Oscars, blow by blow

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4:45 p.m. So, less than half an hour till the Oscar ceremony begins. And amazingly, some actresses have actually slipped inside the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood without being mauled by E! Entertainment's resident red-carpet manhandler, Isaac Mizrahi.

After "Brokeback Mountain's" triumph at the Independent Spirit Awards over the weekend, the expectation is that Ang Lee's cowboys-in-love fable will dominate the Academy Awards. But there's been some late-inning movement (isn't there always?) toward some of the other best picture contenders, most notably Paul Haggis' L.A . melodrama "Crash." And who knows? It's possible that even Bennett Miller's "Capote" or George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" could pull through with at least one or two major awards.

And what of Steven Spielberg's "Munich?" Seems less likely – neither Hollywood nor mainstream audiences ever really warmed up to it – but we'll see. In the meantime, virtually all of the attention is going to be on first-time host Jon Stewart, who has spent much of the past week tamping down expectations – and reassuring Academy voters that he's not going to be as slash-and-burn as last year's first-time host, Chris Rock. We never realized this back when Johnny Carson was doing it, but the Oscars are a notoriously tough crowd. Too soft and you'll bore the folks at home; too tough, and you'll break some fragile egos at the Kodak.

For Stewart, the first 10 minutes will tell the story.

For the nominees? Well, hopefully we'll get to best picture by 8:30. Nine at the latest.

So join us for the play-by-play.

5:00 p.m. What the heck was that? Creepy Oscar intro digitally inserted Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, James Dean and Spider-Man into a surreal, amber-hued cityscape. Yuck.

5:17 p.m. OK, so that wasn't so great. Jon Stewart's opening started off mighty rough.He was introduced by a kinda funny montage of past Oscar hosts (Billy Crystal and Chris Rock holed up in tent, a la "Brokeback) that wound up with Stewart in bed with first Halle Berry and then George Clooney.

Then Stewart faced the Kodak crowd, and came perilously close to bombing straightaway. He noted that the theme of Oscar this year was a "Return to Glamour," which is better than last year's theme, "Night of a Thousand Sweat Pants." Huh? What?

There was uncomfortable tittering from the crowd. You could almost hear people shifting in their seats. A reaction shot showed an appropriately stone-faced Charlize Theron.

But Stewart recovered. He mentioned "Good Night, and Good Luck," adding that that "is also how George Clooney ends all his dates. Stewart then went better: "Bjork couldn't be here tonight. She was trying on her Oscar dress and Dick Cheney shot her."

By the time he mentioned "Brokeback," leading into a genuinely funny collection of homoerotic-seeming clips from old movies, Stewart had nearly righted a pretty crummy start.

5:21 p.m. George Clooney gets best supporting actor prize (for "Syriana") and also delivers the night's first good line: "OK, so I'm not winning for director." But what's the deal with the constant music in the background as the winners speak?

5:28 p.m. Nearly a half hour into the show, and they're already wasting time. Tom Hanks did a recorded bit, meant to satirize winners being played offstage by the orchestra, of musicians surrounding him as he blathered on with thanks. This is why the show never ends on time.

5:29 p.m. Ben Stiller comes out clad in green tights to present an Oscar for special effects. Stiller prances around as if working in front of a green screen. "This is gonna blow Spielberg's mind!" Cut to Spielberg in audience, who mouths: "No, it's not." Anyway, "King Kong" wins.

5:32 p.m. Stewart congratulates Stiller on his green unitard. "It's nice to have proof that he's really Jewish."

5:34 p.m. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" takes the prize for animated feature. That must be something of a bittersweet salve for DreamWorks, which really took it on the chin for the film's disappointing box office.

5:37 p.m. Dolly Parton comes out in a form-fitting white suit. She sings. She sounds great. She looks – well, her body dimensions still look as impossible as ever.

5:41 p.m. Now do you realize why this show runs long? We're nearly 45 minutes into the Oscars, and we've done just one major category. What else have we had? Well, a 15-minute so-so monologue. Two minor prizes. A live performance. Lotsa filler.

