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The Academy Awards: The Winners

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Dan Zak
Style Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009; 12:00 PM

How well did you fare with your Oscar predictions? Whose loss was particularly painful? And which acceptance speech was the most insufferable?

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Join Style staff writer Dan Zak for an Academy Awards post-mortem on Monday, Feb. 23 at noon ET.

Read the transcript.

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Dan Zak: Let's continue to nurse our Oscar hangover with a second hour of live-chatting. This year wasn't so bad for me, but I had only two criteria:

1. That Best Picture came before midnight. (It did.)

2. That Kate Winslet got her Oscar. (She did.)

But what did YOU think? Let's haggle over the winners, the speeches, the montages, the music, the cutaways, the host and the ceremony -- both the excruciating minutiae and the overall sweep.

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Sean Penn!!: I'm so excited Sean Penn won for best actor - that was one of the finest acting performances of the career of one of America's finest actors. It got to me on every level (even if I thought there were a couple of very minor problems with the film, like its spending so much time on Jack).

I'm curious what the reaction has been to Penn's speech? I thought it was both genius and brave, and more than I expected he would say. Granted, the people in the room were friendly to his message, but a decent percentage of the TV viewing audience may not have been. Thoughts?

Dan Zak: "Milk" was no masterpiece, but you're right about Penn: fine performance from a fine actor. Hence his second Oscar. As for reaction to the speech, the mainstream media has loved quoting his edgy-but-printable intro line "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns."

The right-wing blogosphere is aggravated. One example: "You can go to hell, you sanctimonious whiner," wrote Ben Shapiro on Big Hollywood after the win.

Representing the "decent percentage of the TV viewing audience" who may not have been receptive, we have our next chatter:

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Heartland, USA: I see them liberal elites in Hollywood gave the Oscar to Sean Penn playing a homosexual over Mickey Rourke playing a wrestler. Political choice? Or just based on acting? How much based on Rourke's bad-boy rep in the industry (something Sean Penn used to have)? Didn't Rourke get the People's Choice and Golden Globe awards? Will he have sour grapes?

Dan Zak: Maybe the Academy is trying to atone for snubbing Brokeback three years ago. Maybe they're sending a message about Prop 8. Maybe they were as impressed with Penn's performance as everyone else. But it's hard to argue that this award was NOT based on merit.

Rourke got the Golden Globe, yeah. I'm sure he's feeling the sting of losing, especially after her and the media collaborated on such an affecting comeback story, but he always has his dogs to comfort him.

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DC: If 'Slumdog' had been set in another city, like Detroit for example, and if you had replaced the Indian dancing with hip-hop dancing, would it still have won all those Oscars?

Dan Zak: Not a chance.

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Washington, D.C.: Everything pointed to Taraji P. Henson winning Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Benjamin Button." How did Penelope Cruz end up taking home the statue?

Dan Zak: Only one thing pointed to Taraji: Her movie's haul of nominations. Cruz had always been the favorite to win.

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Washington, D.C.: can you repeat what Shirley MacLaine said that made Anne Hathaway cry? I mean, Barbara Walters doesn't make her cry and Shirley does? Happy 75 to you, Ms MacLaine.

Dan Zak: I'd cry too if Shirley MacLaine directly addressed me, even if it was to say "Stop staring and back away." As I recall, Shirls said something like "You're a wonder, you're a joy, you can act, you have a lovely singing voice and you'll be at the Oscars year after year and eventually you'll win." I'm paraphrasing.

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Dan, thanks for helping us try and wake up today after a boring Academy Awards show. I had heard that the Oscars had decided to try and make the show more interesting and shorter, but outside of a few moments it seemed dull, long and full of flubs and bad musical numbers. Are they trying to drive away every viewer with these painfully long shows?

Dan Zak: One thing America needs to get over: The Oscars have been, are and always will be long. If they weren't long, they wouldn't be the Oscars.

As for flubs, there was some missed curtain cues, orchestral cues, bad TelePrompTer readings, but mostly the show went smoothly. The second musical number -- the musical number about musicals -- was horrendous, though.

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Saint-Petersburg, Russia: In any case "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" - the best!

