Sandra Bullock dressed the part at Sunday's Academy Awards: She wore a gleaming, metallic, slim-fitting gown that seemed fashioned after the Oscar statuette itself.
The dress was a winner, making the best actress one of many who stepped up their style on what is considered Hollywood's most important runway. Top actresses made bold color choices, donned stiffer shapes and used sparkle strategically to get them noticed.
"This red carpet was whimsical, thank God. It was the most interesting red carpet in a long time," said Suze Yalof Schwartz, Glamour magazine's executive fashion editor at large. "You want to see a dress that makes you say 'Wow!' and I saw at least six of those."
There had been a trend in recent years to make safe choices at the Oscars, with celebrities knowing that the photos taken there would follow them for the rest of their lives. But there was a refreshing sense of fun -- and some directional fashion -- this year.
"We're moving into architectural shapes and away from all the drapery. There were not a lot of 'goddesses' this year," observed Sharon Graubard, senior vice president of trend analysis at forecasting firm Stylesight. "This was about glamour, very tasteful, grown-up glamour."
Gold was a huge trend, with Kate Winslet looking like an old-school movie star in her sleek, strapless gold gown by Yves Saint Laurent and Deco-inspired $2.5 million yellow-diamond necklace from Tiffany & Co. Cameron Diaz, with bold red lips, was another screen siren in a gold strapless gown with metallic ribbons and pailettes by Oscar de la Renta; Miley Cyrus wore a bustier-style strapless gold number by Jenny Packham; and Sarah Jessica Parker chose a custom yellow Chanel with silver flowers around the bustline.
"I loved Sarah Jessica Parker in Chanel. It was interesting, romantic and she's a fashion risk-taker," said Mary Alice Stephenson, stylist and fashion commentator.
She said the same for Diane Kruger in her white Chanel dress with black bands around the neck, waist and near the knees.
Flowers were another dominant theme at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Bullock's Marchesa gown had a delicate floral embroidery and Mo'Nique complemented her electric blue Tadashi Shoji asymmetrical dress with gardenias in her hair. She said she did it in the spirit of the late Hattie McDaniel, who had done the same in 1940.
Gabourey Sidibe's blue dress was decorated with silver beads in a floral pattern, and fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford stuck a gardenia in his lapel.
A few looks seemed sure to generate chatter because they weren't standard-issue, red-carpet styles. Jennifer Lopez's sculpted, strapless pale-pink Armani Prive had a dramatic slit on one side and an exaggerated modern train that jutted out from her hip. Armani said the dress was inspired by the romance and mystery of the moon.
Charlize Theron also had a futuristic vibe in her amethyst gown by John Galliano for Dior with two folded rosettes not on the bustline but on the bust itself.
"Charlize's dress was really dramatic," said Stephenson. "Love it or hate it, you want to talk about it."
Carey Mulligan's full-skirted black Prada was adorned in unusual embroidery: tiny forks, knives and scissors. She said she didn't choose it to make a statement.
"I just thought it was really cool," she told the AP. "It's not a dress where I have to wear Spanx or anything, so I'm good."
Her earrings were 19th Century cascading diamond pendants by Fred Leighton.
Another fashion-forward look was Zoe Saldana's Givenchy gown with a sparkly light pink bodice and a lilac skirt that descended into tight ruffles in all shades of purple. Queen Latifah's one-shoulder Badgley Mischka was a lovely shade of pink and the mermaid shape "is the right way to dress a curvy woman," said Yalof Schwartz.
Vera Farmiga said her magenta fan-pleat strapless gown by Marchesa "reminds me of a flower in bloom." Her "Up in the Air" costar Anna Kendrick's blush-colored Elie Saab wasn't her first choice, but it was the right one, she said. "It's so young and pretty and it fits me so well."
Meryl Streep did an unexpected turn in bright white gown with a deep V neckline. Yalof Schwartz loved it. "With Meryl Streep, you used to not look at what she wore, but she's embracing fashion now."
Tina Fey, who scored a few fashion "don'ts" earlier this year, was much improved in her black, one-shouldered, leopard-lace Michael Kors.
Maggie Gyllenhaal wore something rarely seen on the awards circuit -- a print. The blue-black-and-white gown by Dries van Noten had a tropical vibe.
"I love his clothes. They're sexy and unusual. He designed my wedding dress," she said. Her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, wore the tuxedo he bought for their wedding -- designed by Tom Ford.
Rachel McAdams went the print route, too. Hers was a draped strapless in dusty shades of blue and gray. Nicole Richie's multicolored sequin gown by Reem Acra kept to the vintage vibe she favors, but was quite covered up compared to the rest of young Hollywood.
Not surprisingly, Kristen Stewart wore a midnight blue gown by Monique Lhuillier with a sculpted bodice and draped trumpet skirt. Mariah Carey seemed a little tame in her navy dress, but she promised that the slit on her Valentino would blow wide open if the wind kicked up.
But in fashion, it was Bullock going for the gold, said designer Patricia Field, who called it "simple, classy -- it looked good on her."
AP Writer Beth Harris contributed to this story.
List of winners at the 82nd annual Academy Awards:
-- Motion Picture: "The Hurt Locker."
-- Actor: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart."
-- Actress: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side."
-- Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds."
-- Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."
-- Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker."
-- Foreign Film: "El Secreto de Sus Ojos," Argentina.
-- Adapted Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."
-- Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker."
-- Animated Feature Film: "Up."
-- Art Direction: "Avatar."
-- Cinematography: "Avatar."
-- Sound Mixing: "The Hurt Locker."
-- Sound Editing: "The Hurt Locker."
-- Original Score: "Up," Michael Giacchino.
-- Original Song: "The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart," Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.
-- Costume: "The Young Victoria."
-- Documentary Feature: "The Cove."
-- Documentary (short subject): "Music by Prudence."
-- Film Editing: "The Hurt Locker."
-- Makeup: "Star Trek."
-- Animated Short Film: "Logorama."
-- Live Action Short Film: "The New Tenants."
-- Visual Effects: "Avatar."