And they wonder why young people are tuning out.

5:43 p.m. Stewart returns from a commercial break: "And that's why I think Scientology is right not just for this city, but the entire country."

5:46 p.m. The Wilson bros., Owen and Luke, give a prize to filmmaker Martin McDonagh ("Six Shooter") for live action short. Then a bit of corporate synergy from Oscar presenter ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co.: Chicken Little, star of Disney's eponymous cartoon dud, presents for animated short film.

5:50 p.m. Jennifer Aniston, presenting the Oscar for costume design, gives the award to Colleen Atwood of "Memoirs of a Geisha" –- probably the last prize that film will win tonight. Still that annoying background music as Atwood speaks.

5:53 p.m. Russell Crowe comes out to introduce a montage of films based on historical figures ("Gandhi," "Young Mr. Lincoln," "Chaplin," etc.). And Crowe doesn't slug anyone.

5:58 p.m. Will Ferrell and Steve Carell come out to present the makeup award. The joke is that they're ridiculously over-made-up. They both look like radiation victims.

6:02 p.m. Stewart congratulates "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" on winning the Oscar for makeup, but tells the audience that he was surprised "Cinderella Man" wasn't honored: "Imagine the difficulty of making Russell Crowe look like he got into a fight."

Then Stewart gives us a whiff of the kind of political humor sadly missing from his opening monologue, pointing to a huge Oscar statue on stage and telling the crowd: "Do you think if we all got together and pulled this down, democracy would flourish in Hollywood?"

6:07 p.m. Something of a surprise! Rachel Weisz, seven months pregnant, takes best supporting actress win for "The Constant Gardener," beating out Catherine Keener of "Capote" and Michelle Williams of "Brokeback Mountain." Weisz takes the classy route of thanking not only co-workers but "Gardener" novelist John Le Carre.

6:12 p.m. More than an hour into this thing, and is any film dominating? Uh .... well..... no.

6:14 p.m. Lauren Bacall presents a tribute to American film noir, but with her tremulous, halting delivery, she seems to be having great difficulty reading the prompter.

6:17 p.m. Stewart on the film-noir clip Bacall introduced: "You can't help watching them and think, 'Wow, how amazing they'd look in color.'" Then, we get another flash of what Stewart is capable of, with three terrific little parodies of take-no-prisoners political ads supposedly paid for by best actress nominees. One attacks Charlize Theron for always "hagging it up" and then notes that Keira Knightley is not afraid of acting while beautiful, her high cheekbones seemingly crafted of "God-dust."

6:23 p.m. Charlize Theron appears and asks, "What is truth, what is fiction and what is memoir?" We thought for a moment she was introducing James Frey, but no. She's presenting for best documentary feature. Winner? "March of the Penguins," of course. Our fave was "Murderball." See it and you'll understand.

6:28 p.m. Are we at war? Oh, yeah, we are. Jennifer Lopez strides out in an Army green gown and introduces the musical number, "In the Deep" from "Crash." Performed by Kathleen "Bird" York, the set is dominated, disquietingly, by a burning car and slo-motion dancers acting out the rescue central to the film's plot. If Rob Lowe and Snow White were a 10 on the awfulness scale, this is like a 7. Maybe an 8.

6:33 p.m. Update: Ninety minutes in. Ten out of 24 awards passed out. Not terrible pacing, but it'll take that usual last half-hour sprint to finish on time.

So far, the show's been far from killer, but it's gotten a few good lines off. Stewart's back, so let's see ....

6:34 p.m. Stewart: "If you are trying to escape a burning car, my suggestion would be not to move in slow motion."

6:36 p.m. Wow. It's looking like "Memoirs of a Geisha's" night! Just kidding .... However, it did pick up a second win for art direction, after taking home a prize for costume design. If we're not mistaken, that means "Geisha" has won more Oscars than any other film tonight ... so far.

