Then the fun began.
Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted the Tonys and Emmys last year, delivered the show's opening musical number, "No One Wants to Do It Alone," essentially setting the stage for hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin – who spent their opening dialogue poking fun at the top nominees who had just been seated.
"There's that damn Helen Mirren," said Martin – prompting Baldwin to say, "Steve, that's Dame Helen Mirren."
Continuing in the same vein – after they kept ignoring George Clooney, who mock-scowled in his seat – Martin asked, "Who doesn't love Sandra Bullock?"
"Well," said Baldwin, "tonight we may find out."
Waltz the First WinnerThe evening's first award went to Christoph Waltz for his Supporting Actor role as Col. Hans Landa, the alarmingly cunning Nazi who outsmarts even the Third Reich – though, ultimately, not Brad Pitt's backwoods Lt. Aldo Raines – in director Quentin Tarantino's WWII fantasy, Inglourious Basterds.
Winning an Oscar – and accepting it from presenter Pénelope Cruz – was, said Waltz, "über Bingo." He compared making this movie and working with Tarantino to exploring "a new continent," and he acknowledged the Academy for "your welcoming embrace, and there's no way I can ever thank you enough, but I can start right now. Thank you."
Previously unknown outside his native Austria despite a 30-year screen career a fluency in three languages, Waltz, 53, has been catapulted to international stardom by Basterds. Asked this weekend by an Austrian interviewer if all this attention has changed his life, Waltz replied, "Only that I am still standing with my two feet on the ground is the same. Otherwise everything has changed in my life."
The changes are due to keep coming. Next up for Waltz is The Green Hornet, with Seth Rogen, and there's talk that he'll costar with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in Water for Elephants, based on the historical novel about a Depression-era traveling circus.
The next early winner was the Disney/Pixar delight Up, named Best Animated Feature.
Before the ceremony, as the skies momentarily opened up over Hollywood Blvd., Precious Supporting Actress nominee Mo'Nique stood next to sister nominee (for Up in the Air) Anna Kendrick and was asked by red-carpet host Ryan Seacrest how it felt to be in competition. Never at a loss for words, or perspective, Mo'Nique replied emphatically: "Not at all a competition, and truly a celebration. For any of us to be walking this carpet, including you, we're nothing but kids with grownup faces – enjoying the time of our lives, baby."