Follow us here for thrills, chills, cheers, tears and all-around passion play that the annual Academy Awards telecast brings around every year. I'll be back here around the time the broadcast starts Sunday night, 7:00 on ABC.
7:00 -- Here we go, with a montage of famous faces that hollers HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD, set to a Eurodisco beat. And now it's time for the whole red-carpet routine.
7:03 -- Well, the red-carpet interviewers are starting off the evening by interviewing each other. Rivetting!
7:04 -- Finally, an actual celebrity, best-supporting-actress nominee Octavia Spencer. Nice that she gives a shout-out to her hometown of Auburn, Ala.
7:05 -- And now best-supporting-actor nominee Jonah Hill, with his mother. Who doesn't look nearly old enough to be his mom.
7:07 -- Is there anyone on earth cooler than Maya Rudolph? I think not. Asked for secrets to gracefully getting through an awards show, she advises to sneak in snacks. The nation's theater concession managers are not amused.
7:12 -- Jessica Chastain (like Spencer, nominated for "The Help") appears to be wearing an animal skin of some sort. Ew.
7:13 -- Red-carpet quotes: "Oscar-worthy dresses don't just happen." "Who are you wearing tonight?" I simply do not understand fashion. I'm sure this is a stunning revelation to those who know me.
7:15 -- A bit on Oscar dresses through the years, including a rather astounding concoction worn by Cher in 1986. I guess that was during her French death metal period.
7:16 -- Milla Jovovich "couldn't possibly be more stunning," says ABC's red-carpet man with the mike. Who am I to disagree?
7:22 -- Asked which of this year's co-stars was "most charming," Emma Stone basically says they were all charming in their own way. She is apparently keeping her options open, in case whoever wins the Republican nomination is looking for a female vice president.
7:24 -- Apparently, Jessica Chastain is the leading trend topic on Twitter. Once again, no, I do not undertand fashion.
7:28 -- Viola Davis looks refreshingly normal. Although, because I think that, I'm sure the fashionistas will be savaging her ensemble.
7:30 -- Michelle Williams is in a red dress so piercingly bright, I feel like I should don shades to look at it. Then over to Christopher Plummer, rockin' purple velvet and looking like he's just off the golf course.
7:32 -- Nice little bit on "mominees," mothers of nominees, talking about how proud they are of their kids. Some things are universal.
7:39 -- Kristen Wiig is "speechless," as is her "Bridesmaids" co-writer. But they dutifully tell Robin Roberts who they're wearing (that's never not gonna sound weird to me).
7:40 -- Tina Fey! One of the few folks who can give Maya Rudolph a run for her coolness money; especially for quipping that she only dressed up tonight because she wasn't allowed to wear bike shorts.
7:42 -- Colin Firth just admitted he's planning on knocking back a few tonight. Keep that in mind when he'll be presenting the best-actress award later.
7:45 -- Jean Dujardin from "The Artist" looks weird without his mustache. And sounds weird speaking on-camera (about cinnamon rolls?). That's what happens when you get nominated for a silent movie.
7:46 -- The red-carpet reporters are going on about Michelle Williams' red dress (which is apparently "coral," although I'm not sure it's a shade actually found in nature).
7:51 -- J-Lo really should just walk red carpets in million-dollar dresses for a living...Wait a minute, you mean that's actually all she does? Wow.
7:52 -- With his dark shades and rumpled suit, Nick Nolte looks like an albino member of the Blind Boys of Alabama gospel group. Except he sounds kind of...nuts.
7:54 -- Zach Galifianakis (whose voice I heard earlier today on a "Puss in Boots" DVD, as Humpty Alexander Dumpty) said that most of his Oscar preparation today consisted of "taking a bath." And he's wearing Garanimals. God, I love him.
7:55 -- Wow, even *I* can tell Penelope Cruz looks astonishing. Straight out of Disney central casting's exclusive line of princess divas.