Dan Zak: You are incorrect.

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Washington, DC: In your opinion, who gave the best and worst acceptance speeches? And what was with all the montages?

Dan Zak: Best speech: No standouts. Winslet's was pretty good. She had clearly practiced, but provided some great impromptu moments. Loved when her father whistled.

Worst speech: Greg Cannom for best makeup. He didn't even smile. He seemed to be annoyed that he won.

As for the montages, I think it's a way for the Academy to remind people that this show is about movies, not theatre or television.

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Milwaukee, Wisc.: Did I miss it or did Sean Penn not thank his lovely wife Robin Wright Penn?

Dan Zak: YOU ARE CORRECT. PENN DID NOT MENTION HIS WIFE. This makes me angry because she's as talented as he is, and just doesn't get the roles he does.

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Middletown, Conn.: I thought the show was interesting overall, but I don't agree with Tom Shales's complaint about "too many clips." Actually, the one thing I really missed is seeing at least a small clip of the performances from the nominated actors and actresses.

Dan Zak: This is my biggest Oscar pet peeve: When they don't show clips from nominated performances. I'm not sure why I like the clips -- it refreshes everyone's memory, I think.

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Washington, D.C.: In my opinion, the animated short film winner, "La Maison en Petits Cubes" was dreary and unimpressive visually and content-wise. The others in this category were brilliant. A diverse group of friends who also watched the animated shorts with me feel the same way. How in the world did this one win?

Dan Zak: I actually fell asleep during "La Maison," which is not a good sign, considering it's a SHORT film. It won because it's serious and contemplates death. I would've given my vote to "Oktapodi." Adorable. Look it up on iTunes.

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Washington, DC: I really liked the previous winner round table salute to the nominees. I may be in the minority. But all of the female nominees (save Winslet) were all teary-eyed at their counterpart's tribute. It worked for me, plus Sophia Loren!

Dan Zak: These tributes walked the line between nauseating and wonderful. As a total geek, I loved how it was orchestrated -- the clips of past winners, then the columnar video screens rising to reveal the past winners. It gave a sense of the fraternity of the Oscars, about the passing of the torch. I really liked it. If only they could've incorporated the performance clips without really dragging it out...

Sophia Loren -- she was keeping so well until now. A friend thought she looked like "Boca Raton exploded on her."

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A Wee Whinge: I didn't like the new approach to presenting the acting awards (five previous winners personally addressing the five nominees individually and discussing what lessons were learned). It was gratuitous back-patting {ahem] and ate up too much time. What's wrong with the institution of the "Oscar Clip" anyway?

I also thought the nauseous panning of multiple screens for the "In Memoriam" part was hard to watch.

But, yay for Penelope and Kate! Yay for Slumdog. It was a good night, despite my gripes.

Dan Zak: A dissenter. Yes, it was gratuitous back-patting, but that's why we watch the Oscars: to see the rich and famous congratulate themselves.

Ugh, yeah, the panning during In Memoriam. Seems like the show's producers took an ill-advised cue from CNN, which also has that wandering camera. Just show me an image; don't show me ANOTHER screen showing me the image.

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Robin Wright Penn snub: Not to mention that he was estranged from his wife for a period this past year. You'd think he'd take the opportunity to score some points...

Dan Zak: Don't get me started.

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DC: How many years in a row has Beyonce performed? I swear she has sung at the last four ceremonies. She's played out. Best for me was Hugh Jackman! Suave, funny, great dancer, professional host.

Dan Zak: I remember Beyonce singing the Phantom of the Opera song a couple years ago. I don't like her. And she was clearly lip-synching. AND she walked all over "At Last" again. Etta James probably punched out her TV.

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Buffalo, New York: It appears that Sean Penn was the only American citizen to win a major award last night at the Oscars. Do you think the location for the Oscars should be changed to a diffent location every year? London? Mumbai? Madrid?

Dan Zak: There were lots of Brits (they took nine categories, by my count). Lots of Indians, too. Dustin Lance Black (screenplay winner) and Penn were the only Americans to win in major categories. Instead of moving the Oscars abroad, I'd recommend that Hollywood start making better movies.

