Crash turned the tables on popular wisdom when it was named best picture at the 78th annualAcademy Awards last night as it took three Oscars, while the pre-ceremonyfavourite Brokeback Mountain alsotook home three awards including best director for Ang Lee.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon won the lead actor and actressprizes for Capote and Walk TheLine respectively, while GeorgeClooney and Rachel Weisz won their supporting actor categories for Syriana and The Constant Gardener.

Gavin Hood's Tsotsi claimed South Africa's first ever Oscar in theforeign language category and Luc Jacquet's The March Of The Penguins proved too strong for the competition in thedocumentary strand.

While many had predicted a stronger showing for Brokeback Mountain, the Western claimed another senior Oscar for DianaOssana and Larry McMurtry in the adapted screenplay category, as well asoriginal score for Gustavo Santaolalla.

Earlier in the evening Crashwriter-director Paul Haggis was onstage to collect the original screenplayaward with co-writer Bobby Moresco. "I want to thank those people who take bigrisks in their daily lives when the cameras aren't rolling, people who stand upfor peace and justice against intolerance," Haggis said.

Haggis' fellow Crash producerCathy Schulman made the acceptance speech for best picture and expressedheartfelt appreciation to all their collaborators. "You have made this year one of the most breathtaking, stunning and maverick years in Academy history," she told members. She thanked Crash financier BobYari, whom she is suing for business dealings concerning Bull's EyeEntertainment. In a separate but not entirely unrelated matter, Yari is suingthe Academy and the Producers Guild of America after he was denied produceraccreditation on the picture and therefore did not join Haggis and Schulman onthe stage. Hughes Winborne collected the editing award for Crash.

"I want to thank two men called Ennis and Jack," Ang Lee said upon winning hisfirst best director Oscar. "They taught all of us who made BrokebackMountain so much about gay men andwomen, whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness oflove itself."

Lead actor winner Hoffman was nearly lost for words as he took the stage afterhis performance as Truman Capote in Capote trumped the other four contenders. "I'm overwhelmed," Hoffman said,before heaping praise on his old friends, Capote director Bennett Miller and screenwriter DanFutterman, also nominees last night. "I love you, I love you, I love you, Ilove you, I love you."

Witherspoon was equally humbled by winning the lead actress award for her roleas June Carter in Walk The Line."Johnny Cash and June Carter had a wonderful tradition of honouring otherartists and I really feel that tradition tonight," Witherspoon said. She citedher grandmother as a major influence in her life for teaching the importance ofself-respect. "It was an important part of June Carter's life."

Supporting actor winner Clooney, who had also been nominated in the directingand screenwriting categories for Good Night, And Good Luck, praised Hollywood's desire to champion relevantsocio-political causes down the years. "We're the ones who talk about AIDS whenit was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn'treally popular. And we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people,gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in thebacks of theatres. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy."

"I share it with others," Rachel Weisz said of her supporting actress prize forThe Constant Gardener. "I thank RalphFiennes, my luminous acting partner, Fernando Meirelles our director who isbrimming over with such humanity, our dignified sensitive producer SimonChanning Williams, and of course, John le Carre, who wrote this unflinching,angry story. He really paid tribute to the people who are willing to risk theirown lives to fight injustice. And they're greater men and women than I."

Luc Jacquet and his The March Of The Penguins producing team took the stage as feature documentarywinners holding aloft the toy penguins that were one of the most popular sightsduring the red carpet arrivals. Jacquet whistled into the microphone and inwhat he claimed was penguin-speak for 'thank you'. He added: "I'd like todedicate this statuette to all the children in the world who saw this movie. In2041, they will decide to ruin you or not [when they decide what to do with]the treaty that protects Antarctica." Responding to a question backstage aboutwhat he thought of the spoof internet short Brokeback Penguin, Jacquet quipped: "There is not only one model innature; there are many, many models of nature."

Adapted screenplay Oscar winner Larry McMurtry had been nominated once before for his 1971 classic The Last Picture Show, and ironically the prolific novelist won not for an adaptation of one of his own novels but for adapting E Annie Proulx's short story. He paid comprehensive praise to Ossana, and thanked booksellers around the world."I want to thank all our contributors to the survival of the culture of thebook."

Collecting the foreign language award for Tsotsi, an emotional director Gavin Hood said: "We may haveforeign language films, but our stories are the same as your stories and theyare about human heart and emotion."

Nick Park and Steve Box won animated feature for Wallace & Gromit: TheCurse Of The Were-Rabbit. It wasPark's fourth Academy Award but his first for a feature. "Somebody once said ifyou make a bad film, you make it alone," Box told the auditorium. "If you makea great film, everybody made it with you. We all made it together, guys." Thepair added in unison: "Cracking cheese, Gromit."

Dion Beebe won the cinematography prize for Memoirs Of A Geisha, his first win and second nomination after Chicago. Colleen Atwood won the costume design statuette forMemoirs of A Geisha, which wonthree nominations overall, and told the press backstage of the internationaleffort that went into making the costumes. "I had women from Armenia, fromCosta Rica, from Mexico making kimonos, listening to Memoirs Of A Geisha with their headsets on in Spanish," Atwood said."And I had people in Copenhagen doing embroidery for me who are Danish,English, Japanese... so it was really interesting that all these differentcultures embraced the real beauty of the kimono in a way that was with thegreatest love." Art director John Myhre collected the picture's third award ofthe night for achievement in art direction and thanked the Academy on behalf ofabsent set decorator Gretchen Rau.

"It all started when I was a little boy and my mother read me Where The WildThings Are by Maurice Sendak, and atthat point I knew I wanted to go live with the monsters," Howard Berger, whoalong with Tami Lane won make-up for The Chronicles Of Narnia: TheLion, The Witch And The Wardrobe,said.

Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers and Richard Taylor collectedtheir Oscars for visual effects on King Kong. "I've got to thank Andy Serkis for really giving usthe heart of Kong," Letteri said. "Peter Jackson, thank you for continuing tosurprise us, and delight us, guide us, and for making films that we all love." KingKong's sound mixing team of ChristopherBoyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges and Hammond Peek thumped their chestsin homage to the giant ape after taking the stage for their Oscar.

Corinne Marrinan and Eric Simonson took home the documentary short categoryaward for A Note Of Triumph: The Golden Age Of Norman Corwin, while Martin McDonagh won the short film (liveaction) category for Six Shooterand expressed excitement backstage over the proliferation of distributionplatforms for short films. "Magnolia Films are working to get short films,both the dramatic and the animation, in theatres all over the country for thepast two weeks. There are just a lot more opportunities, and iTunes islaunching films that way too."

John Canemaker and Peggy Stern picked up the animated short Oscar for TheMoon And The Son: An Imagined Conversation. "Peggy and I thank the Academy for this great honour," Canemaker said."And also for your faith in hand-drawn animation, which still can pack anemotional wallop."

Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard won original song for It'sHard Out Here For A Pimp from Hustle& Flow.

Robert Altman received a standing ovation as he collected the honorary Oscar."When the news first came I was caught off-guard. I always thought this awardmeant it was over," Altman said. "But then it dawned on me I was doing aninterview for my next film, A Prairie Home Companion. So it's not over." He continued: "They sayfilmmaking is like building a sand castle. You build it and invite your friendsand watch it wash away. I've built about 40 of them and I'm never tired."