8:00 -- Half an hour before the festivities inside will start. Meanwhile, here's Cameron Diaz on the carpet, wearing Gucci and saying the train is "a little heavy" but "so masterfully crafted." Pay attention, there'll be questions later.
8:02 -- What am I wearing? Wrangler jeans, T-shirt, flannel shirt, thanks for asking.
8:04 -- Gwyneth Paltrow is a collection of very sharp angles and looks like she could use a cheeseburger or three.
8:05 -- Glenn Close looks terrific, too. I had wondered if she was going to show up dressed as Albert Nobbs.
8:10 -- George Clooney and girlfriend, quite possibly the most stunningly beautiful couple on earth. He seems like a great sport, very unpretentious. Someone you'd like to have a beer with. Maybe he should run for president?
8:12 -- And here's Clooney's pal Brad Pitt, looking like he just hopped off a surfboard. Then over to ECU alumnus (whoot!) Sandra Bullock, who also seems like one of the folks. She can come along on our beer run with Clooney.
8:20 -- Ten more minutes to go, as Johnny Cash (happy birthday!) might put it. Inside, Natalie Portman looks like she's wearing a million bucks worth of jewelry.
8:22 -- Tom Hanks gives the backstage tour, showing the walk that tonight's winners will take on their way to running the press gauntlet. I had always wondered where they went after disappearing.
8:23 -- Show producer Brian Grazer looks like a rumpled college professor who is inexplicably wearing a tuxedo.
8:30 -- Here we go with the actual show. Morgan Freeman is out to introduce the proceedings, adding his usual gravitas. It's like the voice of God or something.
8:31 -- Here's the introductory bit where they talk about the drama of getting Billy Crystal back as Oscar host. And yeah, it's good to have him doing this again. Bits with Clooney and Justin Bieber, riffing on various nominated films including "The Artist," "The Help," "Bridesmaids," "Moneyball" (and non-nominated flicks like "Mission Impossible" and "Tin Tin").
8:36 -- And here's Crystal coming out to get started, noting it's his ninth time hosting the Oscars "here at the beautiful Chapter 11 Theatre."
8:37 -- "The movies are the place to get away, to laugh, to cry, to text."
8:38 -- The obligatory medley about the nominees, in which Crystal gets to poke gentle fun at everyone. He's kinda perfect at this.
8:41 -- "That's nine! That's nine! That is the new five!" And Tony Bennett is out in the crowd applauding.
8:42 -- Tom Hanks is out to present best cinematography, which goes to...Robert Richardson for "Hugo." He looks like Santa Claus after a stint at the Duke Weight Loss Clinic.
8:44 -- Next is art direction, which goes to..."Hugo." Would be interesting if that one wound up winning some of the bigger categories, but this might well be it for "Hugo."
8:50 -- Now it's the "Your Name Here Theatre," Crystal says. So far, he's been good-not-great, though. He seems nervous, somehow.
8:52 -- What is it all these movies in this montage are supposed to have in common? "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Forrest Gump," "Ghost," "Titanic" -- that they're all, um, movies?
8:53 -- Back to business, Diaz and J-Lo are out to present best costume design. And the winner is..."The Artist," Mark Bridges.
8:56 -- On to best makeup. Seems like "Albert Nobbs" should win this one, given Close's transformation from woman to man. Major goofiness from Diaz and J-Lo before the Oscar goes to..."The Iron Lady"? Well, I've gotta admit that they sure did have Meryl Streep looking just like Margaret Thatcher in that one.
9:00 -- Testimonials from Pitt, Freeman, Tom Cruise and others on "the magical power of movies," recalling their earliest film-going experiences. Seems like Hollywood is trying to, I dunno, justify its existence. Trying too hard, I'd say.
9:05 -- Bullock says she has been asked to speak in Mandarin Chinese, which she apparently speaks with a German accent. Um, okay. On to best-foreign-language film, which goes to...the Iranian film "A Separation." Iran's first to win this category. Given political tensions surrounding that country, a political statement, perhaps?
