.
Next came Neil Patrick Harris, tuxedo jacket sparkling, whose little ditty about the fun of doing things in pairs managed to reference everyone from Bing Crosby to Fred and Ginger to Team Jacob.
"Nearly every day, someone taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Hey, Ferris, is this your day off?' " Broderick revealed.
In an attempt to rein in the often unwieldy broadcast, which is no stranger to crossing the four-hour mark (and would have only gotten longer with five extra Best Picture nominees to introduce), the producers first let it be known beforehand that acceptance speeches should be kept short, and second, decided not to include live performances of the nominees for Best Original Song.
So when T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham went up to accept the Oscar for "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart from presenters Miley Cyrus and Amanda Seyfried, both dolled up like Disney princesses in strapless, full-skirted ball gowns, it happened far earlier than it would have in recent years.
"I'd like to thank my wife, Anna. I love you more than rainbows, baby," Bingham said, a country-perfect sentiment.
Shankman's fingerprints were all over the dance medley for the Best Original Score nominees, though—considering he's a resident judge on So You Think You Can Dance, its inclusion was hardly surprising.
That Oscar went to Michael Giacchino's music for Up, which was also named Best Animated Feature.
A little more surprising—and yet not, when you consider the success of torture porn, low-budget hits like Paranormal Activity (great parody, Alec and Steve!) and the resurgence of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises—was the bloody tribute to horror films, from Nosferatu to New Moon.
The latter obviously isn't really a horror film, but it provided a perfect showcase for the much-hyped presenter pairing of Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, who looked beautiful but uncomfortable (her streak continues!).
And though the broadcast still came in at a sprawling three and a half hours, perhaps the most unwieldy thing was the tail sported by Ben Stiller, in full Na'vi makeup, for what was supposed to be a shared Avatar joke with Sacha Baron Cohen, who dropped out as a presenter.
"The ironic thing is, Avatar isn't even nominated. I should've worn my Spock ears," Stiller said before presenting the award for Best Makeup to the Star Trek team. "I own two pairs from the original series, both signed by Leonard Nimoy, but that would've been too nerdy."
Crisp professionals to the end, Martin and Baldwin managed a witty send-off even with the orchestra already playing the "get the heck out of here" music.
"The show is so long," quipped Martin, "Avatar now takes place in the future."
(Originally published March 7, 2010, at 10:02 p.m. PT)
What wowed and what bombed? The answers in our Oscars Best & Worst.