6:42 p.m. A long, long montage of socially conscious films: "Grapes of Wrath," "Norma Rae," "On the Waterfront," "Gentleman's Agreement," etc. Stewart's response: "And none of those issues were ever a problem again."

6:43 p.m. Academy chief Sid Ganis comes out to ... well, we're not sure why he's come out, unless he's practicing for the Cliche Olympics. "State of the art storytelling may change," Ganis says, "but state of the heart storytelling will never change." Touching and so true, Sid. Now please go backstage.

6:46 p.m. Salma Hayek introduces Oscar orchestra maestro Bill Conti and then hands over to violinist Itzhak Perlman, who plays selections from the films nominated for best score.

6:51 p.m. "Brokeback Mountain" takes its first prize of the night. Composer Gustavo Santaolalla wins for the film's simple, guitar-based score.

6:57 p.m. Stewart notes that the show so far has been a little "rote" and controversy-free, but he now accuses Perlman of "finger-synching." It's an okay line, although not quite up to Billy Crystal's long-ago crack about Jack Palance bungee-jumping off the Hollywood sign. Remember that night? We do. And the fact that we do tells you something about this ceremony.

7:00 p.m. Another montage?? Puh-leeze! Nooooooooooo!!!! (sounds of whimpering, sobbing)

7:01 p.m. Stewart: "I can't wait till later, when we see 'Oscar's tribute to montages.' Holy crap, we're out of clips!"

Memo to Gil Cates, show producer: If you have another montage .... please dump it.

7:04 p.m. "King Kong" gets a second tech award, this one for sound mixing. "Geisha" and "Kong," two apiece.

7:05 p.m. Lily Tomlin – where's she been? Now she's onstage with Meryl Streep, giving an honorary Oscar to Robert Altman, another leading light who's been snubbed by the Academy too often in the past. The seemingly mismatched pair work quite well together with an overlapping, stream-of-consciousness dialogue. (Tomlin said something about Altman's viewers thinking their popcorn had been transformed into "peyote buttons!")

Then ... a montage of Altman films!

7:12 p.m. Altman: "I've got a lot to say, and they've got a clock on me." Well, of course they do – there are more montages to show!

Actually, Mr. M*A*S*H* -- who's always seemed a gruff and somewhat remote figure, at least in establishment Hollywood -- comes through with a gracious and extemporaneous-sounding speech. "I always thought this kind of award meant that it was over," he says. But he realizes that's not the case – and since a few years back he got a heart transplant from a donor in her mid-30s, he says, he's still got another 40 years or so of filmmaking.

7:22 p.m. Oscar gets crunky! Believe this is a first, folks. Grampa'll be shocked by the bump-and-grind performance of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow."

Hey, at least it's not another montage.

7:25 p.m. Uh .... "Pimp" won.

We're not living in an "Oliver!" world anymore.

7:27 p.m. Stewart: "You know what? I think it just got a little easier out here for a pimp." He said the "Pimp's" Three 6 Mafia would mix it up with Perlman, and the only way to solve it? "Dreydel-off!" "How come they were the most excited people up here tonight?" Stewart wondered.

'Cuz they didn't expect to win? That's our guess.

7:30 p.m. Number three for "King Kong": Sound editing.

OK, now we're two and a half hours in. From now on, the big prizes. Next up, best foreign language film, then editing and on to best actor.

7:32 p.m. But first, another montage! The "In Memoriam" clip .... roll it!

7:40 p.m. South Africa wins for best foreign language film, "Tsotsi."

Stewart provides some helpful perspective for those keeping score: "Martin Scorsese, 0 Oscars, Three 6 Mafia, one."

7:44 p.m. "Crash" takes home its first major prize, for editing. Editor Hughes Winborne thanks director Paul Haggis and also Cathy Schulman, one of the producers involved in a series of contentious lawsuits over the film's credits and profits.

7:46 p.m. Nearly 11 p.m. on the East Coast, but we're finally at one of the key categories: Best Actor. Hilary Swank presents.