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Alexandria, VA: I liked Jackman's hosting job, but I found him to be underused during the later portions of the show. And I really, really enjoyed the former winners presenting to the current crop of nominees -- at least, when you could tell it was a completely genuine and heartfelt expression from one artist to another(McClaine/Hathaway, Cotilliard/Winslet, and Eva Marie Saint/Viola Davis were all touching) or a nice riff between former co-stars(DeNiro/Penn). However, I hate that we lost the clips of the actual performances. Can't they cut back on some of those random montages (love! action!) and give us a montage of the performers instead? And that musical extravaganza . . . the song nominees deserve their time back.

Dan Zak: Jackman all but disappeared during the last half. Maybe they cut some numbers. Maybe they just wanted him as an accelerant at the start.

Yes, the montages need to be cut. Especially because every category had a montage this year -- the nominees were, in effect, introduced TWICE.

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Tampa, Fla.: (Submitting early, as I have to take my Grandson to the DR's)

A SNUB, Did anyone else notice, that when they ran thru the Movie Stars that passed this year, that GEORGE CARLIN (R.I.P.) was not mentioned? He passed away in June of 2008, and starred in several films: "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" & "B&T Bogus Journey," as well as "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back." Is there any way we can get, THE ACADEMY to realize their mistake and to give George the credit he was due?

Dan Zak: Carlin wasn't really a movie guy. Not too many credits to his name. The Bill & Ted movies, while unequivocal masterpieces, probably weren't enough to sway the Academy to include him.

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MD's Eastern Shore: Is there any way to arrange a fist fight with Sean Penn?

Dan Zak: Try to take his picture.

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Alexandria, Va.: LOL- "Etta James probably punched out her tv"-I had similar thoughts, wishing she was somewhere mic-ed up and ready to share her thoughts once again.

What would you think of Steve Martin and Tina Fey as potential co-hosts? Or another duo? Those two played really well off of each other.

Dan Zak: Yes, potential co-hosts. Steve Martin had the line of the night: "Don't fall in love with me."

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Arlington, Va.: For me, the biggest surprise of the evening was Sean Penn winning Best Actor. I was sure that it was going to Mickey Rourke!

But I also have to admit to being surprised that "The Dark Knight" came away with so few wins. I was sure it would have swept up the technical categories, particularly the two sound ones.

Dan Zak: Yes, the Rourke thing seemed like it was bound to happen. Guess the Academy didn't buy into that fairy tale.

I picked The Dark Knight to win both sound categories plus Ledger. In any other year, it also would've scooped up cinematography and visual effects, at the very least.

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Washington, DC: A few questions: - Why wasn't Heath Ledger included in the In Memoriam montage? - Where was Jack Nicholson? - Why couldn't all the musical numbers have been Bollywood style? Those were so much better! I love Baz Luhrmann but that montage was BAD. And I'm tired of seeing Beyonce perform at award shows. - Did anyone else hear them say "Open the curtain Steve!" or something like that at the beginning when the curtains were still closed over the screen? - Were the cinematographers annoyed that Ben Stiller distracted from their segment? - What was with the distracting blue video surrounds whenever they showed the nominees? All I could look at was that weird Kung Fu Panda trying to eat a flying object, over and over and over again.

Dan Zak: So many topics in this question.

Ledger was in last year's montage. Nicholson was absent! Beyonce needs to go away. Baz's medley was ridiculous (overlapping the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar with Hairspray???). I bet the cinematographers were a littled peeved at Stiller for distracting everyone from the task at hand, but his impersonation of Joaquin Phoenix was one of the only true bold moments in the telecast.

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DC: How happy did Jennifer Aniston look when Brad Pitt didn't win the Oscar? One of the best moments of the night.

Dan Zak: I didn't notice that particular cutaway!

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Robin Wright: Looked fantastic. Seriously.

Dan Zak: Because she is fantastic. Beautiful. Talented. Someone give her a movie.

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Arlington, VA: I didn't mind Beyonce at the Oscars last night (even though I thought her musical number was a bit redundant). Better her than Miley Cyrus!

