And so it begins ....
Roll carpet, roll cameras: it's the 84th annual Academy Awards, live and lurid from Hollywood. The Guardian film team will be covering the event throughout the night, weeping with the winners and wailing with the losers as this season's awards circus clatters exhaustedly towards the finish line. This is where it ends, inside the Hollywood and Highland Centre (reputedly the winner of the 2007 "Ugliest Building in LA" award). Inside, the victors shall be encased in gold, the vanquished shown the door and all manner of movies laid tenderly to rest.
But wait, kick back, and keep the war horses tethered: the actual ceremony does not officially commence until 5pm (Pacific time). Time enough to cast an eye back over some late-breaking Oscar news. Following the storm-in-a-teacup controversy over Sacha Baron Cohen's appearance, it now transpires that the former Borat star is permitted to show up after all (and will be attending in the guise of Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen). For those in the market for a rambling discussion on this year's best picture nominees, feel free to marvel at the sight of Peter Bradshaw, Catherine Shoard and me talking trash in the Guardian office last week. And for those who merely like the thought of food, here's a gallery to fill your bellies.
You can also take part in our Twitter interactive, or swan up to our US Twitter party, or make like an Academy voter and cast your votes for the films you want to win. And yes, our suspicion (as ever) is that your choices will be better than theirs.
High time to recap the main contenders. This year's awards, it strikes me, can either be regarded as a golden festival of nostalgia or a tragic wake, depending on your point of view. Leading the field with 11 nominations is Martin Scorsese's Hugo, a wistful celebration of the early days of cinema, while the firm favourite to sweep the big prizes is The Artist, a loving homage to the wonders of the silent screen.
Academy mainstay Billy Crystal has been summoned out of mothballs to make his 9th appearance as Oscar host, and even the venue comes a distinct whiff of the antique. The Hollywood and Highland Centre has just been renamed. It was formerly known as the "Kodak Theatre" until the company went bust, forced out of the game by the rise of digital. All of which gives a curiously 20th-century vibe to this year's soiree. The dignitaries have come to revel in their history, exalt in their past. The future, at least for tonight, is being kept firmly on the sidelines.
Out on the carpet, the stars are massing. Look, there's Demien Bichir, nominated out of the blue for his role as a migrant worker in A Better Life. And look, here we have demure Rooney Mara, shortlisted for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and resplendent in a dress of full-fat cream. "Rooney is always edgy," the red carpet compere informs us. "She always goes there." But goes where, exactly? Right now she is just standing there, motionless, her eyes fixed on the middle distance. Perhaps they have glued her feet to the rug.
Make way, make way for that wily old pro George Clooney, who is nominated for his turn in The Descendants but claims to have come without a speech. Clooney, it transpires, does not think much of his chances. "Go find Jean Dujardin and ask him if he has a speech," he shrugs. "I think it's going to be a very French night.
He adds that he likes these red carpet marathons, because it affords him the chance to hook up with his buddies. "And look, there's Tony Bennett over there," he says. "I used to drive Tony Bennett, back when I was 19-years-old."
"And was he nice?" bleats the red-carpet compere.
"Yeah, he was a lot of fun," says Clooney. "Always drunk in the back seat. Either wetting himself or making out with hookers."
Whoops, sorry, the sound levels are playing tricks. Clooney didn't say that at all. Instead he says that Tony Bennett was "unbelievably nice". There was no mention of hookers.
It is now standing room only on the red carpet outside the Hollywood and Highland. Up in the bleachers, the public stand and applaud as Octavia Spencer (nominated for The Help) jostles with Harvey Weinstein and offers a "shout-out to Montogomery, Alabama", Janet McTeer runs the gamut of the TV reporters and P. Diddy says "What up? What up?". Nobody, it seems, is able to provide an answer that satisfies.
"Oh look, it's Viola Davis," coos the reporter from PA. "Look at the body, it's amazing. Look at the skin." Elsewhere, Rooney Mara is asked for her "most surreal moment". She doesn't know, she can't think. Her eyes are full of unnameable horrors.
