LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Four European actors and the maverick Coen brothers shared top honors at the Oscars, relegating the traditional Hollywood of big stars and box office hits to a supporting role this year.
Violent drama "No Country For Old Men" was the big winner on Sunday night with four Academy Awards, more than any other film, including best movie, director and adapted screenplay for brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.
The film's fourth award, for best supporting actor, went to Spain's Javier Bardem for playing a creepy killer of few words. It was the first Oscar for a Spanish performer in the 80-year history of the world's premier cinema awards.
As expected, Briton Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor in "There Will Be Blood," in which he stars as a ruthless oil prospector in early 20th century America.
But there were surprises in the actress categories.
Scotland's Tilda Swinton was named best supporting actress in "Michael Clayton" ahead of pre-award favorite Cate Blanchett, while French star Marion Cotillard beat Julie Christie as best actress with her acclaimed performance as troubled chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose."
Cotillard was the first French woman to win the award since Simone Signoret in 1960.
"Hollywood is built on Europeans," said Swinton. "Go back and look. I'm just really sad I couldn't give my speech in Gaelic. Don't tell everybody. We're everywhere."
The prizes marked the first time since 1964 that all four top acting awards went to artists outside the United States, where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is based.
The overseas influence reflects the growing importance of box office receipts from abroad to a film's success, but an Oscar ceremony filled with foreign-born stars and few box office hits made for low U.S. television viewership.
The program was the least-watched Academy Awards ever with only 32 million viewers compared to the record 1998 telecast when 55 million people tuned in to see "Titanic," with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, claim the best film award.
"OUR CORNER OF THE SANDBOX"
But in the end, it was the Coen brothers, born and raised in Minnesota, who proved to be the big winners.
Their movie, based on Cormac McCarthy's novel about a drug deal gone wrong in south Texas, explores the theme of moral decline and was among four somber films up for best picture.
The Coens, who won an Oscar for writing the idiosyncratic 1996 crime caper "Fargo," have long worked outside the traditional Hollywood studio system.
"No Country" was the most commercially successful of their 12 feature films, although it posted relatively modest sales of $64 million at North American box offices.
Accepting his Oscar, Joel Coen talked about how he and Ethan had made films since they were kids and said his brother had taken a camera to the airport as a boy in the 1960s to make an amateur film called "Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go."
"We're very thankful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox," Joel Coen said on receiving the best director Oscar.
Backstage, the brothers were straight-faced as photographers yelled at them to smile at the cameras. Only when someone shouted "Don't smile, then!" did they break into grins.
Austrian Holocaust-era drama "The Counterfeiters" won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, it was the first win for Austria in the category.
In other key categories, best animated film went to box office hit "Ratatouille" about a friendly rat who becomes a chef in a Parisian kitchen.
Stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody won the best original screenplay award for the hopeful teen pregnancy comedy "Juno," the only best picture nominee to surpass $100 million at the North American box office.
Despite talk of dark and pessimistic movies at this year's Oscars, many winners offered statements of optimism.
Perhaps the most inspiring came from Marketa Irglova who, along with Glen Hansard, won for best original song with the tune "Falling Slowly" from the low-budget movie "Once." Until the film won over audiences, Irglova and Hansard were unknown.
"This is just a proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible," said Irglova. "This song was written from a perspective of hope and hope connects us all."