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Blogging the Oscars

Blogging the Oscars

8:00 p.m., Eastern Time: We bloggers have been demeaned, referred to as nothing more than guys in pajamas, who write from our basements.

As I sit in my basement, clad in pajamas (and a bathrobe -- with slippers, no less!), preparing to blog my thoughts on the Oscars as they are televised, I think the critics are on to something. But as the political bloggers shook the world during the 2004 elections (Time magazine noted their influence and began to name its "Bloggers of the Year" shortly thereafter), it's time for this blogger to shake up the staid, self-congratulatory awards show.

That is, if I can stay awake.

I've just caught the final moments of Barbara Walter's Oscars interview with Eddie Murphy. Funny stuff. Reminds me of why I'm hoping Murphy will win, overcoming a remarkable smear campaign (by one particular Oscar blogger!) against his nomination.

Time for a half-hour preview show before the official ceremony kicks off. That'll give me enough time to look over the list of nominees once more, and make my final predictions. What's my track record at predicting Oscar wins? Not bad. I'm 36 years old and have been watching the broadcast annually since I was 12, I think. But that's beside the point. Truth is, these awards are very predictable. By the time the Oscars rolls around, we've had the Golden Globes and a variety of awards specific to the different branches of the Academy -- the actors, directors, cinematographers, editors, etc.

The heavy favorites are well known, but this year is a little different. Best Picture is a toss-up. "Babel" had a moment several weeks ago where it was considered a slight favorite, but that's since subsided. Predictions now are that "Little Miss Sunshine" will become the first comedy since "Annie Hall" to win the top prize, unless "The Departed," by far the highest grossing of the five Best Picture nominees, pulls it off.

The director of "The Departed," Martin Scorcese, is as close to a lock as there can be at the Oscars. This is his year, and because the conventional wisdom says that the Best Picture winner so often is the best directed film of the year, it stands to reason that Scorcese's inevitable victory will give his film a leg up.

Except that "The Departed" is a dark, violent film, and that’s thought to weigh against its chances, particularly with older Academy members, who aren't so enamored with the bullet-to-the-head imagery of Scorcese's gangster epic.

What about the actors? Jennifer Hudson is a big favorite for her supporting role in "Dreamgirls," while Helen Mirren is an even more certain winner than Scorcese for her performance in the title role of "The Queen." Among the male actors, things are less certain. Forest Whitaker has won nearly every other accolade for his role as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," but Peter O'Toole has never won a competitive Oscar. His role in "Venus" may help him pull out a sentimental victory in the Best Actor category. Among the supporting actors, Eddie Murphy is favored to win for his role in "Dreamgirls," but Alan Arkin has an outside shot as the crude grandfather in "Little Miss Sunshine."

Enough of that. You've read it all before, right? Even if you haven't, you don't care all that much. We're down to 15 minutes until airtime. I've mentioned the favorites in the major categories. What about my preferences? Here they are:

Best Picture: "Babel"

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland

Best Actress: Kate Winslet, "Little Children"

Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza, "Babel"

Best Director: Paul Greengrass, "United 93"

Best Foreign Language Film: "Pan's Labyrinth"

Best Cinematography: "The Black Dahlia"

Best Adapted Screenplay: "Little Children"

Best Original Screenplay: "Pan's Labyrinth"

My Upset Pick: Adriana Barraza, for "Babel"

Seven minutes till show time.

8:30: It begins! Famous folks speaking in soundbytes against a white backdrop. Some not so famous faces get the best lines. One man says he's been nominated 7 times and has never won, and tonight will be his eighth loss. Eddie Murphy gets a big laugh just by staring at the camera.

The announcer introduces -- the audience in the auditorium! Yes, it's this year's Oscar nominees! One hundred and seventy-seven of them, we're told, although clearly the crowd is larger. Several of the audience members stand and applaud themselves. Or are they applauding the others? Does it make any difference?

8:36: Host Ellen DeGeneres takes the stage and tells us the short film that began the telecast was directed by documentarian Errol Morris. As I type, looking down at the screen, my wife asks, "What in the heck is Ellen wearing?"

Good question. "It's a velvety thing," she says, unimpressed. Calling Mr. Blackwell! Calling Mr. Blackwell!

8:39: "There's a billion people watching," Ellen says. Aren't there always a billion people watching the Oscars? When was it less than a billion? When will it hit 2 billion?

8:41: First Al Gore joke of the night. Crowd goes wild!

8:44: Gospel Hour! A gospel choir walks the aisles of the theater, telling the crowd, "This night's for you," or something like that.

"I would not want to follow that," Ellen says.

8:45: First Oscar, Best Art Direction

WINNER: "Pan's Labyrinth"

And that's the way it oughta be.

Hey, did Nicole Kidman announce by saying, "And the winner is"? I thought it was supposed to be, "And the Oscar goes to." Remember when they made that change, because to cite a "winner" was to imply that the non-winners were LOSERS, right? Well, maybe they changed it back. Maybe they did it last year. I'm not sure.