The evidence suggests that Clooney is bang on the money in tipping The Artist to win big tonight. Assuming it scoops the top prize, it will be the first silent best film winner since Wings emerged victorious way back at the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929. How does one even begin to compare then with now? Back in 1929, the guests arrived in pony-and-traps and "Oscar" was just a humble tin spittoon. The host for the night was Douglas Fairbanks Jr, whose show-stopper was a huge song-and-dance eulogy to all the "favourite housemaids" who used to "polish his bedstead". It was a different and more dodgy America back then, before The Help came along to sort the nation out.
So this, it seems, is the great dictator's final resting place: smeared all over a grinning American TV host as he makes merry with the debauched and decadent millionaire celebrities of the Great Satan. Rest in peace, Kim Jong-Il.
The longer they remain on the carpet, the more these nominees risk repeating themselves. Octavia Spencer has just asked to make another "shout-out to my hometown", while somewhere, across the way, George Clooney is regaling another reporter with his tales of driving an insensible Tony Bennett home along Mulholland Drive.
Nobody seems to care; they are just glorying in the spectacle. The comperes look as though are about to combust at the sheer perfect wonderfulness of it all. Everyone is beautiful, everyone a winner. If these TV hosts had their way, every nominee would wind up winning an award here tonight. They are conducting their own alternative, Prozac Oscars right out in the sun.
Again, this was all so very different back in 1929, when the red-carpet team was made up of hobos and box-car riders whose names had been drawn from a raffle. These days they say "Oh, wow it's Jessica Chastain, you're looking so beautiful, who are you wearing this evening?"
Back then they'd say, "Hey buddy, who the heck are you?" and, "Ooh mercy, get a load of Miss Fancy-Pants."
They'd say, "Miss High-Britches here thinks she's better than me. Hey Miss High-Britches, you ain't better than me. Aw, come back here, don't be shy. You ain't better than me."
The longer this goes on, the more we pine for far-off 1929.
Fashionistas take note: Emma Stone is on the carpet and she is wearing "John Batista Volley", although I may have misheard the name. Wasn't he the former Cuban dictator who played tennis while Havana burned?
Stone is here to support The Help, which cast her as the plucky young journalist who helps out the help. "I cried all the way through that movie," confesses the red-carpet compere and believe me, she wasn't the only one.
Talking of tears, the excellent Melissa McCarthy (nominated for Bridesmaids) is already dabbing at her eyes. She's arrived with her mum and the occasion is threatening to get the better of her.
Now up comes Christopher Plummer, 82 last birthday, and set fair to become the oldest actor to win an Oscar. Plummer is nominated for his deft turn as a liberated father in Beginners and looks likely to add to his Globe and Bafta later tonight. But for the moment he is content to stand out in the sun, giving his velvet tuxedo an airing before the real business gets under way.
his altercation with the Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, TV host Ryan Seacrest opted to beat a hasty retreat, skulking for cover with the ashes of Kim Jong-Il on his shirt, up his nose, in his eyes; a hideous indignity to be meted on a man of his stature.Reeling from
Now, praise be, he has returned. He looks freshly laundered, bright as a button in a new tuxedo that's fresh off the rack. But his eyes are darting and his hands all a-tremble. The confidence of old has evaporated like smoke. Any second now they will ambush him again. They will find him, catch him and drag him down. Next, he fears, they will steal his trousers and daub him, head to foot, in the blood of Gadaffi.
No such worries for the wonderful Michelle Williams. She's nominated for her turn as Monroe in My Week With Marilyn and is content to idle outside in a fetching red dress that she helpfully explains comes courtesy of Louis Vuitton. No fears either for Jean Dujardin. He loves being here. He loves "the light, and the American faces," he says. "Mercy Buck-oo," chirrups his TV interrogator.
Oh please let there be an Oscar for the formidable Nick Nolte. He's nominated for his fine turn in Warrior but gives what is arguably an even better performance on the carpet, facing off against a jittery TV host, with his shoulders squared and his chin jutting, a monument of Midwestern menace. The host is cooing and flattering and posing her honey-dipped questions while he stands stock still and stares right through her, as though listening to other voices on another frequency. The voices, I suspect, come from demons within.