Dan Zak: Truth. Until last night, I thought Hannah Montana was a real person and Miley Cyrus was a TV character.

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Morristown, N.J.: Could Matthew Broderick have looked more miserable as he was escorting his wife last night? His "I vomited in my mouth" look is not helping to quell those rumors of marital strife.

Dan Zak: He also appeared to have highlights in his rapidly thinning hair.

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Best Line of the Night: I thought it had to be DeNiro's about casting Sean Penn as a straight guy all these years.

Dan Zak: Another great line: When Alan Arkin referred to Philip Seymour Hoffman as "Seymour Philip Hoffman." PSH could barely contain his laughter.

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Alexandria, VA: Kudos to Hugh Jackman. What a guy! He can do it all, and with such good grace and humor. And boy, can he wear a top hat and tails.

Dan Zak: Truth. Any guy who can convincingly play both Wolverine and Peter Allen is a winner in my book.

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Greenbelt, Md.: Mostly I enjoyed the montage of past-and-present Best Picture nominees at the end of the show. However, I was stunned that a clip of "Milk" was immediately followed by a clip from "Braveheart." If I recall correctly, the gay community had strongly protested the anti-gay slurs in "Braveheart" the year that it came out. So why that segue? It seemed cruel.

Dan Zak: Yeah, those montages worked very well -- grouping the best picture nominees with their cinematic forefathers. Thought that was very effective, and added to the legacy vibe established by the communal way the acting awards were presented.

As for Braveheart, I'm not privy to that controversy.

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Welcome to the club?: Hi Dan -- Thanks for taking questions on the day after. What's your take on the five-presenter format in the acting categories? From what I can tell, most critics didn't care for it because it seemed to go on and on. I'm torn...I found myself thinking a lot about how they composed the list of presenters. I realize they wanted to represent as many "generations" as they could, but I found myself wondering, why no Sally Field, Jodie Foster, or Hilary Swank, as rare two time winners? And why no Ernest Borgnine, who won Best Actor in 1955 and who is still very much around? And if they do this again next year, then what? Will they have to come up with 5 new reps?

Dan Zak: They probably left out Borgnine because he's a bit of a loose cannon when mic'd. Search "Borgnine" and "Secret to old age" on the YouTubes. Grrreat clip.

It was great that Loren, MacLaine, Saint, Huston, Hawn, Walken, Kline, Kingsley, Hopkins and De Niro were up there to represent the old guard. But Cuba Gooding was definitely out of place.

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Foreign Film Category: Did anyone at all see this coming? Did "Departures" sneak through because of a split between "Waltz with Bashir" and "The Class," or did too few people vote, or what?

Dan Zak: A select few saw it coming. Vote-splitting probably contributed, but the issue is this: only a certain portion of the Academy can actually vote in the category (the ones who actually see all the nominees), and Departures was the most emotionally affecting of the bunch.

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washington,dc: I agree-- Ben Stiller was the boldest most original presenter at the awards. I think he is amazing....a good reason why there should be a best comedic performance category inserted to update these tired awards. What is the likelihood of that ever happening?

Dan Zak: That will never happen.

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Sean Penn: He did thank his best friend which could have meant to be Robin.

Dan Zak: As I recall, he said "I want to thank my best friend, Sata Matsuzawa." I have no idea who Sata Matsuzawa is.

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Alexandria, VA: So the big shock of the night was in Foreign Film, right? How did this happen - how many Academy members even saw the Japanese film?

Dan Zak: Yeah, it was shocking-ish. But anyone who voted in that category was required to see all the nominees. It's a specific rule for Foreign Language Film.

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ANOTHER SNUB: The Academy did not acknowledge the passing of DC local Robert Prosky. Or if they did I missed it because of the nauseating camera movement.

Dan Zak: Hmm, you may be right. I remember seeing James Whitmore. But I didn't see Prosky either. If so, that's a major oversight. The roving camera might've obscured him, though.

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DC: Why weren't "The Wrestler" or "The Dark Knight" nominated for best picture? Given the dire economy, was this just going to be the year of the "uplifting" film?

