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Leo’s win capped an unusual career surge in middle age for the 50-year-old actress, who had moderate success on TV’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” in her 30s but leaped to big-screen stardom in her late 40s, a time when most actresses find good roles hard to come by.

In disbelief when she took the stage, Leo said, “Pinch me.” Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, who presented her award, obliged with a little pinch on her arm.

Bale earned the same prize his Batman co-star, the late Heath Ledger, received posthumously two years ago for “The Dark Knight.” At the time, Bale had fondly recalled a bit of professional envy as he watched Ledger perform on set like a whirlwind as the diabolical Joker while the film’s star had to remain clenched up as the stoic, tightly wound Batman.

“The Fighter” gave Bale his turn to unleash some demons as Dicky Eklund, a boxer whose career unraveled amid crime and drug abuse. Bale delivers a showy performance full of tics and tremors, bobbing and weaving around the movie’s star and producer, Mark Wahlberg, who plays Eklund’s stolid brother, boxer Micky Ward.

Best-picture front-runner “The King’s Speech,” a tale of Britain’s stammering King George VI that led contenders with 12 nominations, also won for best original screenplay for writer David Seidler.

The win capped a lifelong dream for Seidler, a boyhood stutterer born in London in 1937, a year after George took the throne. Seidler, who overcame his own stutter at age 16, had long vowed to one day write about the monarch whose fortitude set an example for him in childhood.

Seidler thanked Queen Elizabeth II, daughter of King George, “For not putting me in the Tower of London for using the Melissa Leo F-word.” The film includes two scenes where the king spouts profanity in anger to help force out his syllables.

The Oscar for adapted screenplay went to Aaron Sorkin for “The Social Network,” a chronicle of the birth of Facebook based on Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires.” “The Social Network” also won for musical score for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and for film editing.

The sci-fi blockbuster “Inception,” which came in with eight nominations, led with four wins, for visual effects, cinematography, sound editing and sound mixing.

“Inside Job,” an exploration of the 2008 economic meltdown, won for best documentary, which proved an uncommonly lively category this time.

The Oscar buildup featured speculation about whether Banksy, a mystery man of the street-art world, might show up for his awards entry, “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” If he was at the Oscars, he did not declare himself.

But it was the topic on most people’s minds the last two years, the economy, that resonated among Oscar voters. “Inside Job” director Charles Ferguson subjected Wall Street players, economists and bureaucrats to a fierce cross-examination to depict the economic crisis as a colossal crime perpetrated on the working-class masses by a greedy few.

“Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong,” Ferguson said.

“Toy Story 3,” last year’s top-grossing release and a contender for best picture, won the fourth-straight animated-feature Oscar for Disney’s Pixar Animation unit. Pixar has produced six of the 10 Oscar recipients for animation since the category was added, including “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E” and last year’s winner, “Up.”

It was an odd backdrop for a Pixar win, the Oscar ceremony using visual effects to present the award in front of a re-creation of Far Far Away, the fairy-tale realm of Disney rival DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” movies. The original “Shrek” won the first Oscar for feature animation, but unlike the durable “Toy Story” franchise, the “Shrek” series finished with a critical dud, last year’s “Shrek Forever After.”

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