Finally he speaks. "If I knew what you said, I could probably answer you," he says.
Unnerved, she tries another tack: "Now, I've heard you own a pet crow."
"I do what?" says Nolte. And with that he's back hearing voices. Perhaps it is the crow that speaks to him. Perhaps it is telling him to kill her, to kill them all. To torch the Hollywood and Highland theatre and then run for the hills. Pray God, he keeps it together. Pray God, he does not listen to the crow.
And still the red carpet circus shows no sign of finding its way into the big top. It is now Penelope Cruz's turn to be grilled in the sun. "Penelope, Penelope, you never disappoint," soothes the compere, thereby proving that he has never sat through Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
Away across the rug, we are introduced to none other than Ms Gwyneth Paltrow. "Your dresses never disappoint," says the compere, thereby suggesting that yes, she may well have sat through Possession, Duets and Country Strong.
What's going on? Hasn't this thing supposed to have begun already. Could it be that they have started handing out the Oscars inside, the ceremony playing out to rows of empty seats as the likes of Brad Pitt and George Clooney still cavort before the cameras? Enough with the carpet! It's high time we went inside.
Finally, finally, we are about to begin. Run for the doors and fight for your seats, the 84th annual Academy Awards are about to begin. Live, live, live from the Hollywood and Highland Centre (formerly the Kodak theatre). Stick with us and don't, for the love of God, listen to anything that Nick Nolte's crow tries to tell you. It means harm, it brings evil, and it must not be allowed to rain on this parade.
Onto the stage steps Morgan Freeman, instantly bringing a little gravitas to the carnival. The 84th annual Academy Awards, he says, are here "to celebrate the present and look back to its glorious past." This, it transpires, is the host's cue to do both, at the same time, via the medium of the traditional Oscar montage.
Get a load of Billy Crystal! He's gatecrashing all the Oscar-nominated movies, making like a silent-screen hero, being kissed by George Clooney on his hospital bed, munching merrily on Minnie's chocolate cake and then rearing up (rather worryingly) in black-face, as though Civil Rights never happened. One second, he's a mo-cap Tintin, the next he's chasing, poignantly after a roll of film that un-spools out of a top floor window. "Ladies and gentlemen," says the voice in the sky (I'm assuming it's not the crow). "It's Billy Crystal." As if we didn't know that already.
"We're here at the beautiful Chapter 11 theatre." announces Billy Crystal, a master of old-style razzle-dazzle who proceeds to regale the audience with a slick blend of jolly singing and tart one-liners. His stock in trade is a reliable comedic routine that was honed on the borscht-belt circuit and plays very nicely to the gallery in Hollywood.
The movies have always been there for us. So tonight, enjoy yourself. Because nothing can take the sting out of our economic worries more than millionaires presenting themselves with little gold statues.
Crystal knows what he's doing and the audience, at least so far, loves him for it. In a quick three-minute spell he manages to expunge the memory of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, who died an agonised, self-regarding death on this very stage just 12-months before.
The first award of the night is for cinematography and it goes to Robert Richardson for his work on Martin Scorsese's Hugo. I confess that I was hoping that this would go to The Tree of Life (surely the only award it stood a snowball's chance of winning). But it is sadly not to be.
Second later Hugo picks up its second award of the night, for art direction.
Scorsese's 3D spectacular has now converted the first two of its 11 Oscar nominations.
"Please welcome a recurring dream of mine," quips Billy Crystal, all but tipping a lascivious wink to the camera. "Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez."
But it's bad news for Crystal. Diaz and Lopez are not here to make his nocturnal fantasies a rich (and possibly naked) reality. They have merely come to present the Oscar for best costume to Mark Bridges for The Artist. It is Bridges' first Oscar and he duly introduces himself as "a kid from Niagara Falls who dreamed, ate and slept movies". This, on the face of it, sounds a more wholesome dream than Crystal's, although I suppose it depends on the movies.