8:49: First commercial break, with a very strange lead-in to the ad break. Silhouetted dancers, two announcers telling us their names. Who cares?

While the ads unfold, it’s time to check CBS to see who’s winning this leg of "The Amazing Race."

Kevin and Drew got eliminated. Drew isn't happy.

8:55: I missed something, but it seems to be a musical number. Jack Black, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly. Looks like it was funny. I wish the Oscars had more lighthearted moments like that one.

Second Oscar, Best Makeup

WINNER: "Pan's Labyrinth"

It's 2-for-2. Why wasn't it nominated for Best Picture?

9:00 p.m: Third Oscar, Best Animated Short

WINNER: "The Danish Poet"

I knew it! (No, I didn't. Of COURSE I didn't.)

Fourth Oscar, Best Live Action Short

"West Bank Story"

The clip made it look like "West Side Story" between the Israelis and Palestinians.

9:05: Clips of "Letters From Iwo Jima," with Clint Eastwood’s voiceover: It's not about right and wrong, he says, but about the sacrifices the Japanese soldiers made. "They made them."

9:11: The sound effects choir. Nifty!

Fifth Oscar, Best Sound Editing

"Letters From Iwo Jima"

Two men want to say their "thank yous," but one guy is using up all the time. The second man looks panicked -- maybe he won't get a chance to say something? He won't. First guy used up all the time. How gracious.

Sixth Oscar, Best Sound Mixing

"Dreamgirls" gets its first Oscar of the night.

Seventh Oscar, Best Supporting Actor

WINNER: Will it be Eddie or Alan? It'll be -- Alan Arkin! "That's a good sign for 'Little Miss Sunshine,'" my wife says.

Arkin has put his Oscar on the floor, so he can use both hands to read his notes. Now Ellen is walking the aisles and chatting up the nominees. Her first choice: Mark Wahlberg, who just lost in the Best Supporting Actor category! Nice goin', Ellen.

Horrifyingly, Ellen asks us to "welcome" a dance troupe who will "interpret" various films.

9:30: In what is, for me at any rate, the musical highlight of the night -- I don't care much about the music in "Dreamgirls" -- James Taylor is singing his nominated song from "Cars," written by Randy Newman, who's playing piano. I just saw this film last week, and the song sequence is one of its strongest. Great use of a song, well performed. Taylor is incomparable. Newman is great, although he recently won an Oscar after a long dry spell. Will he win again this year?

Now it’'s Melissa Etheridge, singing about how we all can (should, must?) do our part to reduce carbon emissions. How odd for the Best Song category, but she's singing her heart out.

9:35: Priceless! While Al Gore and Leo DiCaprio pat each other on the back for their environmentalism, the camera cuts to a shot of a bored Jerry Seinfeld, making a face.

Eighth Oscar, Best Animated Film

WINNER: "Happy Feet"

No Pixar victory. "Happy Feet" director George Miller looks like a penguin. That’s intentional, right?

And now, a clip job about writers and how the movies portray them. Do we need this? Really, do we?

9:50: Ninth Oscar, Best Adapted Screenplay

WINNER: "The Departed"

It has crackling dialogue, but it’s hard to imagine a more profane screenplay.

Backstage, Tom Hanks puts on a happy face when Chris Connelly asks him if more fun awaits those watching the broadcast. "You bet, Chris! More fun!" Tom shouts. We forget that Hanks is, first, a comedian, a guy who's hosted "Saturday Night Live" six or seven times (I lost count long ago).

9:59: Ellen debuts the "Ellen Oscar Bjorn." Cute.

Tenth Oscar, Best Costume Design

WINNER: "Marie Antoinette"

The winner's two previous Oscar victories? "Chariots of Fire" and "Barry Lyndon"! Wow. Talk about a career! She dedicates the award to Hugh Hudson and Stanley Kubrick.

10:04: Humanitarian award to Sherry Lansing. She's a big stem-cell research supporter. That’s an interesting "humanitarian" cause.

Ellen's having fun with Eastwood and Spielberg. Loved the comment about Spielberg making the photo "more even on both sides"! But overall, this broadcast is out of gas. It's pleasant enough, not highly offensive, but has had few memorable moments thus far.

Eleventh Oscar, Best Cinematography

WINNER: "Pan's Labyrinth"! Unexpected -- "Children of Men" was the front-runner -- but it's another worthy award for this amazing film.

Twelfth Oscar, Best Visual Effects

"Pirates of the Caribbean"

During the acceptance speech, the camera cuts to the beautiful Beyonce, smiling. Why? Who cares? It's more interesting than the speech.

Thirteenth Oscar, Best Foreign Language Film

WINNER: It’s got to be "Pan's Labyrinth," right?  Wait a minute, it's not a competitive Oscar category. It's a tribute to foreign-language cinema. Hurrah! Probably not necessary, but given tonight's victories so far by "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" (an American film with almost all dialogue in Japanese), there’s something suitable about this segment.

