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Starts at 5:30 PM PT… Come for the cynicism. Stay for the subversion. Add your comment. Refresh for updates. Warning: Not for the easily offended or shocked.

81st Academy Awards BEGINS!

Hugh Jackman looks great although that Mystic Tan is a bit dark. (Is it rubbing off on his cuffs?) Now, to get ratings, he’ll take his clothes off. Have you seen his bulging biceps? Howza!

OHMYGAWD, it’s not the Oscars: IT’S THE TONY’S! Worst Academy Awards opening ever. None of these lyrics are funny. Alan Carr’s showstopper of Snow White and Rob Lowe (remember how our jaws went slack?) is starting to look like a masterpiece in comparison.

I really feel sorry for Jackman having to perform this crapfest number. Leave it to the Academy to find a completely inappropriate way of acknowledging the financial crisis. Maybe he’ll just keep the Wolverine suit on for the rest of the year so no one will recognize him.

OK, I’m going to say it: GAYEST OSCARS EVER! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I voted against Prop 8.) But Hugh sitting on Frank Langella’s lap? Talking about kissing him? After performing a song and dance number? Seriously, did producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon, or director Roger Goodman, or designer David Rockwell, and the usual team of writers like Bruce Vilanch, deliberately try to ruin Jackman’s career by giving him such ridiculous material and props (a lawn chair?) to work with? More importantly, tell me how this number is going to widen the viewership for the Oscars which the Academy was desperate to accomplish tonight? As one of my commenters noted, ”I would hope these younger audiences the Academy is attempting to reach this evening are smarter than this entertainment eyesore!”

This is the Oscars, people, a celebration of the movie industry, not the touring company of some low-tech Off-Off-Off Broadway musical. Where are the special effects, eye-popping visuals, and other high-tech gizmos?

As I already told you, the Oscars producers this year dissed last year’s actor winners by deciding that France’s Marion Cotillard (Best Actress for La Vie En Rose) and Spain’s Javier Bardem (Best Supporting Actor for No Country For Old Men), Scotland’s Tilda Swinton (Best Supporting Actress for Michael Clayton) and even England’s Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor for There Will Be Blood) weren’t big enough names to carry on the time-honored tradition of announcing this year’s winners by themselves. So the unusual step was taken to bring onstage from a riser 5-person groups including other Best Actor or Best Supporting Actress winners from past eras in order to add more glitz and glamour to the presentations.

That’s why all those women are there: Eva Marie Saint, Whoopi Goldberg, Anjelica Huston, Goldie Hawn (who, if her boobage fell out of that dress would be paying the FCC indecency fine) and last year’s winner, Tilda Swinton.

Uh, where are the movie clips?

Penelope Cruz wins Best Supporting Actress for Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  She let’s the cat out of the bag that this year the winners only have 45 seconds to give their acceptance speeches. (Oy, in that dress, she looks like the cake at a Las Vegas wedding presided over by an Elvis impersonator.) The drinking game has started: Harvey Weinstein has received his first thank you. Cruz is going on and on about how the Oscars is show about “unity for the world”. Oh, puhleeze: this show is about money for the Hollywood studios.

So 30 minutes of the show have passed and all we’ve seen are people in front of a dark blue curtain or black-and-white-&-grey background for the most part. Hello? Does anybody know this is 2009 and we have color television and even high-def? Would it have killed you people at the Academy to give us a visual feast?

Dustin Lance Black wins Best Original Screenplay for Milk (Focus Features). He talks about how, when he was 13 years old in a conservative family, Harvey Milk’s story “gave me hope that I could live my life openly as who I am ,and maybe one day even fall in love and get married… If Harvey had not been taken from us, he’d want me to say, ‘God does love you. You will have equal rights federally among this great nation of ours.’” Lovely speech, very moving and quite appropriate given this Prop 8 passage nonsense here in California. (Yes, I am a card-carrying liberal and proud of it.)

On the hand, the entire state of Utah just turned off their TV sets. Disney’s Bob Iger just fainted.

Lance also wore the “White Knot” for marriage equality I wrote about a few weeks ago. (See my Do You Have The ‘White Knot’ For Oscars?) So did a lot of talent who appeared at the Film Independent’s Spirit Awards yesterday. I’ll post a complete list later.

