The good news is... the Oscars didn't suck this year. In fact, there was a lot to recommend.
:02: Host Hugh Jackman starts his Oscar tribute medley (complete with the line "swim in a sea of excrement" during a serenade to Kate Winslet). The "low-budget" set was just as entertaining as some of the numbers (especially the Benjamin Button cut-out and the lime green Frost/Nixon lawn chairs), which included "the Craiglist dancers" (!!!) and a Frost/Nixon duet with Anne Hathaway. While dancing with Hathaway's Nixon, Jackman delivered one of my favorite lines of the evening: "Oh, Nixon..."
:07: The best part of the opening? Jackman's tribute to The Reader. He starts off with the line, "The Reader, I haven't seen The Reader" and goes into a full-on futuristic dance number with people in shiny leotards -- which has absolutely nothing to do with the post-WWII Nazi Germany film.
0:12: I'm not quite sure why the Oscars decided to hand out the acting awards by five fellow winners -- perhaps to honor the craft rather than any one person -- and I'm still undecided on how I feel about it. I have to admit it, though, the Best Supporting Actress presenters (Eva Marie Saint, Goldie Hawn, Angelica Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tilda Swinton) had the best material. It was nice to see the nominated actresses already in tears (Viola Davis broke my heart!), humbled by the kind words spoken by these past winners. (Of course, all of the nominated male actors were nowhere near this level of touched...)
:22: Tina Fey and Steve Martin present the best original and best adapted screenplay awards. (For the record, I'm sad that In Bruges didn't win best original screenplay, but the screenwriter for Milk, Dustin Lance Black, gave an appropriately touching and hopeful acceptance speech.) Fey and Martin are one of the highlights of the evening -- and possibly any Oscars ever. I, for one, appreciated that writers were presenting the awards, and so the intelligence of their act really reflected how important words are to movies.
INT. KODAK THEATRE - OSCAR NIGHTThey also gave us this great exchange. Fey: It has been said that to write is to live forever. Martin: The man who wrote that... is dead.
The two incredible presenters walk out to center stage.
The crowd is amazed by the star power and beauty of the two presenters.
The audience members are too stunned to leap to their feet.
The crowd is thrilled at seeing the presenters, except for those consumed by bitter jealousy.
The audience breaks into wild, uncontrollable applause.
:33: Jennifer Aniston is in the running with Robert Pattinson for most awkward presenter of the evening. Her "acting" casual was really distracting. (Just goes to show, folks, the woman can't act.) But Jack Black saved their performance by explaining how he makes money off doing animation: "Each year I do one Dreamworks project, then I take all my money to the Oscars and bet it on PIXAR!"
:40: Kunio Kato wins for Animated Short Film (La Maison En Petite Cubes) and has difficulty thanking people in English. He does it well, but you can tell he hears how broken his English is because he winces every time he starts a sentence with "thank you." So once he's reached the end, he adds, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." Funniest. Thing. Ever. Just like Josh Brolin, I couldn't stop laughing.
1:01: Ben Stiller presents the Cinematography award with Natalie Portman... as the never-named but much-alluded to Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix quit acting to become an actor, and here Stiller claims he wants to stop being known as the funny guy. And then during the reciting of the nominees, he walks around on stage.
1:12: Seth Rogen and James Franco star as their Pineapple Express characters in a Judd Apatow short film where the guys watch the films which haven't been nominated -- and, of course, they're comedies. (Ha! Take that you pretentious academy!) When they watch an intense scene from The Reader, they burst into laughter.
Franco: When I watch movies, I want to be intellectually stimulated... or watch young boys have sex with Nazis.
Franco: (While watching Tropic Thunder) Who do you think is a better actor -- Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama?
Rogen: That's... that's Robert Downey Jr.
Rogen: (While holding an Oscar statue) Do you think I could make this into a pipe?
1:22: There's an unnecessary musical medley... not that I didn't like it, I just thought it was inappropriate for the Oscars. Of course, this was a tribute to musicals that were adapted into films (The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Chicago, Grease), with the best moment belonging to the juxtaposing mix of Jesus Christ Superstar's downtrodden "I Don't Know How to Love Him" with Hairspray's upbeat "You Can't Stop the Beat." More importantly, at 1:25, Zac Efron finally comes into the light. (Holy crap, has he been on the stage the whole time?) I geek out a bit because the thought of High School Musical at the Oscars blows my mind. Interestingly, this was put together by Baz Luhrman.
1:35: Cuba Gooding Jr. yells at Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder. "Aren't you outta your mind?!?" I grow uncomfortable... and pray that the Oscars never let Gooding back on their stage again.
1:38: Heath Ledger wins for Best Supporting Actor. And all is right in the world. His family accept the award, and their speech is composed but still touching. (Adrien Brody is visibly moved. Or stoned.)
1:43: Bill Maher shamelessly plugs his documentary. I want to slap him in the face.
1:46: Ever the entertainer, Philippe Petit (Man on Wire) balances an Oscar statue on his chin as everyone looks on in amazement.
2:32: A. R. Rahman wins for his original song "Jai Ho" for Slumdog Millionaire. He offers this beautiful line: "All my life, I had the choice between hate and love. I chose love, and here I am."
2:41: Queen Latifah sings "I'll Be Seeing You" during the montage of all those who passed during the past year (ending on Paul Newman -- it always surprises me by how worked up I get by his death). But everyone claps. I thought the point of having Latifah there was so people wouldn't show favoritism through their applause...?
2:57: Five previous Best Actress winners (Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLane, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, and Halle Berry) appear on the stage... and everyone stands and applauds. You know, for an entire industry who tries to maintain a patriarchal order -- these five women brought an entire audience to their feet, whistling and yelling and clapping at their brilliance. It certainly seems like this is the biggest award of the night. (Seriously, any one of these actresses -- other than Angelina Jolie -- could have honestly won.) After MacLane presents to Anne Hathaway, there's a cut to fellow nominee Meryl Streep, which I thought was nice because Streep looked like the proud mother of her Devil Wears Prada co-star.
2:58: But the best part is Marion Cotillard's thanks to Kate Winslet that really made me happy. She was actually humbled and sincerely grateful for Winslet and her body of work, for her courage and beauty. Cotillard was crying more than Winslet, and Winslet was earnestly touched by Cotillard's appreciation. And then... Kate Winslet wins, and everyone cheers "FINALLY!"