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FEINBERG: Recapping My Night at the Oscars

THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg, who attended the Oscars last night, recounts memorable sights and sounds from before, during, and after the show.

84th Annual Oscar Artist Best Picture - H 2012
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Last night, thanks to a very kind gesture on the part of my editor, I was able to realize a lifelong dream and sit in the audience at the Academy Awards. I covered the Oscars from the backstage press room three years ago, which was a thrill in and of itself, but, as someone who has spent a huge chunk of my life researching, writing, and talking about the Oscars, you can imagine how much more excited I was to have the chance to watch the ceremony unfold with my own two eyes. And, I'm pleased to report, the experience did not disappoint.

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At about 3:00pm, I hopped into my car and made my way from Century City to downtown Hollywood. After following directions from the Academy that guided me around closed-off streets, I arrived at the corner of Hollywood and Highland, where my car and others marked with an Academy-provided parking sticker were waved forward and into a line to be inspected by security. After clearing that, I drove a short distance further -- past tall fences on either side of the street through which hundreds of fans peered, hoping to catch a glimpse of a celebrity -- and pulled up just in front of the red carpet at about 3:45pm. There, a valet took my vehicle and directed me toward a mass of beautiful and well-dressed people who were snapping pics of each other in front of a tent emblazoned with the words "Welcome to the Academy Awards."

We were then ushered into that tent, where we had to check our cameras (but not our phones) for the evening and pass through a metal detector. A few steps beyond the screeners, there was a bit of traffic congestion, and as I eventually made my way around the corner I could see why: this was the beginning of the main part red carpet that we have all come to know over the years through pre-show broadcasts. As it turns out, it is divided into two lanes that are separated by little barricades. The left lane is for the people whom the media might care to interview (which is why the media are gathered behind the shrubs that line the left side of that corridor), and the right lane is for the people whom the media probably wouldn't care to interview, but who still get to experience what it's like to walk the red carpet (and to hear the hysterical shrieks of the fans who scored seats in the bleachers that line the right side of that corridor).

One thing that I never fully appreciated from TV was just how long the red carpet actually is -- it goes on for literally blocks (although those downtown Hollywood blocks are made up to look nothing like they do the other 51 weeks of each year, when they are populated by homeless people, drug dealers, and tourists). During my walk down the red carpet, I passed all of the following being interviewed by various media outlets and/or up on a pedestal by my pal Dave Karger of EW, the official Academy "greeter": Kristen Wiig (star of/best original screenplay nominee for Bridesmaids), Rooney Mara (best actress nominee for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Glenn Close (best actress nominee for Albert Nobbs), Janet McTeer (best supporting actress nominee for Albert Nobbs), Melissa McCarthy (best supporting actress nominee for Bridesmaids), Viola Davis (best actress nominee for The Help), George Clooney (best actor nominee for The Descendants and best original screenplay nominee for The Ides of March), Jason Segal (star of The Muppets), James Cromwell (star of The Artist), Maya Rudolph (star of Bridesmaids), Wendy McLendon-Covey (star of Bridesmaids), Judd Apatow (producer of Bridesmaids) and Leslie Mann (his actress/wife), and Wim Wenders (best doc feature nominee for Pina). I also caught the attention of my friend Marshall Curry (best doc feature nominee for If a Tree Falls), and was excited to be able to reach across the lane-barricade to shake his hand and wish him luck.

Eventually, the carpet stops going straight and cuts to the right, after which there are no more media outlets shouting for interviews, the two lanes merge, and the staircase that leads up to the Kodak Theatre -- or, at least, the theater formerly known as the Kodak -- comes into view just beyond a giant curtain hanging from the roof. It was there that I decided to discreetly hang out for a bit in order to people-watch and greet those who I knew as they made their way past.

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I watched as a few of the older folks -- James Earl Jones (one of this year's honorary Oscar recipients), John Williams (a best original score double-nominee for The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse), and Dolores Hart (the subject of the best doc short nominee God Is the Bigger Elvis) -- slowly made their way past me, and as a parade of others also strolled by, including: Brian Grazer (the producer of this year's Oscar show), Chris Dodd (my former U.S. Senator from Connecticut and the current head of the MPAA), Antonio Banderas (star of best animated feature nominee Puss in Boots) and Melanie Griffith (his actress/wife), Jessica Chastain (best supporting actress nominee for The Help), Nick Nolte (best supporting actor nominee for Warrior), Milla Jovovich (who hosted this year's Academy Sci-Tech Awards), Letty Aronson (best picture nominee for Midnight in Paris, which was written/directed by her brother Woody Allen), Tina Fey (a presenter this year), Aaron Sorkin (best original screenplay nominee for Moneyball), Emma Stone (star of The Help), Chris Columbus (a producer of The Help), Joe Letteri (best visual effects nominee for Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Meryl Streep (best actress nominee), Harvey Weinstein (whose studio distributed the nominated films The Artist, The Iron Lady, My Week with Marilyn, Undefeated, and W.E), and Jennifer Lopez (accompanied by a guy holding her dress trail).

