Showbiz Commentary: Heidi Oringer

It was a groundbreaking Oscar night, with the event making its debut at a brand-new venue in downtown Hollywood. It was a history-making night, with the first African-American woman taking home a Best Actress Oscar in the Academy Awards' 74-year history.

It was a humorous night, with Whoopi Goldberg taking her fourth turn as host. It was a surprising night, with Woody Allen appearing at the Oscars for the first time in his long film career. It was almost an earth-shattering night, as clouds loomed overhead during arrivals, and sprinkles, yes sprinkles, fell for nearly 90 seconds. And most of all, it was a long night — coming in at just under four hours and 20 minutes with the credits.

Every year I walk away from the Academy Awards with one special memory. Usually it's how damn tired I am, but then I always remember something of greater importance. This year, for instance, I was certain my memory would be of having my eardrum shattered by a photographer eager to have Julia Roberts turn around for an "over the shoulder" shot. The only problem is that she was 50 yards down the red carpet. This photojournalist (and I use that term as loosely as MC Hammer once wore his pants) thought for certain Julia would hear him if he continued to screech her name at rock concert decibels. She never came over. He was wrong. I was deaf.

There were far greater things that happened, though, and these pearls will fill my Oscar memory bank ...

All Hail Halle

The most outstanding moment for me was when I openly wept along with the lovely and gracious Halle Berry as she gave the longest and most moving acceptance speech for her win as Best Actress in Monster's Ball. She thanked everyone, genuinely, and with such heartfelt sincerity. And I do mean everyone, including her lawyers. She actually gave an acceptance speech that was so good she deserved an award for that, too.

And in the blink of a very tearful eye, another memorable thing happened — Denzel Washington pulled out the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Training Day. Some thought this was going to happen, but Russell Crowe remained a strong contender right up to the very end.

Although it seems politically incorrect to talk about the evening in regards to skin color, that's what people did talk about backstage. It was the first time in history that a black woman won the Best Actress Oscar. Washington is now the only African-American to have two golden statuettes. And, of course, on this same night, Washington's only black predecessor in the Best Actor category, Sidney Poitier, was given an honorary award. So when anyone came backstage, the question of the night was not "What are you wearing?" but whether he/she felt Hollywood finally made a breakthrough regarding the color barrier.

The unanimous answer was that it wasn't really an issue of color and people outside of Hollywood probably never thought it was. Berry and Washington gave great performances and were recognized for those. End of story.

An Oscar Upset

And speaking of great performances, Whoopi Goldberg took her fourth turn as host of the Oscar show, and she was funnier than ever. Whoopi never shied away from controversy or making fun of Hollywood and its inhabitants. In one biting line, she said the security was tighter than the faces in the audience. She reveled in ripping Crowe for his temper. She twitted Sharon Stone for her husband's unfortunate encounter with a Komoto dragon, and she took more than one deep stab at the recent Liza Minnelli nuptials.

Despite the black cloud of gossip that loomed over A Beautiful Mind, politics fell by the wayside as the movie came out victorious in several major categories: Best Picture, Best Director for Ron Howard, Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Akiva Goldsman.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring also picked up four awards, out of 13 nominations. As expected, most of those achievements were for makeup, costumes and technical wizardry.

The one big surprise came in the form of a very mild-mannered Englishman named Jim Broadbent. He won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Iris. Many believe he was able to take the prize because of the equally brilliant yet completely different role he played in Moulin Rouge.

So What Was Gwyneth Thinking?

And as for the fashion — indeed, it is usually the cornerstone of the Oscar buzz. There's always somebody who forgot to wear undergarments or purposely didn't wear undergarments in order to shock and dismay those who get the clear view. There's always an albatross, a sore thumb, a hideous creature. This year, everyone was decked out. Perhaps there were some odd choices, but overall the women looked glamorous and well-appointed.

In a turn of the screw, Gwyneth Paltrow decided to show skin with a sheer-topped dress. It was very revealing, except for the apparatus she was using to keep from showing her, well, her reaction to the temperature. It was either tape or Band-Aids that helped, but I couldn't be sure which.

And then, out came J. Lo, dressed like Sandra Dee. Jennifer Lopez chose a pale pink gown that covered all that is meant to be covered. Her hair was on the puffy side (no pun intended) and for a moment, it seemed as though Miss America had graced the stage circa the 1960s.

Gowns were the trend overall, mostly black, some navy blue. There was a mixed group of colorful ladies: Kate Winslet in red, Cameron Diaz in a pink print, Jada Pinkett Smith in bright yellow and Faith Hill in every color in the rainbow. Her dress reminded me more of a wall at the pediatrician's office than an evening gown, but she looked good just the same.

The men tuxed up. Will Smith and Russell Crowe did morning coats. Denzel and Sir Ian McKellen ventured into the dark blue look. Ryan Phillipe was in Gucci; other men chose Armani, the classic tux maker. No atrocities to speak of here.

And so, save for the grueling two hours between the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and the next category you care about, the evening went off without a hitch. When it was over, all seemed satisfied with the results. Of course, as always, the most satisfying part was that it was actually over.

Heidi Oringer is director of entertainment programming at ABCNEWS Radio.