8:45 This was another predictable year, as you all figured, but it lacked extremes. Nobody got robbed of anything that the prognosticators already predicted they would lose (unless you count Uggie; I don't, since Arthur from "Beginners" was the best dog performance of the year, hands down). More importantly, now that "The Artist" dominated in most major categories, will anyone remember the sizable accomplishments of "Hugo" or "War Horse" or "The Descendants" in another year or twenty? The answer is yes, but not in the same breath as "Oscar." So at least we have that assurance: Life after Oscar doesn't deprive us of the movies. Onward!
8:24 I can see the argument for awarding Jean Dujardin for a performance like nothing else seen onscreen this year. But it wasn't the best of the category because it was categorically different from everything it competed against. My pick? Gary Oldman was past his due. And, it turns out, still is.
8:12 p.m. Some highlights from this year's in memoriam clip reel: Shout-outs for Bingham Ray, Ken Russell, Sidney Lumet and George fucking Kuchar! Maybe this is a tame Oscars, but it gets a little boost of integrity from these guys.
8:05 p.m. Michel Hazanavicius had little to say when it won for directing the Oscar, which is appropriate, of course. But let's talk about those short films. "The Shore"? Seriously? The tamest of contenders and also unnecessarily the longest, this quiet character study about two old friends patching up their differences beat out both the cleverly surreal "Tuba Atlantic" and the powerful adoption story "Raju." And while the subject of "Saving Face" imbues it with journalistic value, Lucy Walker's "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" truly deserved the best doc short prize. It's always frustrating when the categories that can make the most difference don't do that.
7:32 p.m. It's about time that Alexander Payne got an Oscar. And "Man or Muppet" was most certainly the best part of "The Muppets." If this year's Oscars isn't the best in years, if you were you to ignore a lot of annoying superficial problems, it's got a lot more on target than all us haters are usually willing to realize.
6:50 p.m. With his fleeting comedic intro the best animated feature nominees, Chris Rock reminded everyone that he was the boldest, most entertaining Oscar host in years, and they should really bring him back.
6:37 p.m. It was predicted long ago that "Hugo" would dominate Oscar's technical awards, but "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" scored best editing in a most appropriate upset. Here's a movie particularly admirable for the way it moves from one scene to the next with a fury matched only by its punk protagonist. And the awkward reaction of the winners underscored the point that we all expect the Oscars to be predictable, so when they're not, everyone's left speechless.
6:19 p.m. In between Sandra Bullock flexing her German and Octavia Spencer's expectedly teary close-up, the Oscars very briefly got real. That happened when Asghar Farhadi won for "A Separation," a win we all saw coming but still looked a little surreal. The Oscars are an easy target when they try to do something different (ugh, last year) and when they simply hum along on autopilot (so far, most of this year). But there's something undeniably awesome about the ability of this event to pluck an Iranian filmmaker out of the crowd and briefly put him on a global stage to talk about filmmaking conditions that have nothing to do with Hollywood. There's no question about it: This was the best win of the night.
6:10 p.m. So here’s the problem with asking celebrities to tell you how much they love the movies. When Tom Hanks tells you that some movie “set my imagination running wild,” or Barbara Streisand says “I could dream there,” or Adam Sandler talks about Sean Connery’s chest hair, most people will instinctually laugh. Yes, we love the movies. But do we care that famous people do, too? If anything, the only times the Oscars triumph is when they push beyond the notion that everything has to be filtered through pretty smiles and boldface names. And so the best parts of the ceremony so far have been the technical triumphs of Robert Richardson for shooting “Hugo” and a make up nod for “The Iron Lady,” reminders of the individual pieces that allow the movies to create worlds from scratch. By now, however, those prizes have been forgotten in a godawful montage of familiar faces. Once again, nothing has changed.
5:53 p.m. The Oscar's opening bit was like a warm hug of nostalgia, starting with Morgan Freeman's unironic introduction to Crystal's down-to-earth arrival sequence, which found him rushing from one movie to another: First he's in "The Artist," then "The Descendants," followed by "Moneyball" and a version of "Midnight in Paris" starring Justin Bieber. Then came "The Help," "Bridesmaids," "Hugo" and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," a "Tintin" tangent and finally journeying along a celluloid walkway that took him straight to the Oscar stage. The takeaway was pure familiarity--that is, nothing has changed, the show goes on. When Crystal finally emerged into the live broadcast, shortly before launching into a forgettable song staged against a flat backdrop, he summed it all up: "The movies have always been there for us," he said, by which he really meant the Oscars. This is a tame ceremony from the start, but then any attempt to reinvent the whole shebang has fallen flat, so what we're seeing here is basically just the show's default mode.