I chatted with my friend Melissa Leo (last year's best supporting actress winner and the presenter of best supporting actress this year), who was accompanied by her son). I was warmly thanked by writer/director J.C. Chandor (best original screenplay nominee for Margin Call) and his producer Neal Dodson, who (over)-credit me for shining a spotlight on their great little film, and who introduced me to their parents and their star/producer Zachary Quinto. I had a chance to hug and catch up a bit with one of my true favorites, Michelle Williams (best actress nominee for My Week with Marilyn), who was, as always, beautiful and accompanied by her best friend Busy Philipps. I chatted a bit with fellow film trivia buff Michael Barker (co-chief of Sony Pictures Classics, which distributed three of the five best foreign language film nominees). And, upon spotting Sacha Baron Cohen -- moments after the Ryan Seacrest incident took place (unbeknownst to me) -- approaching in the full regalia of the Middle Eastern dictator that he will play in his next film, I couldn't help but call out with a smile, "General Aladeen!," for which I was rewarded with a friendly handshake.

I then decided to heed the warnings of a guy on the loudspeaker who urged us to make our way into the theater to try to find our seats. On my way to doing so, I was able to grab a copy of the official Oscar program -- but not a drink, since the bars located on each of the four levels temporarily shut down 15 minutes before the show begins in order to encourage people to make their way inside (as opposed to hanging out in the beautifully decorated lobbies, which were lined with pictures of great Oscar moments of yesteryear). Eventually, I made my way to Mezzanine 2 (two levels up from the ground floor), and found that I was seated in its first row, which provided a wonderful birds-eye view of the stage and the rows in which all of the nominees were seated. (Needless to say, I would have been perfectly happy to sit in even the worst seat in the house!)

As Billy Crystal took the stage and the show got underway, I felt like a kid in a candy store, and probably annoyed my THR friend/colleague who I sat with by pointing out all of the people who I recognized, explaining my predictions for each category, and Tweeting rather than drinking during commercial breaks. As you may have noticed if you were following me on Twitter during the show, I tried to document things that the TV cameras probably didn't capture but that might be of interest those watching the show at home. Among the more memorable examples:

  • The Help's Octavia Spencer was seated between her writer/director Tate Taylor and co-star Viola Davis, the former of whom had his arm around her shoulder and the latter of whom reached over to touch her arm just before she was announced as the winner of the best supporting actress Oscar. Taylor then escorted Spencer -- whom he has known for 15 years and even roomed with -- up the stairs to the Oscar stage, and sent her off to pick up her prize with what appeared to be a playful spank on the bum.
  • Hugo's Thelma Schoonmaker, who is not the world's most outgoing person, nevertheless shook the hands of the winners of all three categories that were presented during one segment of the show from her aisle seat: Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who beat her to win the best film editing Oscar; and then her collaborators from Hugo who won best sound editing and best sound mixing, respectively.
  • Cirque du Soleil played phenomenally well in the theater (way better than I would have expected with this cynical crowd), whereas the silly banter between presenters Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller and Emma Stone did not (remember, they're a cynical crowd!).
  • The Artist's Ludovic Bource displayed some real class after winning best original score, not only in his eloquent acceptance speech, but even before, as he made his way to the stage. He stopped to shake the hand of the legendary John Williams, who accounted for two of the category's five nominations this year, and also acknowledged his fellow musicians in the orchestra as he climbed the stairs to the stage.
  • The Artist's lovable dog Uggie was rushed out of the theater pretty rapidly after completing his "What Are They Thinking?" segment with Billy Crystal. I guess they couldn't risk staining the carpet!
  • The elaborate set piece that rose out of the stage for the presentation of the best original score and best original song categories was very impressive in the theater. I wonder if that was captured on TV.
  • I really wondered if there was some sort of a joke that I was missing when presenter Angelina Jolie first got into her strange pose to show off her right leg. The Descendants' best adapted screenplay winner Jim Rash, a one-time member of the comedy group The Groundlings, zinged her for it... but I thank her for it!
  • In keeping with the Oscar telecast's producers' theme of "going to the movies," ushers passed out popcorn, candy, and breathmints to all of the people in the mezzanine level seats -- and, it's quite possible (although I did not see it myself), in the floor-level seats, as well.
  • When Billy Crystal suggested that Meryl Streep deserved a third Oscar just for having to sit and smile 14 other times when other people beat her, her best actress competitor Viola Davis cheered. (That was before Streep actually beat her, though.)
  • Just seconds before Natalie Portman announced the nominees for and winner of the best actor race, George Clooney leaned over, got the attention of, and whispered something to his best actor rival Jean Dujardin that made Dujardin laugh in his seat. Dujardin's Artist co-star Berenice Bejo then translated for Dujardin Portman's introduction of him. Then, after winning and completing his best actor acceptance speech, Dujardin broke into a little dance like the one he performed at the premiere in The Artist. As he danced his way off to stage-right, however, the curtain began to close, and he was forced to dodge/dance out of its way.
  • After Tom Cruise announced that the best picture winner was The Artist, producer Thomas Langmann convinced writer/director/film editor Michel Hazanavicius to join him on stage, and Hazanavicius then went to work on convincing Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin to do the same (which they only did very reluctantly). Supporting players James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, and Missi Pyle also made their way up there, along with Uggie, whose leash Dujardin held while Langmann and Hazanavicius spoke.
  • As soon as the show ended, Tate Taylor, Jessica Chastain, and Steven Spielberg (a DreamWorks partner who helped to greenlight The Help) all surrounded Viola Davis, apparently trying to console her about her upset loss to Meryl Streep just moments earlier. Davis did not appear to be emotional, but had to be hurting.

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