Salma And Reese Make Colorful Splashes, Jake And Heath Hog The Black On Oscar Red Carpet

Jessica Alba, Keira Knightley go for more daring fashion choices while guys stay on the safe side.

It's Oscar time again — the climax of awards-show season and a good excuse for the world to obsess about a bunch of people they don't know personally. Well, that and to make "Brokeback Mountain" jokes. But we're much nobler: We care about what they're wearing.

On the 78th annual Academy Awards red carpet, basic black was left to the guys for the most part, while the ladies opted for color.

(Check out photos from the red carpet here.)

Salma Hayek was the standout in an off-the-shoulder pleated slate blue dress, with her hair let down in soft waves. Nicole Kidman wore an ivory beaded strapless dress, also with her hair down, while Jessica Alba looked hot in a gold halter dress with an embroidered skirt and train. Alba's hair choice, though — pulled into a stiff helmet — was off.

Reese Witherspoon arrived in a cream-and-silver beaded dress with a full skirt. Keira Knightley came in a garnet one-shoulder dress; Behar Soomekh wore ruffled lemon chiffon; Dolly Parton went with a pink-ruched short-sleeved dress; Jada Pinkett Smith opted for electric blue strapless with a long flowing sash from the back; Naomi Watts wore nude tulle; Meryl Steep donned chocolate brown taffeta; and Michelle Williams rounded out the red-carpet rainbow in mustard ruffled chiffon.

Four women did wear black, however, and they looked fierce. Felicity Huffman wore a cut-down-to-there black satin dress; Jennifer Aniston wore a low-cut black tank dress with a long train; Charlize Theron came in a black tank dress with an oversized shoulder bow; and a seven-months-pregnant Rachel Weisz sheathed her belly in a black, short-sleeve, off-the-shoulder gown.

Most of the men looked respectable, if relatively safe, in classic tuxedos. The rundown of non-risk-takers included Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Ryan Phillippe, Eric Bana, Ben Stiller, Paul Giamatti, Will Smith, Matt Dillon, Keanu Reeves, Will Ferrell, Jack Nicholson, Terrence Howard and George Clooney.

A black-suited Philip Seymour Hoffman inverted the look with a black shirt and white tie, while Morgan Freeman spiffed it up with an ascot in place of a tie. Ludacris showed them how it's done in a black-velvet-and-satin tux, while Jamie Foxx was the only one who brought any real sense of playfulness to the carpet in a black suit and tie paired with a turquoise shirt.

Lest you think this was a night full of tasteful sartorial decisions, look no further than the serious missteps of Sandra Bullock, whose hair was pulled into an ill-suited 'do and who wore a pleated dress with ... pockets? And while it was no real surprise that Tim Burton showed up looking disheveled in a black suit, red shirt and polka-dot tie, his partner Helena Bonham Carter would have been better off doing her quirky thing instead of wearing a perplexing periwinkle bridesmaid's dress.

The "March of the Penguins" team had the right idea: Their dates were a gaggle of the always-appropriately-dressed stuffed-animal penguins.