All images Copyright © 2012 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
and used with permission.

Click here for complete red carpet coverage including photos of all the stars.

Gwyneth Paltrow

OSCARS 2012: The Last Word
A Review of the 84th Annual Academy Awards

- By Diane Clehane

It was the Oscars, the AARP edition. This year’s awards celebrated the magic of the movies and to do so, host Billy Crystal attempted a little sleight of hand of his own by putting the audience in a time machine and taking them back to the nineties when he most successfully hosted the Oscars. He was eager to recapture that goodwill of the good old days and in the beginning, with the return of his much loved Zelig-meets-the best picture nominees clip montage, it looked like he had a pretty good chance of succeeding. (Although I question the wisdom of trotting out his old Sammy Davis Jr impression. Doing blackface these days ain’t what it used to be). But the audience proved less than enthusiastic about going back in time and Crystal seemed surprised that some of his jokes fell a bit flat. While it’s understandable that producer Brian Grazer wanted to bring in the big guns as presenters (Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas ) to wipe away the memory of the horrible misfire of last year’s cohosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, the show leaned too heavily on nostalgia with too many montages which served to remind us of what we used to love about the movies.

Hosting and producing the Oscars is pretty much a thankless gig and Crystal and Grazer put together a show that was good, but should have been better. Most of the presenters were all so game (like Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez, whose wardrobe malfunction probably woke up plenty of males forced to watch at home) but it seemed as if everyone was trying just a bit too hard (Emma Stone for one and Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr). As a result the audience was deprived of those few and far between unscripted moments that become Oscar lore. The irony is I loved the film package that ran through the telecast filled with stars’ revelations about their love of movies (Reese Witherspoon, who I would have loved to have seen on the red carpet, revealed her favorite pick-me-up film is “Overboard” with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) but it distracted from the less than magical roster of films that we were watching be acknowledged during the awards.

Besides some very odd directorial choices (James Earl Jones and Oprah get acknowledged from the bleachers while Kermit and Miss Piggy get to be on stage?), some presenters managed to inject life into the sodden broadcast. The best was Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis playing the cymbals as they presented Best Original Song.

The funniest unintentional moment came when ice queen Angelina Jolie vamped it up on stage putting her hands on her hip and jutting out her leg from an up-to-there slit in her Atelier Versace dress to present two awards. When the winners for Best Adapted Screenplay took to the stage to collect their Oscar, they mocked her with their own version of the stance. Hollywood’s version of Tebowing? At least for the next few weeks, I’m guessing.

Speaking of Jolie, she did take home top honors for being one of the few women who got it right on the red carpet. She looked stunning in her Atelier Versace (Come to think of it she did the thing with her leg on the red carpet, too. How odd). She tied for best dressed with Gwyneth Paltrow, who dazzled in a white Tom Ford cape and dress which was simply stunning.

When it came to the red carpet fashion show, the highlights were few and far between. There was no ‘wow’ moment. Okay, maybe from Gwyneth but the bar was set pretty low. In any other year Paltrow’s dress would have been deemed chic but there were so many mediocre dresses that she looked like a fashion goddess by comparison. When it came to the new crop of actresses we’re supposed to get excited about, I found them incredibly dull and their fashion choices wanting. I can’t even come up with a top ten best dressed list because there weren’t ten dressed I loved. Penelope Cruz (in Armani) looked beautiful as usual, Rose Byrne (in Vivienne Westwood) and Milla Jovovich (in Elie Saab) both looked chic. In emerald Vera Wang and foregoing her usual wig, Viola Davis radiated happiness. Former wrestler and George Clooney’s current girlfriend Stacy Keibler glided around in a golden Marchesa having won the fight over the dress that was said to have been sought after by several attendees. Jennifer Lopez (in a sheer white Zuhair Murad) did an updated version of her infamous Versace from all those years ago and could have benefited from a bit more double sided tape. But this is not the stuff for a best dressed list. For the most part, the young actresses whose stars are on the rise could have benefited from studying the fashion playbooks of Halle Berry and Reese Witherspoon (who were sorely missed). Both Rooney Mara and Jessica Chastain could have and should have had big fashion moments last night and didn’t. Instead, Mara looked skeletal in a white Givenchy and Chastain, while looking better than she has at other events, didn’t bring any life to her black and gold Alexander McQueen.