Dan Zak: I was flabbergasted when Dark Knight was left off the list. The Wrestler was just too small to be up for Best Picture. I do suppose the Academy wanted to honor uplift after honoring the decidedly bleak "No Country for Old Men" and "The Departed."

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Washington, DC: What was up with Robert Pattinson? It was like he was glaring at the camera when doing his presenter role. Very brooding...

Dan Zak: He looked like a ghoul. And I'm still not sure who he is.

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Rockville, Md: Judd Apatows short was hilarious and definite highlight for me.

Dan Zak: Except it was weird to see a marijuana skit without a bong or smoke. Family-friendly TV, I guess.

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Voting question: Wait, so you can vote for Best Picture (or actress, actor, etc) WITHOUT seeing all the nominees? That is surprising.

Dan Zak: Yep. The only categories in which a voter must see all the nominees are Foreign Language and the shorts (documentary, animated and live action). Maybe documentary feature, too, but I'm not sure on that one.

So a voter could conceivably vote in every major category without having seen any of the movies.

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Columbia, Md.: For me one of the most touching moments last night came from Jerry Lewis. Visibly struggling, he played it completely straight and respectful. And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but his ending with "thank you, and good night" seemed like he was taking his final bow in Hollywood.

Dan Zak: That's exactly what it felt like. Everyone was nervous that he'd say something outrageous, but he was a model of tact and deference.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hugh Jackman - winner or loser?

Dan Zak: Winner. Who disagrees?

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DC: Where was George Clooney? Did I just completely miss him?

Dan Zak: Clooney was not there. He and Damon and Julia and Jack were probably on Lake Como.

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Maybe I just don't get it, but: the Wrestler? Really? You make a so-so picture based completely and entirely on the Jake The Snake Roberts segment from the old documentary "Beyond the Mat" and you're a genius?

Frost/Nixon? Saw the original interview on youtube. It was better than the movie.

Slumdog? Doing a bollywood version of City of God does not a great movie make. In fact it really shouldn't be done...

The opening bank robbery sequence from the Dark Knight by itself was better than all the movies nominated for best picture. And of course it got hosed (the worst case since Pulp Fiction). Congratulations, Academy for keep proving how irrelevant you are.

Dan Zak: I disagree with you only on The Wrestler. The Dark Knight was virtuosic filmmaking, and should've also been up for picture, director and screenplay, at least.

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Best Actor: Best Actor-Ben stiller for the awesome W. Phoenix impression.

Dan Zak: It really was a very studied, accurate portrayal.

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DC: Give me the ISA over the Oscars any old day: shorter, irreverant and to the point.

Dan Zak: Yeah, except the ISAs have moved a little too far into the mainstream, methinks.

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Next,, Year: So for next year do you think they will pair Steve Martin and Tina Fey? They provided the only genuinely funny moment of the night (and Whoopi Goldberg's nun joke that you saw coming.) Have the Oscars ever been hosted by a duo?

Dan Zak: Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart co-hosted in 1946. And the Oscars sometimes had teams of hosts (my favorite assemblage: Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau in 1983). Martin and Fey would be a nice thing to try next year. Why not? Or better yet: Martin, Fey and Jackman.

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Washington, DC: Mickey Rourke -- they're never gonna give that guy anything.

Dan Zak: Hey, they gave him a second shot.

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Nosy Parker: Most annoying innovation last night: Interspersing clips of the Best Movie nominees with snippets of supposedly comparable scenes from classic films; this seemed just plain confusing, at least for a viewer whose bedtime it was already past (yawn).

Dan Zak: I disagree. Snippets were effective. If you were tired and bored, you should've gone to bed.

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Minneapolis, MN: What did you think about the opening number? And when Jennifer Aniston was presenting, did she look down and smile at Brad and Angelina?

Dan Zak: The opening number was on crack. It was break-neck. And surreal.

It looked like Aniston was doing everything in her power to NOT look down at Brangelina, which was sitting front and center.

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Atlanta: Whoever introduced Frank Langella during the Best Actor presentation (Michael Douglas maybe) basically dissed Anthony Hopkins, who was standing right there, by saying when he saw Langella as Nixon all other portrayals of Nixon fell away. Don't you think the writers would have known that Hopkins, who played Nixon in the film of the same name, would be on stage at this time? I felt awkward for poor Tony!

