LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood amped up the lights and colors at the Oscars on Sunday as leading ladies like Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz and Zoe Saldana donned shimmering metallic gowns to celebrate the big night.
The red carpet had less of the restrained elegance of other awards shows this season, and more edgier -- and sometimes shocking -- choices.
"We saw a heightening of the glamour we've seen all awards season. For the Oscars, we saw actors pull out all the stops, taking hair, jewels and make-up to the next level," said Melissa Liebling-Goldberg of People Magazine's Stylewatch.com.
Style experts said stars took more risks, such as Sarah Jessica Parker, who wore a pale yellow Chanel, 1960s-inspired gown in silk charmeuse with exposed shoulders.
But some attempts misfired as in the case of Charlize Theron's light purple gown with ruching detail on the bodice reminiscent of a torpedo brassiere.
"People have held back, but now they want to have fun and want to escape," said Lawrence Zarian, TV Guide fashion expert, but he said some went too far.
"A lot of celebrities missed the mark," he said noting Theron looked like she had two hands holding her breasts.
Zarian also gave a thumbs down to Maggie Gyllenhaal's Dries Van Noten strapless blue and black patterned gown.
"She looked like she was dressed for a luau not the Oscars," he said.
Blue played a leading role on the red carpet, coinciding with the blue-tinged movie "Avatar," the best picture nominee that features a world populated by blue aliens.
Those who wore blue included Oscar-winning Mo'Nique, who toke home the best-supporting actress Oscar for her role in "Precious" and Mariah Carey, who showed off a plunging decollete in a navy gown -- and a lot of leg.
Best actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe of "Precious," also wore a blue-grey Marchesa gown with silver flowers at the bodice and said her first Oscars were "like Hollywood prom!"
Marchesa was a favorite designer among the female nominees, and was also worn by Bullock and by Vera Farmiga, who chose a ruby red strapless gown with a dramatic ruffle at the bodice.
"It's incredible to be able to dress three nominees but also to dress such different body types and ages so beautifully. Marchesa really gets the red carpet," said Liebling-Goldberg.
Getting one's creation on the red carpet can often define a designer's career, which is why so many gowns and jewels are offered free to stars for Hollywood's biggest night.
"It's a slam dunk in the big picture of things," said Erica Courtney, celebrity stylist and jeweler whose clientele includes Madonna, Julia Roberts and Bullock.
"The Oscars are huge, particularly when a jeweler is up against million dollar worldwide companies."
Most actors stuck to traditional tuxedos or dark suits, but played nice supporting parts to the women on the carpet.
George Clooney, asked by TV host Ryan Seacrest whether he had anything in common with the "lonely guy" he plays in "Up in the Air" quipped: "I am not a lonely guy. I am surrounded by stunning women in long dresses."
Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in San Francisco, Editing by Mary Milliken