For the big winners of the night, Meryl Streep and Octavia Spencer, fashion was clearly not upper most in their minds, but they both managed to score personal bests. Spencer stayed loyal to Tadashi Shoji and Streep, in a bit of foreshadowing, chose a gold goddess gown from Lanvin. They looked comfortable in their dresses and in their own skin proving that when it comes to Oscar fashion, confidence is the best accessory of all.

Angelina Jolie

Meryl Streep

Here’s a rundown on the red carpet and the ceremony in eastern standard time since I did all my reporting from my living room in Greenwich:

5:30 Ryan Secrest kicks off E!’s coverage welcoming viewers to the ‘world’s biggest stage.’ Little does he know he’ll become one of the most Googled moments of this year’s Oscars.

5:32 Giuliana Ranic interviews the 11 year old actress from “The Descendants” in E!’s studio who tells her that she’s wearing Valentino couture. “My wonderful stylist Jessica (Paster) pulled this for me.” We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

5:42 Besides Kermit (who is wearing a Brooks Brothers custom tux) and Miss Piggy, “The Artist’s” Penelope Ann Miller is the first actor to appear on the red carpet. She’s wearing Badgley Mischka (but can’t pronounce it – why does this always happen every year?). She looks old, tired and a little fleshy. Time has not been kind.

6:00 Presenter Milla Jovovich is in Elie Saab. It’s gorgeous silvery white sequined dress and red lips (She is a L’Oreal spokesperson after all) This is how you’re supposed to look at the Oscars. Extra points since this is her first time. Gives a plug to Jacob & Co. jewelry because “I did a campaign for them.”

6:06 Wolfgang Puck shows Ryan Secrest the food on the “grazing menu” at this year’s Oscar party. Filet mignon, mini chicken pot pies, chocolate Oscars. Too bad no one in Hollywood eats.

6:08 Bridesmaid’s Rose Byrne in black sequined Vivienne Westwood with Chanel jewelry. Love the bob. Very Anna. Rumor has it there will be lots of black on the red carpet. So far, Byrne has scored the biggest fashion bull’s eye.

6:12 Berenice Bejo, Best Actress nominee for “The Artist,” for some reason, looks a lot like Emma Stone tonight. I can’t get past the really bad hair. Helga goes to the Oscars wearing a beaded mint Elie Saab. A missed opportunity to be sure.

6:19 George Clooney is spotted in the crowd. Several people have mistaken his statuesque girlfriend Stacey Kiebler, wearing a glistening gold Marchesa, for one of the giant Oscars on the red carpet. An interesting bit of subliminal messaging.

6:20 Best supporting actress nominee Melissa McCarthy in custom Marina Rinaldi tells Ryan Secrest that designer Brian Atwood is her best friend since high school. Who knew?

6:21 20 year-old Shailene Woodley is much too covered-up white Valentino Couture. It ages her. Why do so many of the youngest actresses in Hollywood look so old tonight? Her dress would be better suited to Dyan Cannon in “Bob Carol Ted and Alice.” Seriously.

6:23 George ditches the reporters on the carpet to sign autographs for the fans in the bleachers. Love him.

6:24 Best Supporting Acress nominee Jessica Chastain arrives in a strapless Alexander McQueen with her grandmother. The Elizabethan style is much better than the dull, ill-fitting pastels she’s been wearing. I should love it, but I don’t.

