nikkioscarsml.JPG Erroll Morris’ interviews of the nominees kicks off the show. And it lays a huge egg. The package is too inside. And the TV viewing audience has no idea who most of these people are. When, oh when, is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences going to stop being so “insider” on their telecast. How, in the world does a quirky piece like this endear movies to the world audience? It doesn’t!

Standing are the 177 Oscar nominees scattered around Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. Here comes Ellen in maroon velvet pantsuit and white wingtips. Without a tie, she looks like she’s in a lounging outfit. I’m still waiting for her to crack a few jokes, any jokes. She’s pointing out how this is the most international Oscars ever. “I think I see a few Americans — the seat fillers. Nobody can fill a seat like an American.” She points out that only the British know they’re going to win.

martyoscar2.jpg“It’s my job to relax you and put you at ease…. I can’t even imagine what you people are going through… But don’t worry about that. What you should worry about is there are a billion people watching you.” (I don’t think that’s true anymore!)

Now comes the audience-pointing segment of the host’s monologue. Ellen picks out Abigail Breslin and Peter O’Toole (“He’s been nominated 8 times, but, Peter, third time is the charm.”) She points out that “Al Gore is here. America did vote for him and…” HUGE APPLAUSE … “it’s very complicated”. So now they’ve broken the ice of the first political joke of the night.

Now Ellen’s dancing with a tambourine while a large gospel choir group goes up and down the Kodak Theater aisles. (Hey, pundits, I thought she wasn’t going to dance?) And the reason for this is… well, there was no point to it. Truly, in whose mind is it that this is a funny, smart or cool way to open the Oscars? Fifteen minutes in, and we’re just glimpsing our first film clip. And by trying not to be controversial, Ellen wound up being pablum. It was a truly forgettable performance. And that’s far worse than being awful.

It’s going to be a looooooong night. Already, the commercials are better than the show.

What the heck is Nicole Kidman wearing around her neck? The top of her red gown looks like it’s trying to strangle her.

Best Art Direction: Pan’s Labyrinth. Art Direction: Eugenio Caballero; Set Decoration: Pilar Revuelta

jennbey.jpgWill Ferrell singing, “A comedian at the Oscars, the saddest man of all; your movies make millions, but your name they’ll never call.” Well, it’s one way to inject some comedy into the show when Jack Black joins him onstage. Jack threatening to fight all the nominees. “I’m going to beat you down with my Nickolodeon award.” (Adds Black: “Mark Wahlberg, I’m not going to beat you down. You’re actually kind of bad-ass.”) John C. Reilly joins them, too. Whaaat, they couldn’t get someone funnier than him? At least, this was a crowd-pleasin’ lively segment. Just the comics, a piano, and a stage.

Best Makeup: Pan’s Labyrinth. David Marti and Montse Ribe.

There are Mexican flags waving in the audience.

Hey, did anybody bother to tell these lesser-known award winners that there’s a handicam behind the scenes so they can thank their lawyers and loved ones and then have it posted on the web? Will anybody make use of it and give up their 15 seconds of fame? Nah.

forjen.jpgToo cutesy having Will Smith’s son (and who acted with him in The Pursuit of Happyness) and Abigal Breslin introduce the “Animated Short Film” category. They just muffed their lines.

Best Animated Short Film: The Danish Poet. Torill Kove. (“First I have to apologize to Tom Hanks because I did bring a list just in case,” Kove says. That’s because Tom Hanks gives a pep talk every year about how to shorten acceptance speeches…)

Now, the kids are doing another short award. Abigail: “You’d think they’d let us do one short joke.” Kids muff lines again. Someone just emailed me that these two look like the Class of 2015 for drug rehab.

Best Live Action Short Film: West Bank Story. Ari Sandel. Pic was about two competing falafel stands as a way of explaining the Mideast conflict. Says Sandel: “Hope is not helpless.”

Ellen comes out and makes with two corrections. “I said Penelope Cruz was from Mexico, and she’s from Spain. And I said Dame Judy Dench is getting her eyes done. It’s her boobs.” She can use lanlguage like this because it past the 8-to-9 p.m. sacrosanct family hour on ABC. Isn’t that swell?

