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8:27 Are we having fun yet?
After the most exhaustingly over-covered Oscar race yet (moving up the award date has only made campaigning more intense), the ceremony is about to begin. And not a moment too soon. The only fresh impression I got from the red carpet interviews on ABC was that Mark Wahlberg really does enjoy being a producer; I thought he carried "The Fighter" as an actor and was robbed of a best actor nomination, but he appeared genuinely thrilled that all his costars were nominated.
Will Bale and Leo or Adams win? We're minutes away.
8:50 Anne Hathaway and James Franco nailed their bits in the opening montage, a series of funny riffs on nine of the ten best movies within a funnier burlesque of "Inception." Not so wild about their joke introductions of their mother and grandmother respectively. The art direction award for "Alice in Wonderland" and cinematography prize for "Inception" indicate the Academy may be spreading the riches around. Both Robert Stromberg, accepting the "Alice" Oscar (with Karen O'Hara), and Wally Pfister, accepting for his shooting on "Inception," offered fulsome praise to their directors, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan.
Are the tributes to classic movies really going to be as brief as the snip of the burning of Atlanta from "Gone With the Wind?"
8:59 Kirk Douglas showed he still had his great scrappiness and shrewdness when he brought the crowd to its feet with his appearance to present the best supporting actress. Then he tickled everyone with his avowal of adoration for Anne Hathaway, who responded charmingly -- she's really something.
Only a star as charismatic and smart as Douglas could milk the moment of the announcement as hilariously as he did with his recollection that he lost three times. How appropriate that Melissa Leo, another gritty performer's performer, would be the actress to accept the award from Douglas. I wish she had gotten best actress for "Frozen River" instead of best supporting actress for "The Fighter" (this year, in this category, I would have preferred Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit" or Leo's "Fighter" costar, Amy Adams). But her excitement and passion were palpable, and it wasn't just a matter of her detonating the F bomb. It was moving to see the tears streaming down her face.
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis looked swell together, and Timberlake got off the first "Exit Through the Gift Shop" joke of the night -- he said he was Banksy. "The Lost Thing" was an unexpected but solid pick for best animated short. Totally expected -- also totally deserved -- was the choice of best animated feature, "Toy Story 3." When director Lee Unkrich said that Pixar was the best place in the world to make movies, a few pockets of the audience erupted with whoops of agreement.
9:14 "The Social Network" got its first award, and it's a big one: best adapted screenplay for Aaron Sorkin. He immediately displayed his class by expressing his awe at winning "the same award given to Paddy Chayefsky 35 years ago for another film with Network in the title." He repeated his refrain, "I wrote this movie but David Fincher made this movie." But you believed it when he said it, as you believed it when he said, "This will be a source of pride for me for every day of my life."
"The King's Speech" got its matching award when Javier Bardem presented the best original screenplay prize to the elegant, eloquent David Seidler. Who can root against either of these movies? Seidler noted, as he often has, that his father called him a "late bloomer," then remarked that he believed he was "The oldest person to win this award. I hope this record is broken quickly and often." When he thanked the Queen for not objecting that Colin Firth's Bertie used the same word that got Leo bleeped, I wondered if he was digging at the ratings board that slapped "The King's Speech" with an R. Maybe he was digging at Harvey Weinstein for putting out a PG-13 version with the word excised.
9:51 Christian Bale won for his drug-addict ex-boxer in "The Fighter" and gave a big plug for his character to anyone looking for a trainer or manager. I usually love Bale's work, but this performance, I thought, was all one note. There were more shades in his acceptance speech than in his supposed tour de force, especially when he choked up over his adoration of his wife.
Great pick: best score went to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their subtle, haunting, yet still energizing work on "The Social Network." Of course, it's hard to gainsay the craft that went into the award-winning sound mixing and sound editing for "Inception," but I would have picked "Social Network" for sound mixing and "Unstoppable" for sound editing.
9:54 Makeup whiz Rick Baker and costume designer Colleen Atwood are supremely talented and seasoned pros. But their awards for "The Wolfman" and "Alice in Wonderland" support the notion that the Academy sometimes confuses "the most" with "the best."
For once, the musical performances have been warm and winning. When will Randy Newman, who sang "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3," get a life achievement award? And why isn't Mandy Moore, who sang "I See the Light" from "Tangled," a major star already?