Moving on, the Oscar for best make-up is painted and plastered onto Mark Coulier and J Roy Helland for The Iron Lady. They offer thanks to Meryl Streep, the film's star, who "makes our work look good, no matter what."
So that's that. But do spare a thought for the losing nominees. In a long-standing Oscar tradition, they are now ushered through to the kitchens where they must count grains of rice ahead of the after-show dinner. Every diner must have the exact same number of grains in their bowl or there is hell to pay and the dinner is now just a few hours away. So they had better get cracking.
Time now for the best foreign language film Oscar, which is a battle between Bullhead (from Belgium), Footnote (Israel), In Darkness (Poland) Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) and A Separation (Iran).
And the Oscar goes to .... A Separation, Asghar Farhadi's electrifying portrait of a floundering marriage in modern-day Tehran. Farhadi's speech is gracious and pointed, paying tribute to the people of Iran who respect other cultures and reject the language of violence. He is also, it should be said, a most deserved Oscar winner.
Outside the one-time Kodak theatre, meantime, the parties are already under way. Assuming you can't get into the Vanity Fair bash, do feel free to drop in to the Guardian's very own US Twitter party. Even if you can, we reckon the Twitter thing is probably better. Better conversation and less chance of getting stomped to death by Harvey Weinstein as you stand at the urinal.
Christian Bale (still struggling to rein in his pesky, wandering accent) steps up to call the winner of this year's race for the best supporting actress Oscar.
Here come the nominees. There's Octavia Spencer, who baked a cake in The Help, and Jessica Chastain as the frazzled southern belle who took her in. Melissa McCarthy soiled her dress in Bridesmaids, and Janet McTeer played a horny-handed house painter in Albert Nobbs. Finally, there's Berenice Bejo, who co-starred as perky Peppy Miller in The Artist, a 1920s "It Girl" to rival Clara Bow.
And the Oscar goes to ... Octavia Spencer, who sparks a jubilant standing ovation as he takes to the stage. She's whooping, she's weeping; she can barely get the words out. She wants to thank her family in Alabama, the state of Alabama, and a whole heap of others. "OK," she yells, "I'm wrapping up! I'm freaking out!". And with that she totters from the stage, treading on her train and clutching her Oscar. Congratulations to Spencer. Just don't ever let her bake you a cake.
The Academy Awards takes a brief detour with a spry black-and-white short, allegedly showing the results of a test preview of The Wizard of Oz. The sample audience like the "flying monkeys", mistake the Munchkins for little kids and demand the affable Kansas farm-folk be given a bigger role. Playing the producer, Bob Balaban looks suitably harassed.
We're back on track, ploughing on down the schedule and ticking off the editing Oscar. This goes to the duo behind The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo who also won last year for The Social Network. "We weren't expecting this," they say. "This is unbelievable." They stare at each other, unsure what to say. "Let's get the hell out of here," they say.
Moments later the sound editing Oscar is delivered to Hugo and then the sound mixing prize is sent off in the exact same direction. This brings Hugo's tally up to four. Scorsese's film is dominating the technical categories and comfortably leads the field.
But again, I pity the vanquished nominees in these three categories. In this case, Oscar tradition dictates that the losers must now ride children's tricycles around the parking lot out back of the Hollywood and Highland theatre. This, initially, may not sound so bad, except that the nominees must ride in the cold, in the dark, with nobody watching as they pedal round and round in lonely little circles. Only at dawn are they permitted to return the tricycles and return to their hotels.
Round of applause to the Cirque du Soleil acrobats who pay flamboyant homage to North by Northwest, swooping out over the audience on elastic guy-ropes. "I pulled a ham-string just watching that," cracks Crystal. Maybe they can return later with their homage to Psycho, running through the audience, wearing wigs and waving knives. Time, I guess, will tell.