NOW, the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are announced.

WINNER: "The Lives of Others"! It was always considered a contender, but in light of the earlier victories tonight for "Pan's Labyrinth," this is a big surprise. I still need to see this film.

Fourteenth Oscar, Best Supporting Actress

WINNER: Jennifer Hudson, for "Dreamgirls"

"Look what God can do," she says.

Fifteenth Oscar, Best Documentary Short Subject

WINNER: "The Blood of Yingzhou District"

Sixteenth Oscar, Best Documentary Feature

--Jerry Seinfeld does a little routine before announcing the nominees. I want more comedy, but this seems like an unusual time, and an unusual category, for stand-up. Then again, he introduces the five nominees as "incredibly depressing movies," and that's funny.

WINNER: "An Inconvenient Truth." Get ready for a speech. Hey, that wasn’t so bad. And on we go.

To Ennio Morricone's well deserved honorary Oscar! Clint Eastwood botches the introduction. "I should've worn my glasses," he says, as clips of films, set to Morricone's scores, begin to roll.

Morricone lifts his Oscar -- others have set it down tonight -- and holds it high, looking right at the camera. It's a great moment, wordless. This may be the one lasting image from tonight’s broadcast.

11:06: Seventeenth Oscar, Best Original Score

WINNER: "Babel"! Will it be the film's only Oscar tonight?

Seventeenth Oscar, Best Original Screenplay

"Little Miss Sunshine"! Wasn't "The Queen" supposed to win? More good news for "Sunshine."

Michael Arndt dedicates the award to his family, including his dad, "who's with us here in spirit."

Chris Connelly, backstage, reminds viewers that "Pan's Labyrinth" already has "two Oscars" tonight. Wrong, Chris: It has three.

Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce are performing the "Dreamgirls" nominated songs. I felt some trepidation going into it -- hasn't this show gone on long enough, and doesn't it still have a long way to go? -- but the kickoff song adds some much needed energy to this broadcast. Bravo, ladies! The two follow-up songs aren't as good.

And now for eighteenth Oscar, Best Original Song

WINNER: Melissa Etheridge, for "I Need to Wake Up," from "An Inconvenient Truth"

She thanks her "incredible wife" then says we can be the "greatest generation" of carbon-conscious people. It's a gay-marriage/environmentalist double shot! But there’s no discernable wave of support, or cries of outrage. Not at 11:30 p.m. in the East. We're all too tired to get exercised.

The broadcast has just passed the 3-hour mark, with several categories to go. I wish I could say that the suspense over Best Picture were killing me, but it’s not. It looks like "Little Miss Sunshine" all the way. But first, here’s a Michael Mann-assembled tribute to America in the movies. It takes a lot to get no excitement out of e at the mention of Michael Mann's name, but again, it's after 11:30 p.m. I couldn't care less about this.

Nineteenth Oscar, Best Film Editing

WINNER: Thelma Schoonmaker, "The Departed"

It's time for the "In Memorium" segment, usually a highlight. When it airs before most people’s bedtime, that is. OK, it was moving. But the fade to commercial was a depressing reminder that we’re not done. Not nearly done.

Twentieth Oscar, Best Actress

WINNER: This is the lock of all locks. The Oscar goes to Helen Mirren.

More dancing shadows, this time forming a gun, representative of "The Departed." Weird.

Chris Connelly is telling us that the "presenters are read" for the big awards. Hey, Chris: The AUDIENCE was ready about an hour ago! Let's get a move on! Oh, forget it.

I notice that of the three Oscar blogs I’m following that are live-blogging this event, two are very high on Ellen DeGeneres and the show, and one is most decidedly not. I'm with the one who's not.

Twenty-first Oscar (have I lost count?), Best Actor

WINNER: Forest Whitaker

O'Toole is denied again, but this caps Whitaker's unbroken string of awards for his role as Idi Amin. Whitaker hopes to carry "this moment into the next lifetime."

Here comes Best Director, presented by George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg

WINNER: Martin Scorcese! And the audience leaps to its feet! There’s a name that we won’t see among the list of amazing creative talent to never have won an Oscar.

Ah, there's another memory from tonight: Scorcese walking off stage with those three filmmaking giants, and into the embrace of Jack Nicholson.

Twenty-second Oscar, Best Picture

WINNER: "The Departed"

We're told that Scorcese referred to the film as "the first movie he's ever done with a plot." This is a surprise. Sure, "The Departed" had a shot, because people liked it, and many people saw it. But it was grim. Grim, grim, grim. Stylish, profane, exciting, but in the end, depressing. But it's your Best Picture winner. A lot of people will be very happy. Me? I can't wait to watch "Babel" again. And "United 93." And "Little Children." But "The Departed"? Not so much.

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