The Departed stole the show at the 79th Academy Awards in Hollywood last night, taking top prize for best picture and propelling Martin Scorsese to his long-awaited first directing Oscar.

Warner Bros and Initial Entertainment Group's crime thriller remake took four awards overall and had been regarded as a solid contender in a wide-open best picture race. However its prospects grew stronger by the minute last night as it collected first the adapted screenplay prize for William Monahan, then the editing trophy for Thelma Schoonmaker.

Scorsese's success brought the Kodak Theater to its feet. 'Could you double-check the envelope please'' the veteran director said after receiving his honour from the artistically and commercially heavyweight triumvirate of Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, an iconic convocation that hinted at Scorsese's imminent ordination.

Scorsese paid handsome tribute to his cast and crew and thanked his family, friends and the multitude of strangers who had wished him well over the years. 'To be standing here where Martin Scorsese won his Oscar is such a joy, such a joy,' The Departed producer Graham King said in his acceptance speech.

The two lead acting races were the shoo-ins of the season, and Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker duly took the accolades for The Queen and The Last King Of Scotland.

Mirren called the Oscar 'the biggest and the best gold star that I have ever had in my life', before paying tribute to the film's real star.' Now you know for 50 years and more, Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty, and her hairstyle. She's had her feet planted firmly on the ground, her hat on her head, her handbag on her arm and she's weathered many, many storms, and I salute her courage and her consistency.'

Whitaker was in similarly reflective mood. 'When I first started acting it was because of my desire to connect to everyone,' he said, adding: 'Acting is about believing in that connection and it's a connection so strong, it's a connection so deep, that we feel it. And through our combined belief, we can create a new reality.'

The Departed brought Thelma Schoonmaker her third Oscar-winning collaboration with Scorsese following Raging Bull in 1981 and The Aviator in 2005. 'Working with Marty is quite something,' Schoonmaker told the crowd. 'It's tumultuous, passionate, funny and it's like being in the best film school in the world.'

Alan Arkin ushers in biggest upset
Supporting actor, the first big award of the night, ushered in the biggest upset as Alan Arkin, overshadowed all season by Eddie Murphy's dazzling turn in Dreamgirls, snuck in at the death to take home the trophy for his work in Little Miss Sunshine. It was Arkin's second honour in as many days following Saturday's Independent Spirit Award.

Jennifer Hudson justified her status as favourite by winning the supporting actress trophy for Dreamgirls. The actress, who was famously emerged empty-handed from the talent contest American Idol, paid tribute to her grandmother.' She was my biggest inspiration for everything because she was a singer and she had the passion for it, but she never had the chance. And that was the thing that pushed me forward to continue.'

Michael Arndt dashed Peter Morgan's hopes of winning the original screenplay category when he claimed honours for Little Miss Sunshine, one of two awards for the film. 'My family drove 600 miles in a VW bus with a broken clutch,' Arndt said. 'So, it ended up being the funnest [sic] things we did together, so to my brothers, Chan, Dave and Chris, to my mom who's here tonight, and to my dad who's with us in the spirit - this is for you.'

William Monahan referenced Felix Chong and Alan Mak's original screenplay for the Hong Kong smash Infernal Affairs in his acceptance speech for adapted screenplay for The Departed. Monahan also cited Lawrence Of Arabia, which earned Venus nominee Peter O'Toole the first of eight unrequited Academy Award nominations, as the film that made him want to become a screenwriter.

The Lives Of Others wins out over Pan's Labyrinth
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's German Stasi saga The Lives Of Others, released in North America through Sony Pictures Classics, won a tight race with Guillermo del Toro's Mexican entry Pan's Labyrinth.

Warner Bros/Village Roadshow's Happy Feet beat out Disney/Pixar's Cars to claim the animated feature award. Columbia/Sony Pictures Animation's Monster House was also nominated.

An Inconvenient Truth, the Participant Productions eco-doc released by Paramount Classics, won best documentary. 'My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis,' said Al Gore, whose environmental lecture has grossed more than $45m worldwide. 'It's not a political issue, it's a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act, that's a renewable resource. Let's renew it.'

The film doubled its Oscar tally later in the evening when Melissa Etheridge took the original song award for I Need To Wake Up.

Gustavo Santaolalla won original score for Babel, the only win for the Paramount Vantage drama and Santaolalla's second consecutive Academy Award triumph following last year's win by the Argentinian composer for Brokeback Mountain.

Guillermo Navarro won the cinematography award for Pan's Labyrinth, which also took the first two Oscars of the night for art direction and make-up. The art direction team was headed by Eugenio Caballero, the set decoration team was led by Pilar Revuelta, and David Marti and Montse Ribe orchestrated the make-up.

Milena Canonero won her first costume design Oscar since Chariots Of Fire 25 years ago, winning this time for Marie Antoinette. Canonero won her first Oscar in 1976 for Barry Lyndon and dedicated last night's win to that film's director, the late Stanley Kubrick.

Nominated for the 19th time - but still no win
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman won the sound editing award for Letters From Iwo Jima. Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton brought in Dreamgirls' first of two awards on the night for sound mixing. The result consigned to oblivion Kevin O'Connell's 19th nomination - this time for Apocalypto - and prompted a backstage remark from one of the winners that the eternal bridesmaid of sound mixing should try out another job.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest won visual effects for John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall. 'You know the naysayers said that four blind kids from the Bronx couldn't make it in visual effects,' Knoll quipped. 'But here we are.'

In the shorts categories, Mikrofilm and National Film Board of Canada Production's The Danish Poet won the animated category, Ari Sandel took the prize for live-action with West Bank Story, and Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon's The Blood Of Yingzhou District won documentary.

As previously announced, Sherry Lansing collected the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, while composer Ennio Morricone used the translation services of Clint Eastwood as he thanked the audiences in Italian for his Honorary Award.