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Notes from the Oscars: Parsing Hollywood's annual salute to itself 

All Jack(man)ed Up

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As someone who is averse to People magazine and most other forms of 21st Century celebrity worship, I can honestly say that I switched on my TV without any clue as to who would be hosting Sunday night's Academy Awards. I know that I wasn't alone when I breathed a small sigh of relief realizing that it was Hugh Jackman on emcee duties. It's not that I'm a big Wolverine fan. But like many other Americans, I'm still recovering from Whoopi Goldberg. Just out of curiosity I checked to see how many times the Academy inflicted Whoopi upon viewers like me. Surprisingly few, in fact. Whoopi hosted just four times, but the punishment was spread out over nine years between 1993 and 2001. And I think that's what made it so difficult - the not knowing. Pouring through the stats we determined that Billy Crystal was the King of the Post-Reagan Era with seven hosting credits to his name. But nobody can hold a candle to Bob Hope who hosted or co-hosted a record 17 times between 1938 and 1977.

Jackman did a solid job showing off his song and dance skills in some Old Timey choreographed show tune sequences. But the Academy was clearly shooting for a controversy-free host when it tapped one of its own to emcee. And missing were the snappy one-liners and industry jabs provided by Jon Stewart who hosted two of the past three Oscars.


We were surprised by...

Kate Winslet taking Best Actress in a Leading Role. We like Winslet, but was The Reader really the film (of her five other nominations) that she should have taken the award for? We kinda thought Meryl Streep would take this one home, because well, she's Meryl Streep.

We weren't surprised at all by...

Slumdog Millionaire raking in an award every 15 minutes - or near the end of the show, every 5 minutes. OK, we wouldn't have bet money that this flick would have taken home eight statues, but maybe six of those were pretty solid bets, including Best Picture. With the Oscar buzz escalating to a fever pitch in the month before the show, it wasn't a shocker to see Slumdog go huge. Also, director Danny Boyle has flirted with cinematic greatness for several years of his genre-crossing, so his directing award, really didn't surprise many.

It would've been cool if...

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Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke could have both won the Best Actor award. It was a shame to see Rourke walk away with nothing to show for what was probably at the end of the day a more skilled performance. But then again, Penn brought Harvey Milk back to life, so it was a tough call.

Best Moments

"You look like you work in a Hasidic meth lab," Natalie Portman said to Ben Stiller, who was bearded and silent, doing his best Joaquin Phoenix impression. Stiller's take on Phoenix's Letterman appearance just may have been the highlight of the 81st Annual Academy Awards.

Taking a look at the year in movies with Seth Rogen and James Franco's Pineapple Express characters garnished laughs with Franco reenacting a scene from The Wrestler, stapling dollar bills to Rogen's forehead. Rogen asked, holding an Oscar, "Think I could make this into a pipe?" Then there was the long pause when they showed the clip of Franco kissing Sean Penn in Milk.

"Thank you. Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns," Sean Penn proclaimed as he started his Best Actor acceptance speech. Penn made us laugh, but also interjected the obligatory political message, which was relevant considering the role he won the award for. Robert De Niro even questioned while presenting the award how Penn ever got jobs playing straight men.

As far as fashion goes, I wondered if Jessica Biel planned on going out for a big barbeque rib dinner afterwards, as she sported a huge bib-like bow on her dress. Whoopi in the leopard-print dress will probably give me nightmares of wild cats for the next week. Natalie Portman's simple, pink dress hit dead on, as did the number adorned by Best Supporting Actress nominee Taraji P. Henson.

THE WINNERS:

Best Picture

Slumdog Millionaire

Actor in a Leading Role

Sean Penn, Milk

Actress in a Leading Role

Kate Winslet, The Reader

Actor in a Supporting Role

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Actress in a Supporting Role

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

Directing

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Animated Feature Film

Wall-E

Adapated Screenplay

Slumdog Millionaire

Original Screenplay

Milk

Foreign Language Film

Departures

Song

"Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire

Score

Slumdog Millionaire

Film Editing

Slumdog Millionaire

Sound Mixing

Slumdog Millionaire

Sound Editing

The Dark Knight

Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Documentary Short

Smile Pinki

Documentary Feature

Man on Wire

Short Film (Live Action)

Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Cinematography

Slumdog Millionaire

Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Costume Design

The Duchess

Art Direction

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Short Film (Animated)

La Maison en Petits Cubes

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