9:09 -- Speaking of politics, nice jab from Crystal at the Republican presidential nominees in introducing Christian Bale to present best supporting actress. Melissa McCarthy gets the biggest cheers during introductions.
9:12 -- And the Oscar goes to..."The Help"'s Octavia Spencer, who gives a memorably flustered acceptance speech: "Thank you, Academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room!" The poor woman appears to be on the verge of meltdown, but it's great to witness someone so in their moment and willing to show it.
9:18 -- A bit on focus groups, and how one would have responded to "The Wizard of Oz" way back when. I'm not so sure about all of tonight's Hollywood insider stuff; it's making this Oscar ceremony seem even more self-congratulatory than usual.
9:22 -- Tina Fey and Bradley Cooper both cut fine figures as they come out to present best film editor (with a nice dirty joke from Fey). And the Oscar goes to..."Girl With the Dragon Tatoo," done by the same folks who won this award last year for "The Social Network." So far, this isn't shaping up as a landslide for any one film.
9:25 -- On to sound editing, which goes to..."Hugo." Well, that's three for "Hugo," so maybe that one will wind up being the night's big winner?
9:26 -- Being an ink-stained wretch who does my work out of sight of most folks who read it, I like seeing this parade of folks we've never seen before and never will again having their brief moment in the spotlight.
9:27 -- And now sound mixing, which goes to..."Hugo" -- wow, that one is cleaning up in the technical categories, with four Oscars so far.
9:33 -- Kermit and Miss Piggy introduce a Cirque du Soleil performance about "going to the movies." Because there's nothing that enhances watching a movie like a couple of acrobats on wires swirling around in front of the screen.
9:36 -- Is this supposed to make me want to, you know, go see a movie? Because it's not. At all. It's making me wonder what the producers of this show were smoking.
9:39 -- Standing ovation, however. Maybe you had to be there. Crystal says he pulled a muscle just watching that. "We're a pony away from this being a bat mitzvah." Then a shout-out to the 80-something nominees, Plummer and Max Von Sydow.
9:40 -- Paltrow comes out, followed by Robert Downey Jr. -- who is filming a documentary called, he says, "The Presenter." They're presenting best documentary. This is, um, awkward.
9:42 -- And the Oscar goes to..."Undefeated," a documentary about a high school football team.
9:44 -- Whoa, one of the half-dozen "Undefeated" guys just got bleeped. Whoops!
9:45 -- Chris Rock will present best animated feature. But first, he riffs on how ridiculously easy animation work is -- for a million bucks a pop. Must be nice!
9:46 -- And the Oscar goes to..."Rango." Seriously?
9:52 -- Following a painfully awkward introduction by Crystal (who is, alas, not having a great night), Ben Stiller and Emma Stone out to present best visual effects. And this weird Stiller-Stone repartee is just a bit too self-consciously cute.
9:54 -- Finally they get to the nominees, and best visual effects goes to..."Hugo" -- my goodness, that one is up to five Oscars on the night.
9:57 -- The winner notes that winning is "underrated," to nervous and uncertain laughter.
9:58 -- Melissa Leo is on to present best supporting actor. Some very good nominees here-- Nolte, Jonah Hill, Kenneth Branagh, Plummer, Von Sydow. And the Oscar goes to...
10:01 -- Plummer, announced as the oldest Oscar winner ever at age 82. "You're only two years older than me, darling, where have you been all my life?" he asks, quipping that he's been rehearsing this speech since birth. Nice shout-out to his fellow nominees, and his collaborators on "Beginners" -- and his "long-suffering wife Elaine," who Plummer says deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Funny that the acceptance speeches have been the highlight so far this year.
10:08 -- Crystal's best jokes of the night, "reading the minds" of nominees on the screen. Marty Scorsese, Nolte, Clooney, Pitt and others. Pretty good.