Dan Zak: Ha! You're right. But the best Nixon ever continues to be Dan Hedaya's in "Dick."

Also, the John McCain Camera Wanderer Award goes to Langella, who skittered to and ducked into his seat as the show came back from a commercial.

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Chester, Pa: For being the host, Hugh Jackman was not around much. And that production number about musicals was dreadful--the only thing worse was the song medley. Eva Marie Saint looked better than anyone--Sophia, Shirley or any of those young things. Tina and Steve were great.

Dan Zak: Eva Marie Saint is grand. Shirls just needed a better haircut. Her pixie do has de-poofed.

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Talent, CA: Anne Hathaway can sing! Get this girl some more roles where she can show off that voice ("find me somebody to love" in Ella Enchanted is one of my favorite scenes).

Dan Zak: I loathe Anne Hathaway, but even I had to admit: Good voice, especially given the circumstances. Put her on Broadway and see how she does.

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Comic acting: It has been awarded at the Oscars. Marissa Tomei and Cuba Gooding, Jr., both gave oscar-winning, funny performances.

Dan Zak: And Kevin Kline, who was onstage last night. Don't forget "A Fish Called Wanda." But it's so very rare for an out-and-out comic performance to win.

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A few things...: I think the reason they don't do clips anymore is that it would make the show even longer. I would have liked to see more of the nominated best songs (full performances rather than medley). Also, I thought Milk was terrific -- Sean Penn obviously, and James Franco was GREAT. GREAT. Surprised he didn't get a supporting actor nomination.

Dan Zak: Franco can do no wrong. Even though he couldn't pronounce "Spielzeugland." But who cares. He just needs to stand there.

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Arlington, VA: Can we find out what genius decided to fly the camera all around during the tribute to those who passed away last year? There were many times you could not see the clip they were showing or read the name. Seriously, no one needs to add anything to that moment. Show the montage FULL SCREEN and you are done.

Worst. Overdirecting. Ever.

Dan Zak: Yeah, bad choice. And one of these years a producer needs to say NO CLAPPING DURING THE DEATH MONTAGE.

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Dan Zak: I'm going to continue to address some lingering chat topics, but for those of you who are bored: Get over to Hour No. 3 of Oscar live-chatting with Amy and Hank, who were on the red carpet yesterday, backstage last night and at the parties into this morning. Link to follow soon...

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Clifton, Va.: So you die of a drug overdose and are a so-so actor and you get an Academy Award.

Cesar Romero was much better as the Joker. Ledger's performance as the Joker pales in comparision to Romero's.

Dan Zak: Incorrect.

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Washington, D.C.: Per your observation that academy members could vote for performances or movies they have not seen begs the obvious criticism. Aren't the Oscars essentially a popularity contest ?

Dan Zak: They vacillate between popularity and merit.

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Arlington, Va.: I'd gotten so used to seeing Jack Nicholson presenting the Best Picture award that I was caught off-guard by Steven Spielberg walking out on stage.

Dan Zak: Spielberg has presented Best Pic before. But yeah, everyone was missing those Nicholson cutaways.

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Best Speech: I loved it when the Japanese guy finished his speech by saying "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto".

Dan Zak: I had no idea what was happening.

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washingtonpost.com: Hank Stuever and Amy Argetsinger on the Oscar social scene: Starting now!

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Great Falls, S.C.: I think this is going to contribute to the death of the movies as we know them. I have not attended nor do I plan to attend any of the movies nominated, including the winning picture. I think the voting is biased toward sentimental favorites, acting wise and picture wise. Just who votes for these pictures? Is it only the academy that can vote?

Dan Zak: A nice note to end on. And yes, it's only the Academy who votes. America votes at the box office, though, which means this year's best picture was The Dark Knight and best actor would probably be a showdown between Kevin James and Tyler Perry.

Yeah, there's no reason you should see all the nominated films. But let's not be close-minded. Try these out via Netflix: The Visitor, Frozen River and especially In Bruges.

Ta ta for now.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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