Why do I keep thinking American Idol would beat the Oscars in the ratings if it were on tonight?

miller.jpgMore off-color: Steve Carell says about sound effects: “It’s usually best done alone, late at night, surrounded by electronic gadgets.” Adds Greg Kinnear: “And if you really want to do it right, it’s always best when you pay top dollar for a true professional”.

Then their sound went out.

Best Sound Editing: Letters From Iwo Jima. Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

I’m starting to think that Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima is going to do better at this Oscars than any of the pundits predicted. Maybe even Best Picture? Hmmm.

Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls. Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton.

I keep thinking: what does the Oscars need? And I realize: less white men in tuxedos accepting awards and thanking their mothers. Where are the streakers? Where are the Indians? Where is Cher?

Well, the first third of the show has gone by, and finally there’s the Supporting Actor  award being presented. I think Alan Arkin is a lock. But he said tonight he almost didn’t get the part because the directors thought he was too virile, calling it “the most flattering rejection he ever got”.

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin. Little Miss Sunshine.

Arkin can barely read from his acceptance speech paper because he’s so overwhelmed. Now, Ellen is interviewing loser Mark Wahlberg. How awful for him. He can’t even grind his teeth without the cameras on him. Says Arkin: “Acting for me has always been, and always will be, a team sport.” Speech is too short and too uneventful. It used to be that Supporting Actor got a great reaction: rememmber Jack Palance and his push-ups?

Does Arkin’s winning mean Little Miss Sunshine has a better chance for Best Picture now? Or is it a sop to the comedy that can’t win the big prize alongside dramas. Hmm.

Not one lesbian joke by Ellen? Come on, how about a small one…

James Taylor singing Randy Newman’s song “Our Town” from Cars. Just a piano and a guitar and Sweet Baby James. Why is the Academy stinting on the production values for this son? They have something better to spend their $$$ on? Did bernie the accountant abscond with the show’s production budget? Let’s see some razzle-dazzle. Some trash and flash. Hey, James, take off your shirt at least.

Yikes, same thing again for Melissa Etheridge singing  “I Need To Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth. Just a piano, guitars, Missy. Let’s see Al and Tipper with their lit candles rocking in time to the music, at least. Is this the Oscars or is this some local coffee house? I’ve never seen such under-produced song segments. Granted the Dreamgirls songs will be flashier, but why not all the songs?

Well, we just witnessed a paid political announcement, courtesy of the Academy and of Leo Dicaprio and of Al Gore. Duo are now on the stage. Leo asks: “Is there something you might want to announce?” Al responds, “I’m just here for the movies, and, on this occasion, I’m just here to thank all the talented people, and to thank you, Leo, for being such a great ally in this.” DiCaprio announces that for the first time in the history of the Oscars, this show has officially “gone green.” Hey, guys, I have suggestion. Let’s recycle this whole show right now. Why keep wasting all this videotape? Ellen later offers to recycle jokes. They’re still funnier than any in her intro. Oh wait, there were none!

Then Leo gushes some more: “I’m proud to be standing next to such an inspirational leader. You are a true champion for the cause. Now, are you positive that all this hard work hasn’t inspired you to make some kind of major announcement to the world? Uh-oh. Al Gore sighs. Wait, I’m having a 2000 flashback. Those debates. That sighing Al. Please don’t announce for ’08 tonight, Al. Not until you get a sigh-ectomy. Al starts to say, “You’ve been very convincing. Now with a billion people watching, my fellow Americans, I’m going to take this opportunity to formally announce my intentions to…”

And then the music wells up, and Al and Leo walk off-stage.

Lame bit.

Best Animated Film: Happy Feet.

George Miller so gracious, thanking “all the men for wearing penguin suits” tonight. He’s truly one of the nicest and most talented guy in Hollywood. Those are few and far between, trust me. I thought all along that Happy Feet would win, mostly because of its strong environmental message at the end. But I bet this was a close call with Cars.

Now, here’s the Nancy Meyers-directed clip package about Hollywood screenwriters.

How refreshing that Tom Hanks is willing to appear with Helen Mirren and jointly give out the Best Adapted Screenplay award. Usually, stars of his stature want to hog the podium. Together, they read a few lines from each script as the scene plays.

Best Adapted Screenplay: William Monahan, The Departed.