10:10 -- The president of blah blah blah. I'm off to the refrigerator...
10:11 -- "Thank you for whipping the crowd into a frenzy," Crystal says afterward. "Mr. Excitement!" Nice to see him bring the snark.
10:12 -- Cruz and Owen Wilson are out to present best original score, which goes to..."The Artist," which finally lands one in the winner's circle.
10:16 -- Will Farrell and Galifiniakis come out in white tuxes clashing cymbals. Oh, this is good. They're here to present best original song, which goes to...Bret McKenzie for "Man or Muppets," from "The Muppets" -- announced with much dropping of cymbals. To his credit, McKenzie has the good sense to crack some decent jokes about what it was like to meet the Muppets.
10:24 -- Angelina Jolie shows a lot of leg in announcing the nominees for best adapted screenplay, to whoo's from the crowd. And the Oscar goes to...
10:26 -- Alexander Payne and company for "The Descendants." He thanks his mom for letting him skip nursery school to go to the movies. Nice.
10:28 -- On to best original screenplay; and the Oscar goes to...
10:29 -- Woody Allen! For "Midnight in Paris." And of course, he's not here. Perfect.
10:30 -- More of these testimonials from actors about movies, most of which seems pointless. Except for Sacha Baron Cohen admitting that he likes "some really sick stuff," with an impish smile. Dig it.
10:38 -- The cast of "The Bridesmaids" is out to present best short film, with much innuendo about "length." Much nervous laughter in the crowd. And the Oscar for best short goes to "The Shore," a film from Ireland. Heavily accented and very charming acceptance speeches.
10:41 -- On to best documentary short, although of course they turn it into a drinking game when someone in the crowd yells, "Scorsese" and they pull out flasks. And the Oscar goes to..."Saving Face," a film about which I'm afraid I know nothing.
10:44 -- Now it's best animated short, which goes to..."Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." Charming acceptance speech.
10:50 -- Michael Douglas out to present best director. I'd rather they show clips from the nominated films then snippets of actors talking about what it was like to work with said director. And the Oscar goes to...
10:52 -- Michel Hazanavicius for "The Actor." Finally, this year's expected big winner lands a big one.
10:55 -- Meryl Streep ("either the greatest actress of our time or a really dedicated hoarder") is on to announce the annual "Governors Awards"; which went to Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith.
11:03 -- Now it's time for the memorial segment of folks who have passed on over the past year, accompanied by a choral version of "What a Wonderful World." Jane Russell, Ken Russell, Whitney Houston, Jack Hayes, Peter Falk, Cliff Robertson, Sidney Lumet, Steve Jobs, Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Taylor...It's always sobering to be reminded of who is no longer with us.
11:13 -- Natalie Portman comes out to present best actor, in which she gets to address all the nominees. Clooney seems as likable as ever; hard not to pull for him, even though he's probably not going to win. And the Oscar goes to...Jean Dujardin, as expected. Looks like "The Artist" is gonna clean up after all.
11:19 -- "I love your country" is a good way to start an acceptance speech, if you want to win an audience over. And it ends on a highly exuberant note.
11:23 -- Colin Firth out to introduce the nominees and present best actress. "Meryl...Mama Mia" -- good one.
11:29 -- And the Oscar goes to...Meryl Streep! Hard to call that an upset, but Viola Davis seemed like the consensus choice going in. This is her third Oscar, but her first in 30 years.
11:30 -- She has the grace to be self-deprecating, and she's enough of an actress to make it cheeky, too. Nice that she starts off by thanking her husband, and also her longtime stylist. "For this inexplicably wonderful career, thank you so much." Well-said.
11:32 -- Tom Cruise will present best picture. Hard to imagine this won't be "The Artist," but we'll play this out and watch all the clips...
11:35 -- And the Oscar goes to..."The Artist," to the surprise of absolutely no one. Out of 10 nominations, it won five, including the big ones at the end.
11:38 -- And that's a wrap. G'night, all.