6:32 George Clooney in his favorite Armani tux with golden girl Stacey Keibler stops to talk to Ryan Secrest. As always, George is the most relaxed man on the red carpet. Smooth.

6:43 Viola Davis looks very glam in emerald Vera Wang. I was surprised by the short auburn hair until I found out this is one of the first times she’s gone without the usual wigs. Good for her.

6:44 Fashion It girl Rooney Mara spotted in the crowd wearing a very unspectacular ivory dress. Yawn.

6:45 Michelle Williams, I love you, but this is the Oscars not the prom. Her Louis Vuitton dress just isn’t special enough. This actress needs a new stylist.

6:46 P.Diddy, who produced the Best Documentary nominated film Undefeated, gets out of the limo and some guy is all over him with a lint roller. Hilarious.

6:47 Yet another shot of George and Stacey. This woman is George’s first girlfriend who seems to have figured out how to get the maximum PR value out of being on his arm since she knows there’s no engagement ring at the end of the party. Impressive.

6:49 We learned that Rooney Mara has ditched her usual black for a lackluster white Givenchy dress she picked this morning. Have a cookie.

6:51 All I have to say is Angelina, Penelope and Sandra better be wearing something fabulous. Wake me when they get here.

6:58 Sure-bet Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spencer looking good in a silver beaded Tadashi Shoji. Who is that handsome guy with her? A little birdie told me he’s her boyfriend of four years. With so much industry good will behind her, her win is sure to be a highlight. Here’s hoping.

7:01 Guilana Ranic says Rooney made an “interesting choice” with her Givenchy dress. Just noticed Rooney is wearing absolutely no jewelry. Too cool for school. I do like the severe black hair and bangs with the red lips, but this was a chance to step out and doing something a little different. Crowned the biggest fashion get of the night by The New York Post this morning, she turns out to be the biggest missed opportunity for an actress to really shine on the red carpet. It’s clear from listening to her interviews she either doesn’t care or is too young to figure out how to leverage her stardom by becoming a fashion star. Too bad.

7:06 Jean Dujardin , Best Actor nominee from “The Artist” arrives with an entourage including his translator ‘Tanya.’ Very sexy. Could give George a run for his money.

7:08 Even the usual infallible Glenn Close couldn’t get it right. Emerald suit by Zac Posen looks like she pulled it out of the archives of Linda Evans’ Dynasty wardrobe.

7:11 The stars’ entrance into the Kodak Theatre looks like a car wash.

Jennifer Lopez

Milla Jovovich

Stacy Keibler (with George Clooney)

7:12 God, these clothes are soooooooo boring.

7:15 The red carpet is almost two hours old and I don’t have one big star for my ten best dressed list.

7:18 Sasha Cohen as “The Dictator” dumps the “ashes” of Kim Jong Il (It was Bisquick) all over a clearly annoyed Ryan Secrest and gets booted from the red carpet. (This is not surprising since the Academy took back the actor’s tickets to the event when they learned he was planning to walk the carpet in costume. After Cohen went on the Today show, in character, promising ‘severe consequences’ producer Brian Grazer caved) Look on the bright side, Ryan, you’ve just secured your place in Oscar infamy.

7:24 Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith arrive. She’s in Yves Saint Laurent. She looks good, better than usual and he is always so great. Great to see a longtime married couple seemingly so happy. Is there an award for that? If not, there should be.

7:25 An unusually glam Tina Fey in custom black Carolina Herrera. The designer wanted to dress one star and this arrangement worked well for both of them. Are we to assume her ‘arrangement’ with Renee Zellweger whose star has dimmed is finito?

7:26 Jennifer Lopez in Zuhair Murad doing her J.Lo thing. Good hair, gorgeous skin and a very J.Lo choice. Being in lust obviously agrees with her.

7:29 Emma Stone all tied up in red Giambattista Valli. Too much dress. And an odd choice since it’s so evocative of the Balenciaga dress worn by Nicole Kidman several years ago. Another missed opportunity.