Simon Beaufoy wins Best Adapted Screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire. So the Bollywood domination of tonight’s Oscars begins. (Take another swig in the 81st Academy Awards Drinking Game.) He thanked ”the cast and crew who have taught me so much about India and writing and life”.

Where are the movie clips?

Presenter Jack Black got off a funny line, and so true about the animation biz: “I do one DreamWorks movie, and then take all the money from the movie, and bring it to the Oscars, and bet it on Pixar.”

Wall-E wins Best Animated Feature. Director Andrew Stanton thanked John Lassiter and Pizar/Disney for creating a “cinematic safe haven where only a film like Wall-E could be made”. But most touching was when he thanked his high school drama teacher for casting him as Barnaby in Hello, Dolly. “Creative seeds are sown in the oddest of places,” he said.

My jury’s still out on these ”2008 Movie Yearbooks”. Amazingly, in a year notable for several outstanding animated films from outside the U.S., that “animation yearbook” montage included not one frame of the Israeli Waltz With Bashir or the Australian $9.99, but did manage to include multiple clips from such notables as Space Chimps and Star Wars: The Clone Years. So much for that international focus. So much for quality.

La Maison Ens Petits Cubes won Best Animated Short Film. I couldn’t understand anything Kunio Kato said. But he looked fah-bu-lous.

Wow, this show is racing along at a 150-mph clip. Here’s what I like: the producers using each presentation to explain how movies are made and what all these categories mean in an understandable way. But where are the movie clips?

Also, great idea to have presenters give out more than one award to save time. Or is that because Mark and Condon couldn’t get enough stars to go onstage? I reported yesterday that this year’s producers were privately complaining that the biggest movie stars in the world like Jack Nicholson, Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and Kate Winslet gave them reasons galore — some serious, some trivial – for why they didn’t want to present awards, once considered a huge honor. (For instance, Kidman said she appear onstage without the “right” hairdresser. George Clooney wouldn’t reschedule his current visit to Darfur refugee camps in Africa. And Winslet, the Best Actress shoo-in, claimed she was too “nervous” to take it on.) One of the few bigtime actresses who didn’t balk was Reese Witherspoon. These behind-the-scenes embarrassments are one reason why the Academy took the unprecedented step this year of failing to make public the list of Oscar presenters. There’s even talk now of bringing back those official $100,000+ Oscar baskets of expensive freebies that used to be given to the show’s presenters and performers (before Uncle Sam decided to tax the giveaways) as a way to bribe Hollywood into lending its star power.

First it’s the Oscars as the Tony’s. Now it’s the Oscars as the MTV Awards. Wait, wasn’t that smooching montage we just saw the same as MTV’s Best Kiss Award? Anyway, I liked it. Great way to remind viewers there’s young talent in Hollywood. Who are having sex. Lots of sex. Lots of unmarried sex.

Oops, Mississippi just turned off their TV sets.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button won Best Art Direction. Winner Donald Graham Burt got off a knowing line: “Our producers were great. They did what every producer should ever do. Which is leave us alone.” And he gave big thank you to director David Fincher: “He did so much to make this movie so special.”

The Duchess won Best Achievement In Costume Design for Michael O’Connor.

Where are the movie clips?

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button won Best Achievement In Makeup for Greg Cannom.

Everyone like Ryan Seacrest was raving about Natalie Portman’s dress on the Red Carpet. I can’t because it looked like a Wal-Mart bathmat in Pepto Bismal pink. Then again, the Viscount of Vapidity must be starved for entertainment. And brains. And personality. In my view, the Best Red Carpet coverage year after year is KTLA’s Sam Rubin who makes knowledgeable comments and asks smart questions. (That’s Channel 5 in LA.) Why isn’t he national on Oscars night?

Ben Stiller as Joaquin Phoenix was… uh… not the laugh riot I hoped. The writing should have been much nastier. Don’t worry, Ben: you got your wish tonight to “retire from being a funny guy.” (Natalie was told to quip only: “You look like you work in an hasidic meth lab.”) The Spirit Awards did this send-up much better, and included Christian Bale.

Slumdog Millionaire wins Best Achievement In Cinematography for Anthony Dod Mantle.

Where are the movie clips?

Spielzeugland (Toyland) won Best Live Action Short Film for Jochen Alexander Freydank. The Holocaust film. Shocker… not.

