The curtain rises and we are greeted by sparkly stars, all the nominees for best actor and actress are on the stage in pairs. The announceress reads off the names and Gabourey Sidibe does a little shoulder shimmy as her name is called (Helen Mirren does not).
And then, the announceress tells us, it's the moment we've all been waiting for... Not our hosts, but Neil Patrick Harris! "I know, what am I doing here?" he says.
Then it's time for an Oscar song.
"Why wouldn't Crosby give up hope?/ Why does Harold call Kumar when he scores dope?/ Why does a prisoner drop the soap?/ Cuz, no one wants to do it alone!"
He soft shoes around the stage in a sparkly tux singing about sharing duties as a full line of Vegas-style can-can girls join him and he finishes to a standing O.
Then it's time for our real hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, who ascend from on high in a feathered contraption.
Alec begins: "Ladies and gentlemen I am pleased to introduce actor, writer, musician, Grammy and Emmy winner, one of the most enduring entertainers of all time... Mr. Steve Martin."
Steve turns to his cohost: "And this is Alec Baldwin."
The duo-logue is a series of riffs on those in the audience.
They begin with a Meryl Streep joke about her record for nominations, or as Steve likes to think of it "record for most losses."
They brief us on the rule change allowing for 10 nominations.
We learn when they first met Meryl for their movie "It's Complicated" they both thought the same thing: "What a memorable threesome." (They shake hands.)
They say that everyone notes the same thing when they first meet Meryl. Wow, what an actress and, "What's with all the Hitler memorabilia?"
They mention the star of Precious. "Gabourey and I have something in common," Steve says, "in both of our first movies we were born a poor black child." (The Jerk reference!)
"Oh wait, Al, is that the director of Avatar, James Cameron?"
They peer at him, and then put on their 3-D glasses.
Another: When Kathryn Bigelow learned she was nominated against her ex Cameron, she sent him a fruit basket -- with a timer. And he reciprocated by sending her a Toyota.
Steve: "And there's Sandra Bullock. Who doesn't love Sandra Bullock?"
Alec: "Well, tonight we may find out."
Finally, it's time for the first award, to Best Supporting Actor, presented by Penelope Cruz. The clips are a healthy length for the first time in years, actually showing the performances.
The nominees are Matt Damon for Invictus; Woody Harrelson for The Messenger; Christopher Plummer for The Last Station; Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones and Christoph Waltz for Inglorious Basterds.
The winner is: Christoph Waltz. He talks about the sideways journey of working of Quentin Taratino and his "unorthodox methods of navigation."
Then Ryan Reynolds is out to introduce best picture nominee "The Blind Side" (starring his "The Proposal" costar Bullock).
Cameron Diaz and Steve Carell introduce the nominees for best animated movie, setting up a segment in which Barbara Walter interviews the nominees answering what it feels like to be nominated. Ed Asner (Up), George Clooney (The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and others provide voices to their characters for the cute animated segments.
The winner is: Up.
Director Pete Docter accepts: "Never did I dream that making a flip book out of my third grade math book would lead to this."
Steve introduces the next two presenters: "Two young actresses who have no idea who we are."
Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus present the nominees for best original song (Miley confesses to being nervous mid-intro).
The winner is: "The Weary Kind" written by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett for Crazy Heart.
Chris Pine is out next to introduce best picture nominee District 9.
Welcome back Alec Baldwin, who introduces Robert Downey Jr. and Tina Fey: "He's an Academy Award-winning actor and she's the most brilliant, talented and beautiful woman in all of show business - and I'm not just saying that because she revived my career." [correction, although that is what Alec Baldwin said (in verbatim), Robert Downey, Jr. has not won an Oscar yet, earning only two nominations; Alec should have said, "He's an Academy Award-nominated actor..."].
They're presenting best screenplay. Their bit pits actors against writers with Downey summing up: "It's a collaboration between handsome gifted people and sickly little mole people."
(The intro garners applause.)
The winner is: Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker. (Quick cut to Tarantino trying not to seethe in the audience.) He thanks his director and acknowledges the troops still overseas.
Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick make everyone feel 16 again as they come out to memorialize their writer/director John Hughes. "Thanks to him," Broderick says, "nearly every day for the last 25 years someone comes up to me, taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Hey Ferris? Is this your day off?'"
A montage from his movies and old interviews of him follows.
And then all his stars come out from behind the screen: Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Jon Cryer and Macaulay Culkin. They all say nice things about him and then introduce John's wife and kids in the audience.
Samuel L. Jackson is out to present the next best picture nominee: Up (who voiced a character in another Disney-Pixar film, "The Incredibles").
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Saldana follow, bravely navigating stairs in flowing gowns. They introduce best short film, which is set up by past winners who went on to bigger things: Taylor Hackford, David Frankel, John Lasseter.
