During this Academy Award night, I'll do a sort ongoing commentary. For some preview stories, please check previous blogs; here we go:
1) Ryan Seacrest does a fine job in the red-carpet interviews. At a time when vapid is normal, he has solid questions to ask, BUT ...
2) I was surprised that he didn't react well to the Sasha Baron Cohen stunt. The idea was actually kind of clever: In his character for the upcoming "The Dictator," Cohen pretended to be carrying an urn with the ashes of fellow dictator Kim Jong-Ill, then accidentally spilled it on Seacrest. This would provide a fresh answer, Cohen said, to the question of "who are you wearing." It was kind of funny ... except Seacrest clearly saw no humor in it. Others tried -- "you're a victim of comedy," Tina Fey explained -- but he couldn't be budged.
3) In one way, the Cohen stunt was deeply tragic: It led to a long time when police and security swarmed and a clean-up arrived. That seemed to keep Seacrest off the air for a long stretch .... while his fashion experts nattered on and on. Vapidity reigned.
4) As long as you asked me -- you didn't? why not? -- these were my favorite dresses: Jessica Chastain's deep gold and black, blending perfectly with her red hair ... Stacy Keibler, looking like a golden Oscar statue alongside George Clooney (who didn't look bad himself) ... and, most of all, Jennifer Lopez. The swirls of her dress seemed to flow like an undersea sculpture.
5) My favorite Billy Crystal line so far is, "We're here at the beautiful Chapter 11 Theater." This used to be the Kodak Theatre, until a bankruptcy judge let the company out of its $3.6-million-a-year commitment. There was talk of lining up someone new in time, but it apparently didn't work. Later, he called it the "(Your Name Here) Theatre."
6) The attempt to stuff nine movies into Crystal's opening song parody was a bit rushed. There were several times I couldn't tell what was said. Still, the "Descendants" song was terribly clever and Crystal summed up the Tom Hanks movie "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" with a Bob Hope parody that was shorter than the title: "Hanks is a memory."
7) "Hugo" won the first two awards, for set design and cinematography. (That cinematographer has some serious hair; I mean really serious.) Then "The Artist" won for costumes and "Iron Lady" won for make-up. The one trend here -- all four Oscars have been for movies made by Europeans or set in Europe. Maybe that continent isn't dying after all.
8) Crystal had a great "super Tuesday" quip -- one so quick and complex that I can't quote it here. Then "A Separation" won for foreign-language film, good news because: a) There was a smart speech savoring the fact that Iran is suddenly noted for art, not war; and b) In Michigan, at least, people can see the film, starting Friday at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor.
9) Then Octavia Spencer won the first acting award for "The Help." The most popular (box office-wise) of the best-picture nominees, "Help" is worth seeing.
10) "Hugo" got two more Oscars -- for sound editing and sound mixing -- and one very clever speech. The world is seriously off-kilter when a sound guy gives a much better speech than the actors.
11) The editing award went to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which is a good thing; it's a beautifully crafted film. "Rango" won for best cartoon, "Undefeated" for feature-length documentary.
12) The Cirque du Soleil number was quick and spectacular. Cirque has a longer movie show -- also by my favorite film composer, Danny Elfman -- nightly at this Whatever Theatre.
13) Since that number was introduced by Kermit and Miss Piggy, Crystal said: "Puppets and acrobats -- we're a pony away from a bar mitzvah." He's been scattering good moments throughout the night.
14) Another Oscar win for "Hugo," this one for special effects. That makes five so far, a good start. Also, a supporting-actor nod for Christopher Plummer. So far, my predictions are two-for-two; they sometimes go bad.
15) Crystal's new best line: The Harry Potter movies made a combined $7.7 billion ... and still only paid 13 percent tax rate.
16) "The Artist" has won for costumes and now for music -- which you kind of expected. The guy got to write an entire movie's length of music, with none of that annoying talk to interrupt it. Carmine Coppola (Francis' dad) once marvelled to me that his then- son-in-law, David Shire, had won an Oscar for writing 11 minutes of music. Coppola had just finished writing two-plus-hours for a Napoleon silent-film re-release.
17) Will Ferrell and Zach Galinfalakis did a cymbal duet in front of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie -- sort of a merging of the sex cymbals. They announced the song Oscar for "Man or Muppet." It's a great song, but the category was terribly screwed up this year; changes in the voting rules left only two nominees, in a year that would have had five terrific ones.
18) Script Oscars just went to "Descendants" and "Midnight in Paris." Woody Allen wasn't there for the latter, of course, but I was still happy; that means I'm 4-for-4 so far
19) OK, the shorts category disappointed me entirely. I liked "Time Freak," "La Luna" and -- especially -- "Barber of Birmingham." The winners were "The Shore" (a very good one), "The Flying Books of Morris Lessmore" (OK) and "Saving Face" (a good film, but painfully hard to watch). You can catch them all at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor, through Thursday; you can also catch my comments, a few blogs back. The live-action shorts are especially good; the animated ones good, the documentaries mixed.
20) Now I'm on a losing streak; I predicted Martin Scorsese ("Hugo") for best director; instead, Michel Hazanavicius (my preference, but not my prediction) won for "The Artist."
21) "The Artist" foiled me anew. Its Jean Dujardin won for best actor; I had predicted "Descendants." Two to go and I need a comeback.
22) Sparse on music, the show still did wonders with what little it had. The band, visible in the side balcony, was zesty. The in memorium song, by Esperanza Spalding and a choir, was great.
23) Mixed emotions again: For best actress -- as for best director -- the winner is the one I prefered, but not the one I predicted. I'd prefered Meryl Streep, predicted Viola Davis. Streep won. "The Iron Lady" is an OK film -- flawed by spending too much time at the end of Margaret Thatcher's life, the least interesting part -- with (as usual) a perfect performance by Streep.
24) So the night finished with its odd arc -- five Oscars apiece for "Hugo" and "The Artist," but the latter big ones at the end (best picture, director and actor). Both are superb films celebrating Hollywood traditions. "The Artist" was my preference but "Hugo" was my prediction. That's why I finished with only four out of eight in my printed-in-the-paper predictions. That won't win any Oscar pools.
25) A final overview -- partly because 25 is such a nifty number to end with. Crystal did a terrific job. His monolog was way too short, but he peppered in funny comments throughout the night. The band was good, the shorts were terrific, the acceptance speeches were so-so, but many of the presenters crackled with wit. A couple of people who showed up in the closing credits are worth mentioning: Christopher Guest directed that dandy film that claimed to be a "Wizard of Oz" focus group. Also, Marc Shaiman did the music for Crystal's opening song parodies. Presumably, his lyricist Scott Wittman helped with the words. Those two write an original song every week for the wonderful "Smash" -- which you should definitely see at 10 p.m. Monday on NBC.