Rooney Mara in white Givenchy, Emma Stone in red Giambattista Valli and Jessica Chastain in Alexander McQueen were among those making bolder-than-normal choices at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles.
"I picked it because I loved it," said Mara of the Riccardo Tisci custom-made gown made of mixed laces and multilayered chiffon.
Some seasoned style stars stepped up their game, too, including Michelle Williams in burnt-orange Louis Vuitton, Jennifer Lopez in a crystal-covered Zuhair Murad, Cameron Diaz in Gucci and Penelope Cruz in a smoky-blue Armani Prive.
Angelina Jolie did her simple, sexy thing in black strapless gown with a high slit.
Gwyneth Paltrow went sleek and chic in Tom Ford, and Stacy Keibler was statuesque in gold lame Marchesa. Viola Davis' emerald-green, corset-style gown by Vera Wang had a little beading on the bustline and a chiffon pleated skirt. She matched her earrings to the jewel tone of the gown, which seemed a popular trend. Melissa McCarthy also did it, pairing her rose Marina Rinaldi with crystal neckline and waistband with 10-carat diamond earrings decorated with pink diamonds by Chopard and a pink tourmaline cocktail ring.
Rose Byrne in shimmery Vivienne Westwood, Kristen Wiig in a delicate champagne J. Mendel and Tina Fey in a regal purple gown by Carolina Herrera also elevated their fashion credibility -- and likely their star wattage -- with their appearances. Octavia Spencer continued to work with Tadashi Shoji on her awards-show wardrobe, this time in a hand-beaded, draped ivory gown with cap sleeves.
Milla Jovovich, best known as a model, channeled a screen siren in a one-shoulder, white-beaded Elie Saab gown. "I wanted something very clean, structured, like a statement piece without being overpowered," she said.
Berenice Bejo chose a mint-green, fully embroidered gown by Saab. Her makeup artist Julie Hewett said they purposely created a fresh, unfussy look to complement the dress because it was an unusual color. "We decided to go very simple and not complete," said Hewett, a Dior artist. "I kept her skin very fresh: not powdered, very clean, very natural."
Hewett saw the influence of the 1920s and `30s on the red carpet and thought it could be a nod to "The Artist," for which Bejo is nominated.
"Old Hollywood never goes away, it never goes out of fashion, but `The Artist' brought it back for a generation that didn't know about Hollywood at that time," Hewett said. "It's how we want our stars to look."