10:19 What is this level of love for Oprah Winfrey? Hathaway said she loves her work partly because it sometimes lets her breathe the same air as Oprah, and Oprah got the longest, most sweeping entrance of the night. Why did she present the best documentary award? Because people think she gets at the truth, or, even better, at "the heart" of the truth?
The documentary winner, the great "Inside Job," did both. And director Charles Ferguson delivered a jolt of political vitality when he noted that three years after the financial meltdown, "not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that's wrong."
10:33 Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law had their sporty timing down pat. Who thought it was smart to have Downey present the visual effects award, for which "Iron Man 2' was nominated, especially when "Inception" was clearly going to win, as it did? But it was terrific to see Downey and Law hand the editing award to "Social Network" cutters Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. David Fincher's editing team was robbed of awards for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." The editing award can be an indicator of the best picture prize. Here's hoping....
Personality will win out, sometimes. Randy Newman won for "Toy Story 3." Nominated twenty times, a winner for only the second time, Newman said they probably had named a dish "the Randy Newman chicken" at the nominees' lunch. He was deadpan-uproarious when he drawled out that he really wanted to be "good television" and not slow down the show. He also complained humorously that there were only four best song nominees -- though, he cracked, if there had been a fifth, it could have beat him.
10:55 The almost all-white evening received a needed splash of diversity when Halle Berry capped the "In Memoriam" segment with a special tribute to Lena Horne, the first black performer to sign a contract with a major studio. The "In Memoriam" montage, though, left out too many unforgettable talents (unforgettable, that is, except by the Academy), including Lamont Johnson, the director who gave Jeff Bridges his first great starring role (in "The Last American Hero") and Amanda Plummer and Diane Lane their first great starring roles (in "Cattle Annie and Little Britches").
11:05 For the best-picture contest, it's all over. David Fincher lost best director to Tom Hooper of "The King's Speech." Don't get me wrong: Hooper is a gifted director. "The King's Speech" is beautifully made and full of "felt life." "The Social Network" is, too, but it's also challenging and original, and it boasts a stripped-wire electricity. It dares to be equal parts "Citizen Kane" and "Rashomon" while tracking entrepreneurial creativity with a zest that makes most other "business films" seem bland and poky. I don't get the rap against "The Social Network." How can you say people don't connect to the main characters when you have audiences and pundits all over the country arguing over whether Zuckerberg is a hero or villain?
At least Hooper was witty and charming when he referred to the "triangle of man-love" formed by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and himself. He told the great story of how his Australian mother, in 2007, went to a staged reading of an unproduced play and phoned him to say she had found his next film. It was "The King's Speech."
11:25 Natalie Portman won for best actress -- no surprise and no revelation in the tremulous acceptance speech. Colin Firth -- how does he keep his authenticity after winning one award after another? He has always been a splendid actor and showman. He was again tonight, whether he was mixing pride and humility by saying that his career had just peaked -- or slipping in a phrase like "delusions of royalty" while thanking his wife for her forbearance.
11:33 Weirdest touch of the night: The producers laying the words of Firth's climactic speech in "The King's Speech" over clips from all the other films. Did they think these words would stand for all ten movies? They didn't. This not-so-bold stroke just made it seem as if the win for "The King's Speech" was a foregone conclusion.
For me, the emotional peak came with the ovation for Kevin Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola, and Eli Wallach, who in November, along with Jean-Luc Godard, received special awards for their extraordinary contributions to movie art and entertainment. The clips from that November ceremony included George Lucas calling Coppola his generation's "guiding light," Robert De Niro noting that the Academy was honoring Wallach as a great actor, not a mere star, Phil Alden Robinson saying that Godard didn't just break the rules but rode over them with a stolen car, and Kevin Brownlow saying that when he started out people told him silent films were a waste of time.
Kevin Brownlow-- as historian, archivist, filmmaker, biographer -- has done more than anyone in sixty years to revive the popularity of the silent film. I owe him a great personal debt: he gave the first big boost to my biography of Victor Fleming when he opened up, and kept open, his voluminous data and research on early Hollywood.
As for the show: Anne Hathaway demonstrated that she can do anything -- she turned James Franco into her straight man. She kept her effervescence up to the end, when she high-fived elementary-school kids, from a glee club in New York, who closed the night with "Over the Rainbow."
Photos of James Franco and Anne Hathaway; Kirk Douglas and Melissa Leo; David Seidler and Javier Bardem; Christian Bale; Randy Newman; and Colin Firth, by Gary Hershorn.