LOS ANGELES – The common complaint about Oscar fashion choices of the past few years is that stars played it too safe. Not so this year.
Jennifer Hudson arrived on the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday in a brown ruched gown with a metallic python bolero by Oscar de la Renta, and Cate Blanchett wore a stunning one-shoulder Swarovski crystal mesh gown by Giorgio Armani Prive. Helen Mirren didn't shy away from her sexy side in a champagne-colored Christian Lacroix gown with gold-leaf embroidery on the skirt and a plunging V-neck.
Calling it her "dream dress," Mirren told The Associated Press, "It shows me. It makes me feel comfortable. I don't feel like I'm trying to be something I'm not."
Gwyneth Paltrow made a strong fashion statement in Zac Posen's apricot spider-web tulle-and-chiffon gown, and Nicole Kidman made a bold color choice with her bright red Balenciaga halter gown with an oversized bow at the neck. Reese Witherspoon's strapless Nina Ricci with a tiered bottom was a deep purple, and Naomi Watts' Escada gown was yellow with a sapphire blue sash.
Jada Pinkett Smith wore a corset-style strapless gown in gold lame by Carolina Herrera, and Jessica Biel's hot pink halter was selected straight from Oscar de la Renta's fashion show earlier this month in New York. Kelly Preston's animal print gown was by Dolce & Gabbana.
Penelope Cruz's strapless Versace was a blush color with an intricately swirled tight bodice that exploded into an exaggerated skirt.
"This is the year of extravagant designs — fancy fabrics, feathers as trim, unexpected stones and metallics," observed Tom Julian, fashion commentator for the Web site Oscar.com.
Jennifer Lopez's lilac Marchesa gown had an antique jeweled neckline that created a chain-link effect. Asked why she chose the gown, Lopez's husband, Marc Anthony, spoke up: "I chose it."
Lopez added: "It makes me feel very glamorous, chic and sexy."
Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz said her strapless art deco-style platinum Vera Wang gown with jewels sewn onto the hem and bust, including a small glistening bow, was "very romantic."
Beyonce's Armani gown also had an interesting neckline. It was basically a light green strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline, but there was a strand of stones over one shoulder.
Giorgio Armani attended the ceremony, presumably in his own design. "It's very important to be elegant and simple rather than be flashy," he said.
Many top actors chose classic tuxedos by Armani, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese.
Meryl Streep, in a nod to the film that brought her to the Oscars, wore a Prada black silk radzmire coat over a black satin skirt and an emerald green belt. She further accessorized with colorful bead necklaces.
Hudson wore a 1960s diamond necklace with a 32-carat yellow diamond pendant by Fred Leighton, and 10-year-old Abigail Breslin's pink sundress was adorned with flowers. Cameron Diaz jazzed up her white off-the-shoulder gown with silver shoes.
Many actresses seemed to add personal touches to their outfits instead of making the red carpet a sea of strapless satin dresses and tight bun hairdos.
Collier Strong, consulting makeup artist for L'Oreal Paris who worked with Diane Keaton, said part of the diversity in looks might come from the broad field of nominated stars, spanning all ages.
Speaking of mature women, Strong said, "I think they add something vitally needed — confidence and a sense of themselves. They don't need to pose a certain way, they don't need to make sure a picture is from the right angle."
Emily Blunt shimmered in a sequined blue gown by Francisco Costa by Calvin Klein. There were many others in blue, too, including Portia de Rossi in a halter gown by Zac Posen, Jodie Foster in a Vera Wang crinkled silk chiffon gown, Maggie Gyllenhaal in a one-shoulder Proenza Schouler dress with Venetian glass embroidery and a feathered hemline, and Melissa Etheridge in a navy tuxedo.
Green was well represented with Celine Dion in a dark green, wrap-style gown that was complemented with diamond cuff bracelets from Lily et Cie, and Kate Winslet in a one-shoulder gown in a lighter hue by Valentino.
Anne Hathaway also wore a Valentino — a white strapless gown with a black bow at the neckline.
Queen Latifah and Rinko Kikuchi were among the few stars in black — and they both looked great. Latifah's gown was Carmen Marc Valvo's feminine twist on a tuxedo made completely of strips of silk ribbon, while Kikuchi had on a streamlined strapless gown, a far cry from her pompom fiasco at the Golden Globes.
"I wanted to be very proper and very honest," Kikuchi said.