The winner for best animated short is Nicola Schmerkin for Logorama. He notes that it took six years to make the 16 minute film, so he hopes to come back with a feature film in about 36 years.
Then for best documentary short. The winner is "Music by Prudence" by Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett. Williams is midway through a stunned acceptance when he is interrupted by a woman in purple who makes very little sense. (His co-producer?)
The winner for best live action short is "The New Tenants" for Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson.
Ben Stiller is the next presenter. He takes the stage dressed as a Na'vi from Avatar, with the hair, full make-up and yellow contacts. And then he says something in Na'vi, which he says translates to "this seemed like a better idea in rehearsal."
"It was either this or a Nazi uniform, but the show seemed a little Hitler-heavy."
He's there to present best makeup, which he notes, ironically, does not include Avatar. "After I announce the winner I will try to stand as far away from them as possible so as not to demean their moment of triumph."
The winner is: Star Trek.
Jeff Bridges is out to present best picture nominee A Serious Man (who worked with Joel and Ethan Coen, the film's directors, on "The Big Lebowski").
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams present best adapted screenplay to Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious.
He takes a moment to compose himself then says his award is for anyone who works on a dream every day. He thanks his cast and his brothers and his mom. He chokes back tears and apologizes for drawing a blank.
Steve Martin comes out and says: "I wrote that speech for him."
Then Steve introduces his "Bringing Down the House" costar Queen Latifah. She presents the highlights from a Governor's Award Dinner which recognized Roger Corman, Lauren Bacall, John Calley and Gordon Willis.
(Bacall says, "The thought when I get home that I'm going to have a two legged man in my room is so exciting I can hardly stand it.")
Up next, Robin Williams presenting best supporting actress (because last year's best supporting actor winner was Heath Ledger). The nominees are Penelope Cruz in Nine, Vera Farmiga from Up in the Air, Maggie Gyllenhaal from Crazy Heart, Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air and Mo'Nique for Precious.
And the winner is: Mo'Nique.
She gets a standing ovation. "First, I would like to than the Academy for showing it can be about the performance and not the politics."
She also thanks Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Oscar.
Then Colin Firth to present best picture nominee, An Education.
Sigourney Weaver follows to present best art direction. The winner is: Avatar.
Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker arrive to present the Oscar for best costume design. The winner is: Sandy Powell for The Young Victoria.
She dedicates her award to those designers who do contemporary movies and don't get recognized as often. But, she says, she's going to take it home tonight.
Charlize Theron presents best picture nominee Precious.
Alec and Steve come back out to present a tribute to horror movies. It shows them in a hotel room, a la Paranormal Activity, flopping around in bed as they sleep (with a few questionable positions) and Steve offering up a nighttime slap.
Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart introduce the horror montage (which begins, naturally, with Jaws).
Anna Kendrick and Zac Efron come out to present the award for sound editing and mixing, with a segment narrated by Morgan Freeman and examining last year's winner "The Dark Knight."
The winner is: Paul N. J. Ottoson for The Hurt Locker.
Then for best sound mixing, the winner is: Ottoson again with Ray Beckett.
Elizabeth Banks is next to recap the sci-tech awards (a stage full of dudes and Elizabeth Banks).
John Travolta is out next to introduce best picture nominee Inglourious Basterds. (Directed by his Pulp Fiction director Tarantino.)
Sandra Bullock comes out next to introduce the nominees for best cinematography. The winner is: Mauro Fiore for Avatar.
Demi Moore is next for the In Memoriam segment. James Taylor plays "In My Life" by The Beatles. Among the faces: Patrick Swayze, David Carradine, Dom Delouise, Brittany Murphy, On the Waterfront writer Budd Schulberg, Karl Malden.
Jennifer Lopez and Sam Worthington are out next for best original score, which will be presented with a dance routine.
Hans Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes sets the score for dance fighting, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders' The Hurt Locker features a man as a bomb exploding in shock waves that knock over dancers, Alexandre Desplat's Fantastic Mr. Fox is a cheery routine with gymnastics and prancing creature-like movements, Michael Giacchino's Up creates whimsy and curiosity in dance and James Horner's Avatar is played to a tribal like routine with warrior spirit and some sweet break dancing.
The performance gets a standing ovation.
The winner is: Michael Giacchino for Up.
He tells an impassioned story about always being supported as a kid and urges kids to follow their own dreams.
Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper are next for visual effects. The winner is: Avatar.
Jason Bateman introduces Up in the Air, a best picture nominee (that he was in).
Matt Damon next presents best documentary feature. The winner is: The Cove.
Out next:Tyler Perry for film editing ("They just said my name at the Oscars!" he gushes, "I better enjoy it because it's probably never going to happen again.") The winners are: husband and wife Bob Murawski and Chris Innis for The Hurt Locker.
