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For Queen and Country

The Oscars spotlight Helen Mirren and Al Gore

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Helen Mirren.
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Forest and Keisha Whitaker.
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While it won't have been a surprise to Al Gore, the awards ceremony's unofficial guest of honor, sunny Los Angeles failed to cooperate on the city's highest-profile afternoon. But even if the barely 60-degree cloudy day wasn't exactly strapless chiffon weather, that didn't stop many a shoulder from making an appearance. In fact, with a couple of exceptions (Gwyneth Paltrow's short-sleeved, dark salmon, mesh Zac Posen; the metallic shrug with which Jennifer Hudson topped her Oscar de la Renta dress on the red carpet), the exposed collarbone—balanced by an extravagant hemline—was the style statement at this year's event. The only question was one bare shoulder or two.

The stars of the single-clavicle team included Cate Blanchett, whose pewter beaded Armani Privé gown gracefully hid one of her angular shoulders under a cluster of gunmetal-gray stones. A flowing, Greco-Roman, assertively mint-green Valentino covered one of lead-actress nominee Kate Winslet's. Beyoncé Knowles wore an Armani of a similar shade that had a diagonal band of stones that stretched from her right hip across her chest and over her left shoulder. Proenza Schouler outfitted Maggie Gyllenhaal in an inky blue-and-black dress with its signature fitted bodice, a feathered hemline, and a single black, asymmetrical strap—and helped her prove in the process that, yes, stars do lose their baby weight faster than the rest of the world.

On the dual-shoulder strapless squad were Penélope Cruz, who made up for lost award-show time in a gorgeous blush-colored Versace with an ornate fitted bodice and a fluffy, voluminous mermaid-style hem. Cameron Diaz wore a white strapless Valentino that had a distinct origami feel. A vermilion Balenciaga showstopper with a halter neck exposed both of Nicole Kidman's creamy white shoulders, but the right one was nearly obscured by a tremendous bow tied at her neck, and her equally pale curtain of hair covered the other. Reese Witherspoon, meanwhile, scored in another surprisingly sexy strapless Nina Ricci and an equally long cascade of blond locks. Who needs sunshine?

See the list of Academy Awards winners >
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