In the meantime, we are left with puckish Robert Downey Jr and scolding Gwyneth Paltrow, who have come to tell us the winner of this year's documentary Oscar. It goes to the acclaimed football documentary Undefeated, which triumphs over the likes of the highly-fancied Pina and Hell and Back Again. The makers of Undefeated are a genial, enthusiastic, faintly gung-ho bunch. They overrun wildly until the music rises up and the microphone is cut. They carry on barking into it, regardless.
Make way for Chris Rock, who has rocked up to hand the best animated feature Oscar to Gore Verbinski for Rango. The Johnny Depp western ("like Chinatown," reckons my colleague Henry) triumphs over A Cat in Paris, Chico and Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots and makes some kind of amends for Verbinski's previous misadventures with those Pirates of the Caribbean.
Presenting Oscars go to Ben Stiller and Emma Stone, who squabble entertainingly at the microphone ahead of announcing the visual effects award. Stone has a whole heap of plans, a head buzzing with show-stopping ideas but Stiller is grumpy and jaded and won't play ball. "I get it, you're new," he snaps. "But perky gets old fast with this crowd."
"What?" she rejoins. "Like you running about in Avatar make-up?"
The actual Oscar arrives almost as an afterthought. It goes to Hugo, to Hugo, always to Hugo. Scorsese's 3D caper is now racing ahead with five awards in total.
Up steps Melissa Leo, spouting blather about the craft of acting, clutching an envelope in her fist and all set to announce this year's best supporting actor Oscar.
Let's check the contenders. Nick Nolte tore up the scenery as the raging alcoholic pop in Warrior, while Jonah Hill crunched the numbers in Moneyball. Kenneth Branagh was an exasperated Larry Olivier in My Week With Marilyn, and Christopher Plummer hopped out of the closet in Beginners. And spare a thought for the magnificent Max Von Sydow, tottering around New York in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close with Yes written on one hand and No on the other. Tonight, I suspect, the answer is no.
And the Oscar goes to ... Christopher Plummer for his lovely turn in Beginners. At the age of 82, the Canadian Sound of Music star is the oldest actor to ever take this prize. "You're only two years older than me, darling" he hollers at the statue. "Where have you been all my life?"
Plummer's speech is smooth, sweet and elegant, heaping praise on the other nominees and paying tribute to his wife "for coming to my rescue every day of my life". Whether it cuts any ice with Nick Nolte, however, is anyone's guess. He's sitting back there, seething and smarting and listening to the crow constantly kaw and yammer in his head.
"They're laughing at you, Nicky," the crow is cackling. "They set you up and played you for a fool. They were never going to give you the Oscar, they just came to laugh. Kill them, Nicky. Kill them all and let God decide." The creature will not shut up; it's too much to bear. Any moment now, I fear that Nolte is going to go off like Semtex in an abattoir.
"Ludovic Bource has no formal training," announces the voice on the PA as the composer walks up to collect his statue, which sounds a little harsh. Way to ruin the greatest moment of his career. You might as well say, "Ludovic Bource could not hold a tune in a bucket" or "Ludovic Bource refers to musical notes as 'little dots'". Still, if Bource is peeved by this, he's too polite to show it.
Seconds later, it's time for the best song Oscar and it goes to Bret McKenzie, stalwart of Flight of the Conchords, for his terrific Man or Muppet, which of course played out on the soundtrack for The Tree of Life, usually when Sean Penn was wandering about that office block. "Bret McKenzie is from New Zealand," the PA tells us helpfully. And OK, Man or Muppet didn't really play out on The Tree of Life. It is at this point of the proceedings that the films start to blur.
Next it's time for the best original screenplay, which goes to Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. Or at least it would go to Woody if he were here, but he's not; he's back in New York, he doesn't like LA, where they turn their dead bodies into bad TV shows. "The Academy accepts this award on his behalf," smiles Jolie. I like the idea of her giving it to him person; perhaps showing up at his apartment, with her bare leg cocked and her lipstick blazing. She'd scare him half to death, the poor little devil.
The Oscar ceremony toils still further up-river. We chug and chunter past the wilds of the best live-action short (which is won by The Shore, from Ireland), veer off to take in the documentary short (which goes to Saving Face, a heartfelt salute to the surgeons working in Pakistan) and dock briefly to see the animated short (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore).
