"Should we celebrate the joy and magic the movies bring?" he asked. "Dare I say it? 'More than ever.'"
Beautiful Mind, Ugly Competition
Before Washington's big win, Russell Crowe had seemed to be poised to join Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks as the only actors to win consecutive Best Actor Oscars. He had earned acclaim for his turn as schizophrenic mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.
But his buzz took a beating when he publicly berated the producer of the British Film Academy Awards ceremony for cutting his acceptance speech from the broadcast. The fact that the film did so well in so many other categories suggests that Crowe has lost some favor among his peers.
The cast of A Beautiful Mind began celebrating almost from the beginning of the night, when Jennifer Connelly won Best Supporting Actress honors for her portrayal of Nash's long-suffering wife, Alicia.
"By some beautiful twist of fate I've landed in this vocation that demands that I feel and helps me to learn," said the 31-year-old actress, who made her debut in 1984's Once Upon a Time in America..
"No film has moved or taught me more than A Beautiful Mind."
Connelly also thanked Alicia Nash, whom she descrbed as "a true champion of love."
Another first-time winner was Beautiful director Ron Howard, who had helmed several Hollywood blockbusters, including Apollo 13 and Cocoon.
In one of the biggest surprises of the evening, Jim Broadbent won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as the husband of novelist Iris Murdoch in Iris. Another British actor, Ian McKellen, had been heavily favored for his work as the wizard Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. McKellen was the only actor from the fantasy blockbuster to earn a nomination.
Stars Return to Glamour
Earlier, on the red carpet, buffed and groomed stars walked on fashion's biggest stage.
"It's even more incredible than I could ever imagine," said Berry, in a wine-colored gown festooned with flowers.
Connelly entered in a champagne-colored strapless gown with matching scarf. British actress Helen Mirren strolled down the red carpet in a white Giorgio Armani gown.
In another notable entrance, Mulholland Drive actress Laura Elena Harring sported a diamond necklace, reportedly valued at $27 million, along with diamond-studded high heels valued at $1 million. Kidman wore a $4 million diamond necklace that she helped design.
"I'm not quite as hysterical as I was last year," said Julia Roberts, last year's Best Actress winner, who chose a black Armani gown with side slits. "I have to pass my crown … My reign is over."
Woody Shows Up
In his trademark horn-rimmed glasses, Woody Allen made his first Oscar appearance. He introduced a film homage to New York and encouraged filmmakers to keep making movies there, in spite of Sept. 11.
Notorious for shunning award shows, Allen joked that he thought the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences had called to repossess his trophies. "I panicked because the pawn shop has been out of business for ages," he said. "I had no way of retrieving anything."
Allen stood before a backdrop of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Center towers conspicuously missing and introduced the tribute, made by Nora Ephron. It began with the opening of Allen's Manhattan and included clips from Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Tootsie, On the Waterfront and The French Connection.
Later, in introducing the annual retrospective of the Hollywood notables who died in the past year, Kevin Spacey asked everyone to rise for a moment of silence "for every single American hero who gave his or her life on Sept. 11."
ABCNEWS Radio's Dave Alpert, Bill Diehl and Heidi Oringer in Los Angeles and ABCNEWS.com's Buck Wolf in New York contributed to this report.