“Valium does work,” says Monahan. “I was going to cut off the beginning of this speech and leave it brief.” He notes that the movie that made him want to be a screenwriter was Robert Bolt’s Lawrence of Arabia. “Crazy” to end up at same Oscars as Peter O’Toole.

I kept hearing all weekend, the show was being cut, cut, cut. Well, congrats, Laura Ziskin: you’ve produced a show that is NO FUN whatsoever. Is this the Oscars, or is the last race at Santa Anita being announced by a rapid-fire announcer. That’s it for me. I demand that Mark Burnett be brought in next year to fix this telecast.

Is there movement towards The Departed tonight? (It’s my personal favorite.) But would the Academy voters really give the pic the two top awards, Best Picture and Best Director? Or will it continue to be more spread around this year?

Finally, some skin — during the costumes segment.

Best Costume Design: Marie Antoinette. Milena Canonero.

OK, is everyone winning an Oscar tonight foreign? Does this qualify as outsourcing? Are these low-paid jobs that Americans don’t want to work?

Wow, Tom Cruise doesn’t look as chunky as he did when he got married to Katie. SlimFast? Jennie Craig? The “I’ve-been-thrown-out-of-Paramount diet”? The “PR-people-claim-I’m-the-head-of-United-Artists” regimen? Why don’t the Scientologists claim they have a wonder cure for fat. That’ll bring in new cult members…

Whoa, Sherry Lansing looks like she’s had a body transplant and a facial refreshment. I’ll try to find out which plastic surgeon she used. Or maybe that’s just how great people look when they’re no longer being brow-beaten by Sumner Redstone.

Ellen has changed outfits and is now wearing an all-white pantsuit. Ellen gave a script to Marty Scorsese earlier, and Clint Eastwood says, “I’m jealous.” Now Ellen is getting Steven Spielberg to take a photo of her and Clint. This was impromptu and cute.

Where has Gwyneth Paltrow been hiding these months and years? Or, maybe I should say, in what movies has she been hiding? Now there’s a career gone downhill. She was the only actress in Hollywood who could pronounce the names of the foreign films and nominees. (Well, apparently, tonight we saw too much of Gwyneth. Internet is saying there was visible nipple. I was blissfully unaware of that. Besides, how could anyone notice since she’s so flat up top.)

Best Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro. Pan’s Labyrinth.

Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall.

Hey, where’s the entertainment? Where’s the excitement? I’ve had a better time watching my clothes in the laundromat dryer. This show is now officially getting painful. I’m losing the will to live. Does the Academy realize they’ve got four hours-plus here to remind audiences around the world that going to the movies is fun? Instead, year after year, they blow it by taking all the fun out of the Oscars telecast. The presenters, the winners, even Ellen, just look terrified of committing some faux pas that will piss off the producer.

Free the Oscars? Free the Oscars! Attica. Attica

Now that’s a dress Cate Blanchett is wearing: so tight it looks like it’s made of spandex.

Best Foreign Language Film: Lives of Others (Germany).

This film also won the Independent Spirit Awards for indie films Saturday night. At that awards show, host Sarah Silverman made a tasteless Anne Frank joke about the pic. I love how Hollywood really feels people’s pain.

Ellen is now doing shadow puppets behind a white screen. Guess it involves some joke about Lobsters On A Plane. That’s the pathetic level of production values on this broadcast tonight. Are the Oscar producers aware that we have color televisions? This looks like a black-and-white event from the 1950s.

George Clooney looks svelte. I think he had some lipo to go with that eye lift he’s boasting about. ”I was just backstage with Al Gore drinking,” he says. “I don’t think he’s running for president.”

Even though there was a late surge in the Best Supporting Actress category for Cate Blanchett, I think Jennifer Hudson is still the shoo-in.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson. Dreamgirls.

Hudson is breathless. “My grandmother was the biggest inspiration for everything,” she says. God is thanked multiple times.

Hey, I just realized: hardly any lawyers or agents are being thanked this time around. There will be hell to pay on Monday morning for that oversight, trust me. Agencies will raise their commissions to 20%. Lawyers to 10%. Manicurists to 5%.

I can’t believe it’s 2 hours, 11 minutes, into this show — and still no sign of Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s official: the Oscars want no one to watch this telecast.

Best Documentary Short Subject: The Blood of Yingzhou District. Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon.

