The curtain rose on the Oscars on Sunday as show hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway kept audiences laughing and an early award for supporting actress went to Melissa Leo in 'The Fighter.'
Leo, who earned her first Oscar nomination for 2008 independent film "Frozen River," was favored to win coming into the world's top film honors playing the strong-willed mother of an up-and-coming champion boxer in "The Fighter."
Still, the veteran actress appeared nervous on stage, said she was speechless, asked presenter Kirk Douglas to pinch her to make sure the moment was real, then had her voice silenced when she uttered an expletive.
"I'm just shaking in my boots here," she said, before thanking her co-stars, director and producer in "The Fighter."
Three other early awards went to "Alice in Wonderland" for best art direction, "Inception" for cinematography and "Toy Story 3" for best animated film.
Co-hosts Franco and Hathaway got the Oscars program off to a comic start in a pre-taped video sequence in which they entered the "dreams" of Alec Baldwin much like the characters of best film nominee "Inception" entered the dreams of other people. From there, the pair traveled back to scenes of other top movie nominees -- "True Grit," "The Social Network," "The Fighter" and "The King's Speech," cracking wise.
"I have good news from the future, microphones get smaller," Hathaway joked in the sequence from "King's Speech."
Back onstage, she introduced her mom in the audience, who told her to stand up straight, and Franco's grandmother exclaimed that she'd just met Marky Mark, the stage name of actor/producer "Mark Wahlberg" when he was a rapper.
Producers also harkened back to Hollywood's history, showing scenes from "Gone With the Wind" and "Titanic."
Red carpet parade
Ahead of the show, top stars began their annual parade up the red carpet and into the Oscars. Hathaway, the youngest host ever for the show, arrived in a strapless, red Valentino gown.
Hailee Steinfeld, nominated for supporting actress in "True Grit," was fashioned by Marchesa in a blush-colored dress that designer Randolph Duke said showed "the perfect balance between being a young girl and a young woman."
While the show and fashion grab an early spotlight, the Oscars, of course are about honoring some of the best movies and performances of the year, and still to come were more than 20 awards, including the top prize, best film.
Royals drama "The King's Speech" and Facebook film "The Social Network" have been locked in a race for months as Hollywood's awards season has played out and honors have been given by industry groups such as the New York Film Critics Circle, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild.
"Social Network," which tells of the rise of Facebook from college-oriented website to global phenomenon, scooped up many early critics awards. But as the season played out, "The King's Speech," which tells of a stuttering British king facing his personal demons, was embraced by numerous professional groups.
Colin Firth, in the starring role of King George VI in "King's Speech," is widely expected to win best actor because he has claimed most honors from both critics and industry groups.
The race for best actress is close between "Black Swan" ballerina Natalie Portman and A-lister Annette Bening playing a lesbian mother with family issues in "The Kids Are All Right." The category of best director is tight between "Facebook" veteran David Fincher and "King's Speech" newcomer Tom Hooper.
Christian Bale is expected to join his "Fighter" co-star Leo with an Oscar for best supporting actor.