7:46 Sorry, but I can’t take any fashion criticism from Kelly Osbourne seriously.

7:49 Ryan Secrest says they are trying to get people inside because it’s almost showtime. No sign of one really great Oscar dress and the red carpet is almost over. Yikes!

7:57 Natalie Portman in a red Dior ballgown. Pretty. Finally something that looks like an Oscar dress.

8:00 I am not the biggest Gwyneth Paltrow fan, but her white cape and dress by Tom Ford is amazing. The perfect choice. Stands out in a sea of fashion misfires. The night’s best dressed so far.

8:10 Sandra Bullock in Marchesa. Love the skirt but the top doesn’t fit.

8:10 Penelope Cruz in a completely appropriate Oscar-worthy azure ball gown by Armani. She never disappoints.

8:18 Angelina Jolie looking gorgeous in black Atelier Versace. Great hair and makeup, too. Extra points for accessorizing with some good looking arm candy.

8:30 Morgan Freeman introduces the show. “All of us is mesmerized by the magic of the movies … this is the 84th Annual Academy Awards.” Where is Billy Crystal?

8:31 Oh, here he is. The movie montage is brilliant. He brings back the familiar Zelig-in-the-movies parody which includes getting a kiss from Clooney, riffing with Justin Bieber, Bridesmaids eating Minny’s pie and an unexpected encounter with Tom Cruise. Hilarious. Welcome back Billy. We missed you.

8:36 Billy breaks into song: “It’s a wonderful night for Oscar …” This is not your mother’s Oscar. Well, it kind of is, but it just might work.

8:42 Tom Hanks presents the first Oscar. They’re bringing out the big guns tonight.

8:45 Second Oscar for “Hugo,” a film no one I know saw.

8:50 First clip package of the night. They are really going for nostalgia tonight. I guess Brian Grazer has given up on getting the youth demo. Every movie I loved from the sixties, seventies and eighties is included in this first package. You can hear anyone under 30 turning on HBO.

8:54 Cameron Diaz and J.Lo, who is barely dressed in Zuhair Murad, present the Oscar for Best Costume Design. Mark Bridges wins for The Artist. Was that a nipple we just saw, JLo? Remember when she had to be shot from the neck up the year she wore the see-thru Chanel? JLo just loves to take the girls out to play. Not sure, but I think that dumb bit about giving the crowd a butt shot was so JLo could correct her wardrobe malfunction.

9:09 A shot of Best Supporting Actor Nick Nolte. He is a brilliant actor who I’ve loved since Rich Man Poor Man. I hate seeing the idols of my childhood getting old, don’t you?

9:11 Christian Bale, who, I’m happy to report seems to have taken his meds this year, announces the winner for Best Supporting Actress. Sure-thing Octavia Spencer gets escorted to the stage by her boyfriend and gets standing ovation. Clearly overwhelmed, she stumbles through her heartfelt acceptance speech and gets shooed off before she can really collect herself.

9:18 What’s wrong with the sound? An annoying echoing ping begins and sticks around for much of the broadcast. They won’t be winning an Emmy Award in September that’s for sure.

9:20 Let me get this straight: they’re rushing Oscar winners off stage but running a three minute short starring Christopher Guest and crew lampooning “The Wizard of Oz.” It was funny, but the broadcast isn’t even an hour old and there’s already been too many clips packages to count.

9:34 Oh great, Kermit and Miss Piggy introducing Cirque de Soleil. Surprisingly, the big production number works and the crowd loves it.

9:39 “We’re a pony away from being a bar mitzvah.” Yup.

