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Oscars Wrap: Better Luck Next Time

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9pm

Flipped over to the start of the Oscars a half hour late; have been recording it on the Tivo, while watching bald-guys Kevin and Drew be eliminated on "The Amazing Race." Would it make the Oscars more interesting if the winner of the best-director Oscar were determined by who could drive a backhoe? Or who could eat a pound of Hungarian goulash the fastest - and the winner was the year's best supporting actor?

The show opens with Errol Morris-filmed interviews with nominees; but while we seem to get a glimpse of them all, the whole thing is trimmed down to about two minutes. It would be great to see a feature-length version - or at least 30 or 40 minutes' worth. Something for the website, guys?

Then Ellen DeGeneres came out and totally deflates the room. The bad news was there was about one laugh in her whole monologue; the good news was she kept it short. The worst news was that, to point up the fact that they were celebrating nominees, she pointlessly brought out a gospel choir and marched up the aisle playing a tambourine. Go try out for community theater, girl, and spare the rest of us your wannabe musical-comedy aspirations.

First and only good commercial of the night: for iPhone, with lots of famous faces picking up telephones and saying, "Hello?" Oddly, no commercials for any of the upcoming summer blockbusters.

A musical number with Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly - about how comedians get no respect from the Academy Awards - started lame but turned. The point of the song: that you can be funny and still get respect by doing the occasional serious role. "I'm going to do that gay coal-mining film with James Spader," Black announced.

Why is Jack Nicholson's head shaved? (According to IMDB, it's because he's playing a cancer patient in a Rob Reiner movie called "The Bucket List"; it sounds an awful lot like a dreadful 1988 film called "Hawks" that starred Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards.)

A couple of early awards for "Pan's Labyrinth": Maybe this will turn this arthouse hit into a crossover smash.

Rachel Weisz, last year's supporting actress winner, comes out to give supporting actor, raising the question: What's happened to her career?

Eddie Murphy: Denied! Hooray for Alan Arkin, in the night's first big upset, proving that, if you don't play the shmooze game, you won't win - and Murphy reportedly waltzed through the awards season as though he had a divine right to the award.

Thankfully, the firest two best-song nominees are played back to back. The Oscar producers flash Earth-friendly messages on a big screen behind Melissa Etheridge and her band while they play that rousing hit from "An Inconvenient Truth" (perhaps you missed it because you left during the credits, when it played). But the TV cameras keep cutting to close-ups of Etheridge, so the TV audience only gets about half of the message.

The Pilobolus Dance Troupe doing shadow puppets of the year's hit movies: It sounds hokey - but it turns out to be kind of cool.

Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio announce that the Oscars show has gone green and give a website address to save the Earth. Al initially won't cop to any plan to run for office, then says he wants to make a major announcement - but the orchestra cuts him off before he can, one of the night's best jokes.

"Happy Feet" wins best animated film, as safe a choice as there can be (even with the right-wing campaign to portray it as anti-business and pro-gay) - when the year's best animated film - Rick Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly" - wasn't even nominated.

Urrgh - ABC's unctuous Chris Connelly, who once upon a time was actually a good writer before he became a walking TV turd, pops up like a troll out of a hole to make backstage small-talk about the horse-race aspect of the evening. Just like the media to focus on the superficial instead of the substance.

Tom Cruise gives the Jean Hersholt award to Sherry Lansing - and does nothing untoward, perhaps because a billion people are watching and he's finally gotten the message that, hey, folks think you're kind of nuts, Tommy. Sherry Lansing comes out, wearing one of the night's most interesting dresses. But what's up with those matchstick arms?

Ellen keeps roaming the aisles, talking to nominees. She asks Martin Scorsese to read a script she's written and later asks Steven Spielberg to take a photo of her with Clint Eastwood for her My Space page, then asks Spielberg to take a second, better-framed picture. Will this mirth never end?

Worst dresses so far: Jessica Biel, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Oops - another big upset: "The Lives of Others," a great film about the East German secret police which could just as easily be the NSA wiretapping story, snatches the foreign-language Oscar from the grasp of the outstanding "Pan's Labyrinth."

Night's most heartfelt speech: Jennifer Hudson. "Look what God can do!"

Eva Green from "Casino Royale" shows up looking like she's channeling Morticia Addams. She's presenting the short-form Oscars with Gael Garcia Bernal, who's wearing nerd glasses, perhaps to establish that he's not just a pretty face.

Not surprisingly, "An Inconvenient Truth" wins best documentary. Surprisingly, producer Laurie David pops up onstage flashing a LOT of cleavage - and when they flash to Larry David in the audience, he doesn't look pleased to have America ogling his wife's chest.

As Jennifer Hudson observed, "Look what God can do!": I've still got enough backed-up time left on my Tivo that I can fast-forward through Celine Dion singing, thus sparing my equipment and my ears exposure to evil Dion rays.

Given a special Oscar, composer Ennio Morricone speaks in Italian without subtitles - bad planning on the Academy's part (though presenter Clint Eastwood steps in to offer subsequent translation). Why is Quincy Jones sitting in Morricone's box wearing what looks like one of Idi Amin's hand-me-downs?

Ellen has changed from a cranberry tux to a white tux - but she's so not funny that she's starting to make David Letterman and Jon Stewart look good.

"Little Miss Sunshine" beats out "Babel" for best original screenplay. "Departed" wins for adaptation. So we've set up the showdown for best picture.

Somebody, PLEASE put a gag on Chris Connelly. Why is this no-talent allowed to gas on and on about absolutely nothing when the orchestra starts playing off someone who's actually accomplished something after a mere 30 seconds?

Melissa Etheridge gets the Oscar for best song for "Inconvenient Truth," and delivers a speech about the environment. Somewhere in Washington, D.C., Sen. James Imhofe has his fingers in his ears going, "Na na na, I can't hear you."

OMG, it's 11:35 and they haven't even given out film editing.

Now it's 11:47 and they still have actor, actress, director and picture to go. So if you've got 3.5-hours-plus as the running-time bonus question on your Oscar pool (and you've had the foresight to choose the upsets), you should be in good shape.

Philip Seymour Hoffman comes out to present best actress and looks as though his hair is channeling Mickey Rourke.

Nice touch: having Frances Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg presenting best director - and making Three Stooges jokes. They give the Oscar to Martin Scorsese - who finally, FINALLY wins a long-deserved Oscar (30 years after "Taxi Driver," 26 years after "Raging Bull," 16 years after "Goodfellas") and secures an already secure place as the director of his generation - more so than any of his three presenters.

And the big award goes to "The Departed": Producer Graham King, who's won the Academy's producer lottery as the guy with the producer title who actually gets to accept the award, offers lots of thank-yous - but fails to mention Paramount Pictures head Brad Grey, the producer who WASN'T allowed to accept, according to Academy rules.

Ellen's final good-night (in a Fosse-esque black shirt, vest and pants): 12:15 a.m. EST - at least 45 minutes too late, given what there was to see. Better luck next year.