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Image: Martin Scorsese
Gary Hershorn  /  Reuters
Martin Scorsese, previously an Oscar bridesmaid, accepts his best director prize for 'The Departed' at the Academy Awards on Sunday.
updated 2/26/2007 12:53:27 PM ET 2007-02-26T17:53:27

Hollywood’s love-fest for director Martin Scorsese on the Academy Awards proved marginally more interesting to TV viewers than last year’s ceremony.

Ratings for the show in the nation’s 55 biggest markets were up 2 percent over 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research. An estimate of how many people watched in the entire country was due later on Monday.

The show drew a 27.7 rating and 42 share in the big cities, Nielsen said. The comparable numbers last year were 27.1 and 40. One ratings point represents 1,114,000 households, while the share is the percentage of TV sets on last night that were tuned to the awards.

Nationally, last year’s show was seen by 38.8 million viewers, only the second time in the past two decades the Oscars ceremony had dipped below 40 million.

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After Scorsese’s five previous losses in category of best director, he won Sunday for mob epic “The Departed,” which also won best picture.

Slideshow: Red-carpet glamour

Awards watchers had viewed Scorsese as a lock to win at last, and while he clearly coveted an Oscar, the director said he had not counted on anything.

“It was an overwhelming, overwhelming moment for me, I must say. I didn’t know. When people say, ‘It’s your year, your year.’ Thank God we’ve been able to make so many films over the last 36 years without winning awards. But we’ve been able to get the pictures made,” Scorsese told reporters backstage. “This comes as an extraordinary surprise.”

There were a couple of real surprises in the relatively predictable and bland Oscar ceremony, which ran almost four hours under the pleasant but lightweight stewardship of first-time host Ellen DeGeneres.

Front-runners Helen Mirren of “The Queen,” Forest Whitaker of “The Last King of Scotland” and Jennifer Hudson of “Dreamgirls” all won. But the fourth front-runner, Eddie Murphy, lost to Alan Arkin of “Little Miss Sunshine.”

The dancing-penguin musical “Happy Feet” won for feature-length animation, beating “Cars,” directed by computer-animation pioneer John Lasseter (“Toy Story”), whose film had triumphed at other key Hollywood awards.

Know style?Mirren has been on a remarkable roll since last fall as she won all major film and television prizes for playing both of Britain’s Queen Elizabeths.

Along with her best-actress Oscar for “The Queen,” Mirren won an Emmy as the current ruler’s 16th and 17th century namesake in the TV miniseries “Elizabeth I.” The two roles earned Mirren a pair of prizes at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

“That was a great year’s work,” Mirren said backstage.

In “The Queen,” Mirren offers a remarkable portrait of Elizabeth II as both a tradition-bound aristocrat and a concerned family matriarch as she copes with the crisis of Princess Diana’s death.

Mirren said she had no clue what the queen might think of the film or her performance.

“I’m not expecting a call from her majesty. Not ever. I wouldn’t expect it and I wouldn’t desire it,” Mirren said backstage. “There are many countries in the world where one would not be allowed to make this film. It’s generous of the queen and the royal family to sit back and not interfere. I do believe she is a noble person in the best sense of the word.”

“The Departed” led the Oscars with four prizes, also winning for adapted screenplay and film editing. While Hollywood films and American actors still dominated, the ceremony offered its most global reach ever.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth” won three Oscars, including the cinematography prize.

The globe-trotting ensemble drama “Babel,” made by del Toro’s countryman Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, had seven nominations, though it won only one, for best score by composer Gustavo Santaolalla. It was the second-straight Oscar for Santaolalla, who received the same prize a year ago for “Brokeback Mountain.”

“It’s an amazing statement on what’s going on. We have to be connected as a planet,” said Whitaker, who won best actor as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.” “This year, you see people from all over the world. We need that. We need to understand that this over here is connected to this over there. We have to pay attention and understand that I affect you and you affect me.”

The global theme extended to the documentary win for “An Inconvenient Truth,” which chronicles Al Gore’s campaign to educate people on the dangers of global warming.

“This is not a political issue. It’s not a political movie. Some of the solutions will have to be worked out within the political sphere, but it really should be bipartisan, and it should be seen as a moral issue,” Gore said. “It is the overriding moral issue of our time.”

Earlier in the evening, Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio took the stage to unveil a series of initiatives by the motion picture academy to make the Oscars more environmentally friendly.

“An Inconvenient Truth” also won original song for Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up.” The openly gay Etheridge kissed her partner Tammy Lynn Michaels on the lips when her name was announced and onstage referred to Michaels as her wife. The couple held a commitment ceremony in 2003 and are the parents of twins.

“Maybe someone at home is going, ‘Did she say wife?”’ Etheridge said backstage. “I was kissing her because that’s what you do, you kiss your loved one when you win an Oscar, that’s what I grew up believing.”

Hudson won supporting actress for her first movie, playing a powerhouse vocalist who falls on hard times after she is booted from a 1960s girl group in “Dreamgirls.” The role came barely two years after she shot to celebrity as an “American Idol” finalist.

Hudson said she was inspired by her grandmother, a singer in the family’s church choir who chose not to become a professional performer.

“She really wanted to sing for the Lord,” Hudson said. “It was my goal and my dream to do this for her. She had a voice that should have been heard around the world.”

Along with Arkin’s supporting-actor win as a foul-mouthed but loving grandpa, “Little Miss Sunshine” took the prize for original screenplay for first-time screenwriter Michael Arndt.

Scorsese said he had a hint that he finally had won as his longtime friends and colleagues Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, who presented the directing prize, gave him a look just before announcing his name.

“I’ve just been used to not winning, so I just make the movies, guys,” said Scorsese, adding that he did not mind the long wait because an earlier Oscar might have changed the types of movies he was making. “I’m glad it’s taken this long. It’s been worth it.”

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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