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81st Academy Awards

Hugh Jackman as host tried to engage the audience in the onstage shenannigans. ( & copy;AMPAS)

Hugh Jackman hosted what was one of the blandest Oscar shows in recent memory. Jackman, who has been a delight in his Comic-Con appearances where he spontaneously sang and danced, should have been better but he ended up just being an attractive host but one who didn't have a chance to display much charisma. He opened with a "cute" musical number highlighting all five of the best picture nominess (now a tradition thanks to Billy Crystal who perfected it). Jackman joked that in these economic hard times the show would be cutting back so the props and sets he had to work with all looked handmade (but I'm sure that low budget look cost a fortune!). He dragged Anne Hathaway up from the audience to partake in the Frost/Nixon segment and she feigned surprise at being called on. Jackman did take the opportunity to poke fun at the Academy for its unwillingness to nominate the billion-dollar grossing The Dark Knight for Best Picture.

Hugh Jackman singing about the film that didn't get nominated for Best Picture ( & copy;AMPAS)

Later Will Smith, as a presenter, chimed in on the dig, by emphasizing that film like that, had oh what was it? Oh that's right FANS. The lack of popular mainstream films (such as past winners Lord of the Rings and Titanic ) among the nominees has been blamed for the downward turn in Oscar's TV ratings. Downsizing may be going on in the rest of the world but this year's Oscars decided to upsize by bringing in five past acting winners to present each of the acting awards. This meant big star power on stage and each performer offering a glowing tribute to each new nominee, encouraging most to well up with tears (don't they realize this is all sccripted?). I was leaning toward disliking the approach until they brought out Christopher Walken as one of the presenters for Best Supporting Actor. That was cool.

Past Best Supporting Actress winners Goldie Hawn, Whoopi Goldberg, Anjelica Huston, Tilda Swinton and Eva Marie Saint welcome Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) to their ranks. ( & copy;AMPAS)

The awards have always featured clips montages but this year the clips montages were even less motivated than usual. Maybe in an attempt to please the mainstream crowd, there were montages saluting the animated films of last year (including crap like Space Chimps ), romance films, comedies (at least this had a funny bit with James Franco and Seth Rogen spoofing themselves from Pineapple Express ), and action films.But last time I looked there were no categoties for romance and action so why the montage? The films highlighted weren't for the most part even good. At the evening's end there was a final montage of the best pic nominees but each best film had clips intercut from other best pic winners that someone had decided were thematically linked. This led to the unintentionally hilarious sandwiching of a clip of Mel Gibson in Braveheart between two clips of the gay biopic Milk . Wonder how the less than liberal Gibson feels about that?!

Two of the night's best -- and smartest -- presenters were Tina Fey and Steve Martin. Maybe they could host and write the show next year? Hint, hint.

Dustin Lance Black and Simon Beaufoy show off their writing awards. Black won Best Original Screenplay for Milk and got to make a heartfelt acceptance speech about, well, our need to accept each other. Beaufoy won Best Adapted Screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire .

Animated short, along with the other shorts categories and Best Foreign Language Film, are usually where you'll find surprises because unlike all the other categories, only people who see all the nominees can vote. This reduces favoritism to a degree. It also meant that this year the best know animated short, Presto (which preceded Wall-E in theaters) lost out to the delicately animated Japanese short with a French title, Le Maison en Petits Cubes.

I guess when you present Best Animated Feature you are allowed to get, well, animated. Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston with winner Andrew Stanton for Wall-E , no surprise there.

Ben Stiller and Natalie Portman were presenters. As in the Spirit Awards, Joaquin Phoenix was the butt end of a joke after he appeared with a Grizzly Adams beard. Stiller did a nice walkabout on stage as the dazed Joaquin.

In an attempt to prove that the musical was not dead, Hugh Jackman and Beyonce almost killed it.

Past winners Christopher Walken, Joel Grey, Cuba Gooding Jr, Alan Arkin and Kevin Kline with members of Heath Ledger's family. ( & copy; AMPAS)

Heath Ledger's family accepted his posthumous award in the name of his daughter Mathilda. This was a touching and sincere moment.