I have three words of advice for Judd Apatow after watching his original Pineapple Express shtick for the Oscars: STOP SMOKING WEED. It doesn’t make you funnier, promise. It just makes you put out stupid shit like this. You can do better. Aim higher.

Even skinny, Seth Rogen’s 15 minutes have gone on way too long judging from this it’s all-about-me quip: “If you liked that piece, I helped write it. If you didn’t, then it was all Judd Apatow.”

OK, it’s 1 hour and 28 minutes into the broadcast. Have you lost the will to live yet? As one of my commenters said: “I’m totally enjoying the Oscars this year. So much better than last year. Vicodin really makes everything better.”

And this commenter snarked, “Another musical number, and another strong desire to open a vein.” Beyoncé? Top hat and tails and canes and sequins? MORE FODDER FOR GAYEST OSCARS EVER! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, again, how is this widening the show’s audience?) I can’t stop laughing. Who thinks this isn’t cheezy? Maybe “Broadway Cares” or the two guys who gave us Dreamgirls.

Worse, how are the comic book geeks ever going to accept Hugh Jackman as Wolverine this summer. (I smell another Fox lawsuit as nasty as the Watchmen one, only this time against AMPAS!) Either they’ll consider this Hugh’s audition for Broadway’s Wolverine, The Musical under Julie Taymor’s direction for debut in 2028 (when she’ll finally finish Spiderman, The Musical.) Or else Hugh Jackman’s next movie role will be Castaway 2 because he’s going to have to go far, far, away to make people forget about the painfully lame stuff he had to do tonight.

As one of my commenters noted, “At least Baz Luhrman had the grace to look ashamed when he was credited with that mess!” And a second commenter followed up, “Do NOT blame us gays for that second musical number. That was a married (to a woman) man that put that together. Straight people ruin everything.”

Baz truly is trying to ruin Hugh (especially after that Far And Away with Vegemite, aka Rupert’s Folly Down Under, Australia). Now Baz wants to tackle The Great Gatsby. Can’t we get a restraining order?

Thank god for Cuba Gooding Jr dissing Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr for the gag of a white actor playing in blackface for Tropic Thunder. Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments for and against. And, yes, it was integral to the plot. But I still agree with Cuba, who sounded more serious than joking, that this was a loss for black actors. (“Robert’s next part will be to star in Shaft.”)

You mean to tell me the writers couldn’t come up with something more authentically moving as a legacy for Heath Ledger before he won Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight? After, Heath’s father was thoughtful to thank director Chris Nolan “for allowing Heath the creative license to develop and explore this crazy Joker charcater. This award would have humbly validated Heath’s determination to be accepted by you all here, his peers, and an industry he so loved.” Interesting that Heath talked to his family about winning an Oscar. Everything I’ve read about him indicates he didn’t care about ego-feed like that.

Bill Maher onstage. Now Wyoming has turned off their TV sets.

You know the Kodak Theatre audience is starved for entertainment when a Frenchman balancing an Oscar on his chin gets the night’s biggest applause.

Man On Wire won Best Documentary Feature for James Marsh and Simon Chinn.

Smile Pinki won Best Documentary Short Subject for Megan Mylan.

The only thing worse than this Oscars are the ABC promotional spots for its shows. And that’s saying a lot.

Will Smith says he asked to be part of this Academy Awards broadcast. Obviously, his usual 7 PM performance at the Pomona Dinner Theatre’s presentation of Oklahoma! was dark tonight. Because even that would have been better use of his time.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button‘s Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, and Craig Barron won Best Achievement in Visual Effects.

The Dark Knight‘s Richard King won Best Achievement In Sound Editing.

Slumdog Millionaire wins Best Achievement In Sound Mixing for Ian Tapp,,Richard Pryke, and Resul Pookutty, who said, “This is not just a sound award. This is history being handed to me.”

Wow, even Will Smith now admits he made a mistake showing up. He sounds annoyed. “Yes, they still have me here. Hugh must be napping.”

Slumdog Millionaire won Best Achievement In Film Editing for Chris Dickens.

The show has been on for 2 hours now. I’ve officially lost the will to live. One of my commenters said it best: “Sweet Jesus. Before the evening is done, we’ll get some poetic words and lovely edited montage on the work of craft services.”