Meanwhile the redoubtable Hadley Freeman mails with some thoughts on the ceremony, where she is running native with the stars; the closest thing this misbegotten publication has to a genuine celebrity.
Wow, Billy Crystal has turned out to be disappointingly awful and interestingly offensive. Now, I have happy memories of Crystal's hosting duties in the 80s, particularly his song montage about how pissed off Barbra Streisand was that she didn't get a Best Director nomination for The Prince of Tides ("Seven nominations on the shelf / Did this movie direct itself?" And yes, I did that from memory) But when he was hired to replace Eddie Murphy, it looked like the Academy was taking a predictable recourse to bland, tried and tested safety that was a little dismaying. And that is doubtless what they were hoping for.
But at barely halfway through, Billy "safe pair of hands" Crystal has donned black face, made a fat joke about a (very unamused) Jonah Hill, made an old joke at Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow's expense, fantasised about a threesome with Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez and claimed that watching The Help made him want to "hug a black woman." The opening song was surprisingly terrible and the jokes have been uniformly unmemorable. Not as bad as Franco and Hathaway, of course, but that's small consolation.
All in all, I bet Brian Grazer is missing Eddie Murphy right now.
In other news, we learn that "Angelina Jolie's Leg" now has its very own Twitter account. The Satan's Rump lipstick, no doubt, will not be far behind.
Looming out of the Oscar jungle, we catch sight of one of the big beasts of tonight's event. It is the Oscar for best director and it is guarded by the lupine form of Michael Douglas. He has the podium, he has the envelope and damned if he's going to tell us the winner until he's good and ready. Mr Douglas will not be rushed.
So here are the names in the frame, the ones they've been yacking about. Alexander Payne cooked up a tart family drama with The Descendants, while Martin Scorsese made a monument to the movies on Hugo. Woody Allen tripped back to the past on Midnight in Paris, and Terrence Malick told us about life, death, God and the dinosaurs on the rapturous The Tree of Life. But the firm favourite remains Michel Hazanavicius, the French director who dreamed big on The Artist and then saw his labour-of-love picture bloom from niche novelty to Weinstein-backed world-beater.
And the winner is .... Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist. "I am the happiest director in the world right now," he says, before going on to thank everyone he can think of. "I want to thank Uggie the dog," he says at last, and then gives a very Gallic shrug. "Uggie doesn't care. He doesn't understand maybe. He's not that good."
He's not that good? Is this a rare instance of a director slamming one of his principal cast members, live on air, before an audience of millions. Was there, perhaps, some bad blood between them on the set of The Artist. Did Hazanavicius perhaps step in one of Uggie's doings? Does Uggie bite when riled? All will be resolved at the press conference that follows the telecast. So far Uggie is choosing to maintain a dignified silence.
traditional Oscar obituary montage, a sad, soulful trip along the stills of Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Taylor, Bert Schneider and the like. It takes a moment to realise that Crystal is not joking here. He is not about to go bounding into the clips as is usually his wont, merrily goosing Jane Russell, singing with Whitney or playing criss-cross with Farley Granger. He has come to pay his respects and is merely here to send them off.Billy Crystal steps out to centre-stage and arranges his features into a serious face. He invites us to dim the lights and bow our heads and wave farewell to the film legends who took their leave over the past 12-months. This is our cue for the
We roar clean out of Hades and, hey-presto, with one fell swoop we're back in the light; the land of the living; a little shaken but still intact. The first face we see is that of Natalie Portman and it seems that she has some immediate business to attend to. It is time to name this year's best actor.
Just time for one last look at the candidates. George Clooney flip-flops around Hawaii in The Descendants, while Gary Oldman hides out in smoke-filled rooms in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Demian Bichir tends to the gardens of LA in A Better Life, and Brad Pitt harries a baseball team towards glory on Moneyball. And then there is Jean Dujardin as the grinning superstar laid low in The Artist; killed off by the coming of sound and chasing his shadow along the living-room wall. This one, I think, comes down to a straight fight between Dujardin and Clooney.