Jerry Seinfeld? Jerry Seinfeld! “In case you’re wondering where he’s been…” the announcer says. Jerry explains he was the subject of a documentary about comedy. What he doesn’t plug is his animated Bee movie. Now Seinfeld is going into a stand-up routine. (I’m positive he’s auditioning for hosting duties next year.) “In movie theaters now, they’re trying to get you to pick up the garbage around your seat. I’m picking nothing up. I’m the one who threw it down. How many different jobs do I have to do?” Then he accuses the movie theater owners: ”You rip us off on overpriced crap.” Exactly whose idea was this to insult the theater owners (who already are going out of business because of the lousy films Hollywood produces) on Oscar night?

Jerry says he’s handing out the “depressing movies” award.

Best Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth. Davis Guggenheim.

goreoscar.jpgGore heading to stage with Guggenheim. “We were moved to act by this man,” says Guggenheim clutching Al’s sleeve. Gore eagerly goes to the micriphone: ”My fellow Americans … [laughter], people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue.”

OK, I’ve calculated that Gore needs to reimburse ABC and the Academy close to $2 million for this free political advertising tonight. Just send the check directly to Obama, Al…

Finally, the music guy tribute. Great time for bathroom break.

I just received this very apt email with the subject line: “PLEASE FIRE ZISKIN MID-SHOW”. I agree whole-heartedly. It continues: “LAURA ZISKIN IS A TRUE DISGRACE. HOW THE HELL CAN SHE JUSTIFY THIS SHIT? WORST. OSCAR. TELECAST. EVER. IN. THE. HISTORY. OF TV. ABYSMALLY HORRIBLE. ARROGANT FOR THEM TO START AT 5:30 INSTEAD OF 5 PM WHEN THEY KNOW IT’S 4 HOURS LONG. THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT VIEWERS ON EAST COAST AND THEY SURE DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYBODY EXCEPT THEIR OWN INFLATED EGOMANIAC SELVES.”

Best Original Score: Gustavo Santaolalla. Babel.

musicscore.jpgOK, John Lesher and Brad Grey at Paramount Classics and Paramount got their thank-you’s. The check is in the mail from the front office to Gustavo.

Here’s another email I’ve received tonight (I’m wading through them slowly but surely): “Valium works indeed: This whole Oscar production is one long listless stupor. My expectations were low, but damn… Please have someone draft Sacha Baron Cohen for next year.”

Wait a minute: aren’t Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst not able to stand one another, much less stand next to each other? Give these two an acting award. Cat fight anyone? (Why is it I think Tobey is a hair-puller and eye-scratcher.)

A comedian friend of mine just emailed to say: “If this goes on any longer … They’re going to be reporting next weekend’s Friday night box office takes, the obituary package is going to be out of date,  and the ballots are going to be going out for next years’ awards.”

Dear god, I’m dead inside.

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt. Little Miss Sunshine.

arndt.jpgThe FIRST agent mention, and it’s from Arndt: Tom Strickler at Endeavor. Congrats, Tom! The gentile now has to bring bagels for everyone at the Wednesday motion picture meeting. Meanwhile, a CAA motion picture lit agent is jumping off the roof.

Here’s more commentary, this from a studio publicist: “I can’t believe with what is going on — in Iraq, Britney Spears, the dead blond bimbo, etc., that there are no topical jokes. This is like a Reagan era show…”

Scott Foundas, film critic for my publication, LA Weekly: emails: “When Chris Connelly talks about all the ‘surprises’, what the fuck is he talking about? He also just said that PAN’S LABYRINTH has already won 2 Oscars, when in fact it has won 3!”

Hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of the puffery. It’s The Oscars!

Finally, the Dreamgirls songs, staged by the film’s director Bill Condon. Only three hours into the broadcast… I swear, this Oscars must have been produced in someone’s barn because I’ve never seen such paltry production values. Are we sure this is the Academy Awards and not Friday night at the Friar’s Club?

The horror. The horror. Stop the show. Put it out of its misery.

At this point, ABC would pay Beyoncé $500,000 to make a boob pop out.

John Travolta is still alive? I thought he perished in a tragic boating accident… harpooned in his bathtub. “I love a full-figured woman who can stand in front of a camera and sing her heart out,” John says. “But that’s enough about me.” Travolta finally outed himself!