7:49 p.m. Philip Seymour Hoffman wins for "Capote:" "I'm overwhelmed, I'm really overwhelmed." Not a particularly memorable speech, but Hoffman throws a nice shout-out to his mom: "She brought up four kids alone and she deserves a congratulation for that."

7:57 p.m. John Travolta presents for best cinematography. And it's win No. 3 for "Geisha" (Dion Beebe).

8:02 p.m. Reese Witherspoon wins best actress for "Walk the Line," and we get a nice disgusted reaction shot from passed-over nominee Charlize Theron. Witherspoon slathers earnest gratitude over everything: "I want to thank the Academy for this wonderful honor." Then she thanks virtually everyone she ever met: June Carter, Joaquin Phoenix, her grandmother, her mother, her husband, actor Ryan Phillippe (playing the same thankless role Chad Lowe did when wife Hilary Swank won for "Boys Don't Cry"), and on and on.

Nice. But not a water-cooler speech for Monday morning.

8:11 p.m. "Brokeback" wins for best adapted screenplay. But why did Diana Ossana rush to the stage, leaving longtime partner Larry McMurtry behind in the aisle? Is it because McMurtry failed to thank Ossana at the Golden Globes?

Presenting the award, Dustin Hoffman seemed, as usual, weird. What is it with Hoffman and the Oscars? He is one of those actors who could read a utility bill and make it sound creepy. At one point, he almost opened the envelope before reading the nominees. "It's so much easier to act than do this stuff," he says.

8:15 p.m. "Crash" wins for original screenplay (Bobby Moresco and director Paul Haggis). Haggis quotes German playwright Bertolt Brecht, and stammers while passing out thank yous. "I'm so nervous!" he says.

After Haggis finishes, Moresco approaches the microphone, but the orchestra has already started playing and the stage has gone dark. The camera cuts to shocked onlookers shaking their heads.

Sorry, Bobby. They just did too many montages early in the evening.

8:19 p.m. OK, this is it. Two final prizes left: director and best picture.

8:21 p.m. Whoop goes up when Ang Lee nabs best director for "Brokeback." Lee (looking at Oscar): "I wish I knew how to quit you." Lee said he made the film just after his father died and did it mostly for him. Then he said something in Chinese, but we can't translate, sorry.

8:24 p.m. They should make Jack Nicholson host of the Oscars. He's got the right tone of detachment for it. Jack's presenting for best picture.

8:26 p.m. Uh .... wow .... a moment of surprise, of real drama ... "Crash" wins best picture! This was ... not expected, to say the least. (Producer Bob Yari, who sued over the credits, did not rush the stage.)

Producer Cathy Schulman mentions Yari not just once but twice ... and then is played offstage as she begins thanking her husband and the rest of her family.

8:31 p.m. Well, folks, that was a bit of a letdown, wasn't it? Of course people at the office tomorrow will be talking about "Crash's" surprise win. Didn't we say at the beginning that we detected a last-minute sentiment shift toward Haggis' picture? But still .... "Brokeback" had the, well .... Mighty Mo. What happened? Discussion is starting in living rooms across America right now. Or at least those living rooms where viewers are still awake.

So, how'd Jon do? Oh .... okay. In our opinion, he did about as well as Chris Rock did, which is to say, about as well as the Academy is going to let any host do. The problem is the montages choked the life out of everything (a clip about film noir? Why? Another clip of Henry Fonda's "I'll be there" speech from "Grapes of Wrath?" Why? Don't they want young people to tune in? Those films mean nothing to them!).

It was simply very hard for Stewart to build any sort of momentum as host. Unlike, say, Billy Crystal, he just doesn't have the energy to keep things zipping along just on his presence. And with the exception of the parodies of political attack ads, Stewart stayed away from the sharp political humor that is his forte. That was a mistake.

But on the good side, Stewart didn't flub spectacularly, a la David Letterman, and he didn't insult the people who hired him, a la Rock.

So he may live to host again another day.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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