Jean Dujardin for The Artist. He bounds to the stage as though he has springs in his shoes. He is shaking his fist and grinning ear-to-ear. "I love your country," he declares and then goes on to thank Hazanavicius, Berenice Bejo, and his wife in the audience. Dujardin, remember, has won this title for a performance that included just two spoken words - "thank" and "you" - so it is fitting that he uses them again tonight, and several times over.And the Oscar goes to ...
"If George Valentin could speak, he would say: Merci! Formidable!" shouts Dujardin.
Colin Firth has never been one to stand on ceremony, nor to milk a moment beyond its reasonable capacity. He hastens to the stage like a man who has a dirty job to perform and must get on with it quickly, before it starts to make him ill. He is here to eulogise this year's candidates for the best actress award.
Make way for the nominees. The frontrunners are Meryl Streep for her pitch-perfect mimicry of The Iron Lady and Viola Davis, who played the stoic, wary housemaid in The Help. As for the long-shots, Michelle Williams made a vibrant Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, Glenn Close rustled up a small tour-de-force in Albert Nobbs and Rooney Mara ran Daniel Craig ragged in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Say hello and wave goodbye. Four of these performers are but seconds from the exit door.
Meryl Streep for her performance as Thatcher in The Iron Lady. It is her third Oscar win from an astounding 17 nominations.And the Oscar goes to ...
Streep's speech begins on a disarmingly self-deprecating note. "When they called my name I imagined half of America going 'Aw, no! Her! Again!". But after that, the emotion of the moment gets to her and she croaks and wells and "sees my life before my eyes. My old friends and my new friends. Her friends, she says, are what she clings to, more than the films themselves or the prizes they bring. "So thank-you to my friends. The ones that are departed and the ones that are here. Thank-you."
Reeling, staggering, all reason gone, the Academy Awards have now reached the finish line; the treasure in the jungle. There is barely time for Tom Cruise to run us through the nine films nominated for the crowning best picture Oscar but here they are all the same. Will the voters go for the bittersweet drama of The Descendants or the southern-fried homilies of The Help? Might they opt for the sunny digressions of Midnight in Paris, the smart-talking antics of Moneyball, or the transcendental splendour of The Tree of Life? Maybe they'll go for the gallumphing War Horse, the oily Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or the pristine Hugo? Or might they even go right out on a limb, tear up the form guide and bestow this year's best film Oscar on that obscure silent French movie about the man and his dog?
By this stage of the night, I think the question is rhetorical.
And the Oscar goes to ... The Artist!
The artists from The Artist take to the stage to collect the spoils. It is a time to let bygones be bygones, to bury the hatchet and come together as one, and Michel Hazanavicius is now happy to share the platform with Uggie, the dog he fell out with so bitterly on the set of the film. At the microphone, producer Thomas Langmann namechecks the late French director Claude Berri, while Hazanavicius turns to his wife, Berenice Bejo, one of the few nominees from the film to go home empty-handed. "You inspired the movie," he tells her. "You are the soul of this movie."
And with that, it's done, we're out of time, and Billy Crystal waves us brusquely towards the exit door. This was the night in which we saw Ryan Seacrest covered in ash, marvelled at the Jolie wardrobe and heard a malign crow pour poison into the ears of a befuddled Nick Nolte. But it was also the night that witnessed the final crowning of The Artist; the silent film that made an antique art feel fresh and new; the obscure French comedy that spoke to the world in a common tongue.
Judged purely on the amount of Oscars accrued, Hazanavicius's movie winds up tied with Hugo on five awards apiece. But the figures tell barely half the story. The Artist wins the day. It came and it conquered, barely saying a word.
Just time for some final thanks of our own. Thanks for sticking with us. Thanks for the mails, the tweets, and the comments too. We're rolling the credits and cutting the sound.
"Go home," says the crow. "Go to bed and sleep it off." The first rule of Oscar night is that you never argue with the crow. Nick Nolte can attest to that.
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