Oh no. Fair warning. Go take a bathroom break or get a drink NOW. Time for Jerry Lewis to get the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. And how fitting it was given to him by Eddie Murphy, the only guy in Hollywood whose ego is as big as Jerry’s — and who pissed off just as many showbiz people and pissed away his once flourishing career. And, as one of my commenters so aptly put it, “Eddie freakin’ Murphy? What excuse did Andrew Dice Clay come up with to get out of presenting it?”

Humanitarian my ass. Protests have been coming into the Academy about its Board of Governors’ choice of Jerry ever since it was first announced. The controversy is over his recent repeated and public anti-gay slurs, and his continued insistance on calling his MDA kids in wheelchairs “cripples” and similarly offensive terms. Responsible was Tom Sherak, the former 20th Century Fox and Revolution Studios exec who raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and has a family member with MS, because he lobbied the board to choose Lewis. But AMPAS isn’t bestowing on Jerry an honor for his long career in the movies. That I could maybe understand. The Hersholt is an award given to an individual in the motion picture industry “whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry”. Despite Lewis’ laudable 42 years of raising money for MDA, his public debasement of gays and disabled doesn’t make him a humanitarian in my eyes.

The whole segment was mercifully short.

I missed Tina Fey’s and Steve Martin’s reference onstage to Scientology but my commenters caught it. Do the pair realize they’ll now be stalked and sued for years? (Holy shit, now I will be, too, just for saying that!)

I also missed how TWICE during Jennifer Aniston’s presentation the cameras showed Brangelina. Now it’s the Oscars as TMZ! (Next, Harvey Levin will jump out of the orchestra pit to spy on the private lives of the new Trophy Boys.)

Slumdog Millionaire‘s A.R. Rahman just won Best Original Score.

Remember that the producers lost Peter Gabriel who refused to sing his nominated Best Original Song from Wall-E, “Down To Earth”, in what he claimed was the insulting allotted time of only 65 seconds for each of the 3 tunes in a medley. So what did the Academy do instead? As one of my commenters noted,John Legend’s officially off Peter Gabriel’s Christmas card list.”

Slumdog Millionaire‘s “Jai Ho” by A.R. Rahman (music) and Gulzar (lyric) just won Best Original Song. Rahman’s acceptance speech was heartfelt and reminds you why it’s so important for the Academy Awards to be internationalized. “All my life I had a choice between hate and love. I chose love. So I’m here.”

Alabama just turned off their TV sets.

Wow, what a shocker in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Israel’s Waltz With Bashir had been the favorite and cleaning up this awards season. France’s The Class also had taken home several here and overseas. But the winner turned out to be Japan’s mostly mediocre and barely promoted Departures. Huh? Probably because it’s the most shamelessly sentimental and manipulative of the bunch — the one that makes people cry, which is always an Oscar plus.

Tell me Queen Latifah isn’t singing that schmaltzy song (from what, the 40s?) to accompany the In Memorium segment. GAYEST OSCARS EVER! Seriously, Bill Condon couldn’t come up with a song written since 2002? Ewwww. The singing was supposed to stop the applause during these somber moments. Instead, the clapping is still going on, and the warbling is as annoying as the bouncing camera work. Just horrible.

I can’t focus on the dead people because my skin is crawling. So I must rely on my commenters and emailers to find out whom AMPAS failed to honor this year. There’s outrage over missing Patrick McGoohan, so great in Braveheart. I think my pal Bernie Brillstein wasn’t included. Don LaFontaine, THE voiceover artist on most film promotion, was omitted even though he was also the vice of the Oscars. And it’s inexplicable why Irv Brecher, one of the movies’ greatest writers and actually nominated for an Oscar (Meet Me in St. Louis) was left off the list. I’m told Irv’s widow was devastated that he wasn’t shown onscreen. After all, he was the only writer to receive sole credit for a Marx Bros movie (At the Circus and Go West.)  He also wrote the screenplay for Bye, Bye, Birdie and Dubarry Was A Lady — not to mention directed Ernie Kovacs in his last movie, and Robert Wagner in his first. How could they not have paid tribute to him? Because he starred in a YouTube video that was instrumental to keeping morale high during last year’s writers strike?

BULLETIN! AMPAS President Sid Ganis stepping down soon. Oscars saved! Ganis was a joke as a studio exec, and he’s a nightmare as the head of the Academy.