Then Keanu Reeves presents best picture nominee The Hurt Locker. (He starred in director Kathryn Bigelow's "Point Break").
Our co-hosts return. Steve: "We were confused when we were asked to introduce our next presenters Pedro and Quentin, because," he looks at Alec, "those are our our pet names for each other."
Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino present best foreign language film. The winner is: The Secret in Their Eyes from Argentina.
Kathy Bates introduces best picture nominee, Avatar, next (she co-starred in another James Cameron-directed smash, "Titanic").
Quick clips of the best actor nominees' performances set up Tim Robbins, Colin Farrell, Julianne Moore, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Pfeiffer out to introduce their pals and/or costars. (And the ceremony is at its scheduled end time and now in overtime.)
Pfeiffer tells a story about sharing a make-up artist with Jeff Bridges (nominated for "Crazy Heart") in "The Fabulous Baker Boys", calling him a brilliant actor. Of his Crazy Heart character she says: "Jeff Bridges has created not only a life we can respect and aspire to, but the performance of a lifetime."
Farmiga talks about starring with George Clooney (nominated for "Up in the Air"), saying he is generous both on and off the screen.
Julianne Moore raves about her costar Colin Firth (nominated for "A Single Man").
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman's costar from Shawshank Redemption, talks about friendship and quotes Freeman (nominated for "Invictus") from those days on the set: "Being a friend is about getting the other a cup of coffee, can you do that for me, Ted?"
Colin Farrell turns out to be there to salute his SWAT costar Jeremy Renner (nominated for "The Hurt Locker")and mentions a trip they took to Mexico (which he wishes he remembered more of) and tells him the nomination is well-deserved.
Then Kate Winslet comes out to announce the winner: Jeff Bridges. His first award and fifth nomination. He gets a standing ovation.
He waves it in the air and salutes his late parents. "Thank you mom and dad for turning me on to such a groovy profession."
He recalls his dad teaching him about acting, for a role in "Seahunt." He thanks his director for instilling confidence in his actors, then his costars and his reps. (He says "man" about five times.) He wraps up by thanking his wife of 33 years and his three daughters. (The music lets him finish.)
Then it's time to do it again for the actresses. Forest Whitaker introduces Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, whom he directed in Hope Floats. He salutes the complexity and subtleties of her performances.
Michael Sheen lauds his The Queen costar, Helen Mirren. He mentions the spider web tattoo on her hand and raves about her in The Last Station.
Peter Skarsgaard compliments his An Education costar Carey Mulligan
Gabourey Sidibe (nominated for "Precious") seems stunned when Oprah Winfrey is there to talk about her. She talks about her Hollywood story-like rise from nobody to Oscar nominee.
Stanley Tucci (himself, nominated for "The Lovely Bones") calls his two movies (the other being "The Devil Wears Prada") with Meryl Streep (nominated for "Julie & Julia) the highlights of his career and mentions her kindness and good humor. "It is in the area of awards and accolades, however, that you show a certain -- how can I say this? -- a certain selfishness that is unseemly. That is why I have spearheaded a movement in the academy to cap the number of nominations per actor at 16, which means that this could be the last time that anyone will have to stand up here and say, despite their personal feelings, that Meryl Streep is, quite simply, the best." (Meryl busts a gut through the whole thing.)
Sean Penn, last year's winner, makes a statement before he announces the winner: Sandra Bullock.
She, too, gets a standing ovation.
"Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?" she opens. She acknowledges her costars, with wit and grace and the spirit of the movie, mothers protecting babies everywhere. She acknowledges the family she portrayed, the Touhys, who are in the audience with Michael Oher, and wraps up by saying she thanks everyone and she shares the award with "my lover Meryl Streep."
Then Barbra Streisand comes out to present best director, noting that for the first time it could go to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow, for "The Hurt Locker") or African-American (Lee Daniels, for "Precious"). The nominees are presented with quick clips of their actors talking about them, or in Jason Reitman's case, his dad, Ivan.
The winner is: Barbra pauses as she looks at it... "Well, the time has come, Kathryn Bigelow."
Bigelow calls it the moment of a lifetime and thanks her screenwriter and talks about the need for collaboration.
Then finally it's Tom Hanks to announce best picture. (And we're a full 30 minutes overtime).
He gets right to it. The winner is: The Hurt Locker.
James Cameron hugs the screenwriter and Bigelow comes back out from backstage. The cast goes crazy and Boal speaks for Bigelow who seems too stunned to talk. He talks about making an independent movie and not even knowing if they'd have a distributor. Bigelow can barely put a sentence together as she stammers a final dedication to anyone around the world who wears a uniform.
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin come back out. "The show has gone so long that Avatar now takes place in the past," Steve jokes.