Best Original Song: “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth. Music and lyric by Melissa Etheridge.

OK, Melissa thanked her wife. Finally, a lesbian who can talk the talk, and walk the walk. Or has Ellen converted during this show?

Yet another “thank you, Al Gore”. OK, we’re up to $3 million in political advertising.

I’ve seen songs better produced at the Lucky Seven Lounge in Reno. Assuming, of course, there is a Lucky Seven Lounge in Reno.

Dreamgirls can’t even win the song category with three nominations? It’s official: the Academy is really, really jealous of David Geffen.

OK, here’s Will Smith intro-ing the Michael Mann-directed clip package about how America is portrayed in the movies. Obama-Will. Will-Obama. Hmmm.

A savvy emailer points out: “It may be a day late and a dollar short (at this point making fun of the show is like kicking a small, retarded, puppy) but the opening wasn’t even original. Morris did the same thing for them a few years ago — really cool that they couldn’t even come up with an original opening.”

Best Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker. The Departed.

Few in Hollywood better than Thelma. Could The Departed really do it tonight?

Finally, a little class, Jodie Foster. For the obit portion of the program. This is always such a downer. But I always get a little teary-eyed, too. I need to go kick an actor.

Where’s Sacha? An emailer informs that there was an article yesterday saying that he was asked to be a presenter and said he would do it only if he could be in character as Borat. And the Powers That Be said, “No way,” thus eliminating what might very well have been an oasis of genuine humor in a desert of boredom. Morons. Morons.

From another emailer: “If they show another montage, I think it should be of people killing themselves while watching the Oscars.”

Best Actress: Helen Mirren. The Queen.

OK, I cheated and wrote that before the award was announced. Like, this was even a contest? Mirren says: ‘You know, my sister says all kids love to get all gold stars, and this is the best gold star I’ve ever gotten in my life… Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Queen!” Oh, c’mon, Helen, couldn’t you give a better speech than this claptrap? But Ol’ Lizzie has asked Mirren around for tea as a reward for playing her in the movie.

Somewhere in the bowels of Downtown Los Angeles, a sweatshop is replicating Nicole Kidman’s Oscar dress. Isn’t that special.

Jennifer Hudson didn’t thank Beyoncé.

melissa.jpgThe look Tobey Maguire gave Kirsten Dunst when she leaned in to talk at the podium was withering.

In the memoriam montage, for Bruno Kirby, instead of Godfather II or City Slickers, they used a scene from Spinal Tap.

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker. The Last King of Scotland.

Forest says: “I thought i’d be overwhelmed, and I am.” Of course he is — his price just went up by $2 million. “When I was a kid, the only way I was able to see a movie was from the backseat of my family’s car at the drive-in. It wasnt my reality to think I’d be in one… It’s possible. It’s possible…. [to] believe in his dreams, to touch them and to have them happen.” He says acting reaches “to that thing inside of each of us, to the thing that exists in all of us. We can create a new reality.” The Kaballah class enrolls here.

The gringo amigos take the stage: Spielberg, Coppola, Lucas. George points out, “Hey, I’ve never won an Academy Award. It’s much better to give than to receive.” And Speilberg and Coppola chorus: ”No, it’s not!” Nice moment.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese. The Departed.

“Could you double-check the envelope, please?” Marty asks.

Warner’s Alan Horn and Jeff Robinov get mentioned!

Ari Emanuel gets the Oscar thank-you by Marty: it’s Endeavor’s night!

That thudding sound you just heard are Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett at CAA pushing Rand Holston off the roof.

marty5.jpgFun touch having Jack and Diane presenting Best Picture.

Best Picture: The Departed.

OK, my personal favorite — for once. That gurgling sound you hear is Brad Grey drowning his Babel sorrows at the Governor’s Ball bar. This win demonstrates once again that the Golden Globes are meaningless. By the way, did you know that The Departed producer Graham King started out as a parking lot attendant in Santa Monica? There’s hope for you, too.

It’s over. Running time: 3 hours, 47 minutes. But if you count in that bogus pre-show, which was supposed to be part of the real show, then it ran 4 hours, 17 minutes. Not a record for Laura Ziskin (hers was 4 hours, 23 minutes), but too damn close.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.