A high point of the evening: the award-winning documentary Man on Wire and its subject, Philippe Petit, who balanced the Oscar on his chin.

Queen Latifah sang for the annual death montage (clips of all the people who passed in the previous year). This was the worst montage of the evening as the camera moved around almost as shakily as it did in Cloverfield . The montage ended with Paul Newman, a great actor and wonderful human being. Heath Ledger was not included because he was in last year's tribute since he passed away in January of 2008.

Kate Winslet feigning surprise? She seemed an odds-on favorite for her work in The Reader and she nabbed the Best Actress prize.

Past winners Michael Douglas, Adrien Brody, Ben Kinsley, Anthony Hopkins and Robert DeNiro with this year's winner Sean Penn. ( & copy; AMPAS)

Sean Penn, who won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor, was favored to win the Oscar and did for Milk . He gave a nice shout out to Mickey Rourke, who lost for The Wrestler . But Rourke gave great acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes and Spirit Awards where he did pick up wins for his comeback role. Penn opened by thanking the "commie, homo-loving sons of guns" at the Academy, which might be a blunter way of putting matter than the Academy might like, but in all honesty I think his win was very much about giving someone in Hollywood a chance to say something about California's passage of Prop 8 and what better venue than the Oscars. The Acadmy may frown on Vanessa Redgrave giving props to the Palestinians in her accaptance speech years ago but Penn was given his award probably in the hopes that he's use the podium to chide voters and he did by telling them "shame" on you for not displaying more tolerance and acceptance. It was a good speech but Milk writer Black was more eloquent but probably not as memorable to most people.

The best acting winners: Kate Winslet, bad boy turned Hollywood darling Sean Penn and Penelope Cruz. ( & copy; AMPAS)

On the Red Carpet...

Melissa Leo, the most deserving of the Best Actress nominees, commited no fashion faux paux with her lovely dress. Too bad she was overlooked for her work in Frozen River .

Tilda Swinton, Jessica Biel, Marisa Tomei and Amy Adams were among the more strangely attired actresses. ( & copy;AMPAS)

Once again beautiful women paid thousands of dollars to look bad in designer clothes. The theme among the worst dresses seemed to be failed origami -- all these women looked like someone has wrapped them badly in silks and chiffons. Marisa Tomei's dress in particular looked like badly folded origami. And Adams gets extra demerits for a gaudy necklace that I heard described as looking like both an ashtray and vomit. Some of the better dressed women were Diane Lane, Kate Winslet, and Frieda Pinto.

Marion Cotillard and and the ever-regal Sophia Loren; they would be presenting the Best Actress Award along with three other past winners.

Robin Wright Penn and Sean Penn. He didn't thank his wife in his aceptance speech but I heard that was because they had agreed not to do that mushy, married thing.

Cutest couple and both nominated: Angelina Jolie was nominated for Changeling and Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button .

Michael Sheen, who was overlooked for his performance as the Frost half of Frost/Nixon , seems to be looking younger and younger.

Daniel Craig. I included him just because he's hot. Forgive me.

Meryl Streep showed what elegance is like as she celebrated her 15th Oscar nomination for Doubt .

And the parties...

Danny Boyle giving a thumbs up. Slumdog Millionaire's win was sweet and having a large number of the cast and crew come up for the Best Picture win was lovely. Although the performance of the nominated songs from the film looked like a train wreck of Bollywood and Busby Berkely. Couldn't they have just hired a Bollywood choreographer (maybe the one Doyle kindly hightlighted in his acceptance speech since the person was accidentally left out of the film's credits)?

Slumdog 's beautiful young couple, Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto.

I couldn't resist this back to back Nixon shot. Frank Langella and Anthony Hopkins both played Richard M. Nixon and both received Oscar nominations, Langella this year for Frost/Nixon and Hopkins for Oliver Stone's Nixon .

Sean Penn and Christopher Walken have a kind of father and son reunion after the awards. The two starred as father and son in At Close Range .

Just because... here's a picture of Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey, Jr. at the Oscar nominees luncheon from earlier this month. I just like these guys and wish both of them could have taken home some gold.

All photos courtesy of and copyrighted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

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