Danny Boyle as expected wins Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire. He did Tigger from Winnie The Pooh for his kids. Oh, now here’s a resumé credit Jeff Robinov can take to his next job interview: Boyle thanked Warner Bros for having the grace to “pass” the movie off to Fox Searchlight. Hilarious! (It was Robinov who didn’t want to release the film for reasons I’ll talk about at length later. So stay tuned…)

Now it’s time for Best Actress, and taking the stage are Sophia Loren (Madame Tussaud’s people just called: they want back Amy Adams’ dress from Enchanted), Shirley MacLaine (as herself, though she looks a lot more like brother Warren Beatty in that menswear tux), Halle Berry (perfect), Nicole Kidman (who obviously didn’t find a hairdresser she liked because it looked like a rat’s nest), and last year’s winner, Marion Cotillard.

Another non-surprise: Kate Winslet wins Best Actress for The Reader. But her speech was ridiculously over-rehearsed. “I’d be lying if I hadn’t made a version of this speech looking into the bathroom mirror, and this [raising her Oscar] would be a shampoo bottle. Well, it’s not a shampoo bottle now.” But there also was a nice spontaneous touch having her father whistle to show her where he was in the Kodak Theatre. Calling her fellow nominees “goddesses”, Kate said, “I think we all can’t believe we’re in the same category as Meryl Streep. I’m sorry, Meryl, but just suck that up.”

And, for you Harvey-haters out there celebrating the failure of The Reader to win anything but one award (which, frankly it shared with Revolutionary Road because Kate was incredible in that film, too) proves that even with all Weinstein’s repellant grandstanding, the Academy had a limited tolerance for him and his Holocaust porn.

WHERE ARE THE MOVIE CLIPS?

Robert DeNiro, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Adrien Brody, and Michael Douglas are onstage. Not even the women had this many facelifts altogether. Douglas is substituting for Daniel Day Lewis who’s a no-show. DeNiro’s comment was hilarious (my compliments to the writers…): “It’s hard to believe that Sean Penn has had so many roles playing a straight man.”

Sean Penn won Best Actor for Milk.

Kentucky just turned off their TV sets.

Mickey Rourke was ROBBED. Oh, I feel so sorry for him. I thought he had it. As I said in a previous posting, my heart was for Mickey — but my head said Sean would win because the Academy 1) wanted to redress the wrong it did to Brokeback Mountain by picking Crash instead, and 2) Prop 8 raised Oscar voters’ sensitivity to Milk.

I’m positive that Penn’s acceptance speech had the rest of the Red States turning off their TV sets. Calling out the audience humorously (but also truthfully) as “commie lovin’ homo sons ‘a’ guns” for choosing him, Sean said: “I know how hard I make it to appreciate me. Often.” Which was a nice bit of self-awareness on his part about how conflicted much of Hollywood is about him. He spoke about seeing ”the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight” and talked about ”the great shame” of people who supported Prop 8 and will be hated by their grandchildren for doing so. “We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.” And then Penn said he was “very, very proud that America is willing to elect an elegant man as president. And of a country [which] for all its toughness creates courageous artists.” Finally, Penn reached out to Rourke, who must have been hurting terribly: ”Mickey Rourke rises again. And he is my brother.”

So what was supposed to be the high point of the evening — anointing Best Picture — was only ho-hum because it was a foregone conclusion like most of the other awards tonight. And also, Steven Spielberg presenting it was a let-down: he does envelope openings these days. (Remember how he let the ethically bankrupt Golden Globes pay tribute to him?) Slumdog Millionaire, of course, won. “Together, we’ve been on an estraordinary journey,” said Christian Colson, the film’s producer. “When we started out, we had no stars, no power, no muscle, and not enough money to do what we wanted to do. But we had a script that inspired mad love in everyone who read it.” He thanked international distributor Pathé and domestic distributor Fox Searchlight’s “courage to support us”. This is Fox Searchlight’s first Best Picture win after coming awfully close a couple of times (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine), and it comes almost 15 years to the date of when it was founded and this is also its 100th film. (Telling, wasn’t it, that Colson made no mention of Warner Bros even though the studio still owns half the movie.)

And the 3 hour, 20+ minute Oscars telecast ended, fittingly for tonight, with more Tony’s-style music. On a dark stage devoid of color or interest. Followed by a tacky montage of upcoming movies at the end of the show. And, once again, AMPAS committed public suicide. Concluded one of my commenters, “I am ready to walk over to Hollywood and Highland and start flinging my poo like an angry chimp on Xanax.”

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

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