Academic Pursuits: minute-by-minute at the Hollywood Love-In

The primaries have passed, the special interest dollars have been distributed, the debates have become academic: it’s election night – for Hollywood. Once every year, the brightest stars of cinema, and Sean Penn, assemble to crown the performances of the year. And, depending on how verbose the hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin feel, they do it in a swift 3-4 hours.

Much like the political elections they so often mirror, the Academy Award winners are sometimes determined more on popularity than on substance. A film collects buzz, grows into a critical behemoth, sweeps the awards, and no one bothers to ask if it’s actually a viable movie (looking at you, Titanic). Will that hold true this year?

Multiple nominee Avatar has made more money internationally than the GDP of Suriname. On the other end of the financial spectrum, The Hurt Locker has been lauded as the first truly relevant film made about the war in Iraq, but it only cleared 18 million dollars worldwide. Can best picture voters ignore their industry’s cash cow, patchy in plot though it was, for an indie that most of America hasn’t seen? How many negative Glenn Beck references will be made? Will male members of the Academy fail to vote for Up simply because they don’t like cartoons making them cry? Does Jerry Seinfeld realize he didn’t have to make the Marriage Ref? How many consecutive questions can I ask before you, the reader, tune me out?These stories and more on tonight’s 240 minutes.

Martin and Baldwin

7:28 p.m. – Kathy Ireland, interviewer of the stars, moves like a marionette and sounds as stilted as Stephen Hawking’s voice box. It’s a good thing the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue isn’t a talkie.

7:30 – The broadcast opens with the nominees for best actor and actress standing in a line, then being escorted to their seats. Not exactly an attention grabber.

7:33 – Despite not being the host, Neal Patrick Harris performs a subtle musical number called, “No One Wants To Do It Alone”, just in case anyone else in the world thought he was straight.

7:35 – Steve and Alec riff on topics ranging from Meryl Streep to the increased number of best picture nominees. Side note: did the Academy make Precious’ Gabourey Sidibe buy two seats, like on an airplane?

7:40 – I was skeptical at first, but this is one of the best opening monologues (duo-logues?) in recent Oscar memory.

7:43 – The hosts keep staring down Clooney, and Clooney is giving as good as he’s taking. Just like Neal Patrick Harris.

7:45 – In a win that surprises no one (the betting odds were 1-30 in his favor), Christoph Waltz takes home best supporting actor. He compares making Inglorious Basterds to venturing on a quest for a new continent, one where Hitler was killed in a theater, and not currently living in Argentina. Oh, I went there.

7:58 – Pixar continues its never-ending run of excellence, winning best animated picture for Up. The production studio is as dominant as the republican party in the 2000s.

7:59 – Sorry, Karl Rove stole my keyboard.

Whipper Snappers

8:00 – Martin just quipped, “Our next two presenters are two young people who don’t know who we are, Miley Cyrus and Amanda Seyfried.”

8:04 – T-Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart) wins best song for “The Weary Kind”, as performed by Colin Farrell as a country music singer. I’ve heard Dublin is the new Nashville.

8:06 – Limerick is the new Branson.

8:12 – Robert Downey Jr. is rocking the blue bowtie, with blue shades, as he announces the winner for best original screenplay. In what could be a precursor for things to come, The Hurt Locker takes the Oscar.

Hey, guess who did that film’s soundtrack? Explosions in the Sky!

8:15 – Poor taste on my part.

8:18 – Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick pay tribute to the late John Hughes, a man who quantified the 1980s for many disenchanted teenagers. So he’s the one to blame for all of America’s current midlife angst.

8:24 – They’re playing the clips from Up’s marriage sequence. My contacts are sufficiently watered again. I swear, every time I view that segment, I feel like a female encountering her first chick flick.

8:28 – During the acceptance speech for best short film, Meryl Streep was just caught scratching her chest, or giving herself a mammogram. At her age, there’s probably no wrong time to check.

8:35 – First awkward moment of the night, as a woman interrupts a man giving the acceptance speech for best short. She rambles on about the importance of women in the film, then goes back to being secretary of state.

Ben Stiller as…?

8:37 – Ben Stiller just came out dressed as an Avatar character, speaking in the native Navi language. He’s presenting for best makeup and making some uneasy banter with James Cameron. I think all banter with James Cameron is probably uneasy.

8:41 – The Star Trek crew wins the best makeup Oscar for its work on William Shatner’s face.

8:48 – Precious wins the best adapted screenplay Oscar. Seen applauding in the audience: Lenny Kravitz, Tyler Perry. Notably absent: John Mayer.

8:52 – Queen Latifah just let us know the Academy held a Governors’ Award ceremony earlier in the week. Receiving awards: Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall. Notably absent: Ahnold.

“Vere is my avhord?!?”

8:58 – In another drama-free category, Monique wins best supporting actress for her work in Precious. She reads from the Hollywood Speech-Giving Textbook, hitting a number of cliches but failing to end with an angry missive against George W. Bush. The judges will deduct for that.

9:07 – Avatar gets its first win, a well-deserved nod for art direction. The winners then proceed to make lame references to James Cameron. What is the correlation with his films and looking like an idiot on Oscar night? “I’m king of the catchphrases!”

9:10 – Charlize Theron presents the preview for Precious. I’m sorry, but isn’t that just a little rude of the Academy, juxtaposing some of the heaviest lead characters in recent memory with one of the thinnest, most beautiful women in the world?

9:10 – Beautiful on the inside, I mean.


9:18 – Twilight stars Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart are here to present a piece on horror films.

I didn’t really need to specify. I mean, OBVIOUSLY they’re not there to win anything – brooding isn’t a category yet.

9:23 – Morgan Freeman is narrating a piece on sound editing. He could be reading a cafeteria menu, and it still would sound inspirational.

Example –
Morgan: “Chili and pasta bake, with a side of jello.”

Me: “Your menu has changed me, Morgan.”

9:26 – The Hurt Locker takes home the Oscar for best sound editing and best sound mixing. For all of their EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY.

9:29 – Elizabeth Banks presents the Sci-Fi package, where many pasty white men were honored for their contributions to comic-con or something. The picture of Banks with the winners will be the poster for the upcoming movie, She’s Out of My League.

Elizabeth Banks

9:34 – Avatar takes home the Oscar for cinematography. Considering they created their own world, I’d say that’s probably deserved.

9:37 – Demi Moore is announcing the “people we’ve lost” montage. I thought she would be on it?

9:39 – James Taylor is singing underneath the montage. He’s one of three people I won’t take potshots at. It’s him, Jesus, and the founder of Cracker Barrel.

9:46 – So let’s get this straight, the best song nominees don’t get to sing, but the best score nominees get a segment with interpretive dance? I guess that makes sense. Music is a pretty niche market, but interpretive dance is a national passion!

9:46 – Sorry, Neal Patrick Harris stole my keyboard.

9:50 – There’s a pole on the stage that looks like, well, it looks like a stripper pole. I hope Demi stays in her seat.

9:52 – Up wins for best musical score. It really did match the mix of whimsy and sadness in the animation. And I managed not to cry. Win-win.

Avatar Creatures

9:55 – In the biggest no-brainer of the night, Avatar takes the Oscar for best visual effects.

10;01 – Matt Damon announces the nominees for best documentary. There’s been a lot of buzz about Damon doing another Jason Bourne movie, tentatively titled Still Bourne.

10:04 – The documentary The Cove wins best documentary. The movie is about the slaughtering of dolphins. I would have called it the AFC East.

10:06 – Tyler Perry, act like you’ve been on TV before.

10:07 – Another win for The Hurt Locker, this time for editing.

10:15 – Quentin Tarantino might be the most bizarre person in Hollywood. Have we ever seen he and Lady Gaga in the same place at the same time?

10:18 – Kathy Bates just described Avatar as having a message of “peace, harmony and conservation.” I think that’s also the title of Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s funk trio.

10:24 – The Academy brought back the strange scene of five different presenters talking about each of the best actor nominees. As an aside, Jeff Bridges seems like he would be an awesome grandpa.

Dude, It’s Jeff Bridges…

10:32 – The classiest woman in Hollywood, Kate Winslet, hands the Oscar for best actor to Bridges. “But that was just, like, the Academy’s opinion, man.”

10:35 – Bridges literally is the Dude. He ends nearly every sentence with “man.”

10:40 – Oprah sighting! She’s talking about Sidibe’s performance in Precious. Once upon a time, Oprah was an actress. Once upon a time, Barack Obama was a politician who didn’t have a record of getting things done. It’s amazing how things change.

10:47 – Sean Penn is out to announce the best actress winner and is prattling on about the Academy. I think his old buddy Hugo Chavez is running the teleprompter.

10:47 – From Alex Whitworth: “They can’t have Sidibe win. There’s no crane in place to get her up on stage.”

10:48 – Sandra Bullock wins for The Blind Side, the story of Kirby Puckett and his battle with glaucoma.

10:54 Barbra Streisand is the presenter for best director. She’s there to represent the biggest minority in Hollywood – liberal Jews.

10:55 – Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first-ever woman to win best director, for The Hurt Locker. Now that she has one of her own, will she give back the half of James Cameron’s Titanic Oscar she got in the divorce?

10:58 – Trying to make it under the 3 1/2 hour mark, the venerable Tom Hanks quickly announces The Hurt Locker as best film of the year, making it six Oscars for the film. It also notably shuts out Avatar from top awards.

So the biggest award show of all ends with little of the environmental puffery or anti-war sentiment seen in so many previous incarnations. Martin and Baldwin were more than serviceable hosts, and I only blanched two times. If this is the progress you were talking about, Mr. President, you have my vote as the leader of … celebrities.

Photo Credits –;;;


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