Rose Byrne

Penelope Cruz

9:40 Gwyneth and Robert Downey Jr. present Best Documentary while doing a bit that goes on a bit too long. More time wasting. Come on already. “Undefeated” wins and one of the film’s directors gives us the only bleep-able moment of the night. An aside: I sat next to him at a lunch at Michael’s recently. It was Harvey Weinstein’s pep rally for the Giants. He was unbelievably low key and didn’t bother mentioning he was nominated for an Oscar until midway through lunch so I find his swearing a bit surprising. I gave him all my recommendations for what to do during Oscar weekend as well as the number of a few stylists to hook them up with tuxes for the big night. I guess he and his co-director ran out of time to give me the shout out I was hoping for. Oh well …

9:50 At this point I like the commercials better than the awards especially Ellen DeGeneres for JCP. Well done.

9:52 Emma Stone doing the happiest actress in the room bit against a grumpy Ben Stiller should work, but doesn’t. (“Perky gets old fast with this crowd”) I can’t quite figure out why this show feels so ponderous, but it does.

9:58 Melissa Leo presents the award for Best Supporting Actor to Christopher Plummer, the oldest actor to win an Oscar which seems fitting this year. Thankfully, she doesn’t use the ‘f’ word. He gives a charming and gracious acceptance speech. That, folks, is how it’s done.

10:14 We have a Sally Field moment: Someone from “The Artist” wins for Best Score asking the audience to accept him because he’s “got so much love to give.” Almighty, moving on …

10:16 Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis come crashing into the audience with cymbals with a funny bit introducing Best Original Song. I just realized they were not performed tonight. Could it be because there were only two? Remember all those great theme songs you loved as a kid and still remember? So sad that’s a dying art.

10:20 Cigarette girls suddenly appear giving out popcorn to the audience. Should’ve been pillows and blankets.

10: 25 Head scratching moment of the night: Angelina Jolie vamps it up announcing Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. Who thought that bit with the leg would work? Id love to know the pitch: “So, you’re gonna go out there, put your hand on your hip and then show some leg with some attitude. That’ll get ‘em going.” And she thought this was a good idea! She drops it for the second winners when the Adapted Screenplay winners mock her. Awkward.

10:30 I do like the recurring film with everyone from Barbra Streisand to Adam Sandler talking about their love of movies but Don Rickles? Really?

10:39 “The Bridesmaids” cast presents three awards which seems to take a half hour. I love these ladies but enough already.

10:46 Who the hell is that guy in the hat?

10:47 The cigarette girls return. 10:54 Michael Douglas presents Best Director to The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius. He forgets to thank Harvey Weinstein. Uh oh.

10:55 Meryl Streep presents a tape of The Governor’s Award ceremony which were presented to James Earl Jones and Oprah Winfrey at a lunch that was not broadcast! In the tape, Oprah cries during her speech. They are acknowledged from their seats. Are you kidding me?

11:02 There have been some seriously bad calls made directing this broadcast. Winners get the short shrift while clips filled with stars (okay, plenty of big stars, but still) dominate the broadcast.

11:03 In Memoriam tribute fittingly ends with Liz Taylor.

11:12 Judging by his incredibly youth-full appearance, I’m pretty sure Tom Cruise has discovered the restorative properties of restylane.

11:13 Natalie Portman, looking lovely, presents the Best Actor Oscar.

11:18 Jean Dujardin beats George! He doesn’t thank Harvey either. His speech is mercifully short and exuberance is utterly charming. Just asking -- but why was he given all the time he needed and Octavia Spencer got the bum’s rush? And who the hell is that guy singing him off stage?

11:25 Dreamy Colin Firth presents Best Actress to Meryl Streep.

11:30 The evening’s true golden girl wearing Lanvin takes the stage to chants of “Meryl, Meryl, Meryl.” She epitomizes all that is right in Hollywood and for a minute this warm recognition of her extraordinary talent and her acknowledgment of 29 year wait between Oscars makes the evening seems perfect. She gives a wonderfully heartfelt speech thanking her husband first noting that spouses always get mentioned when the winners are being played off with music. She brings many in the audience to tears by telling the crowd she wants to thank all her friends those here and those who have ‘departed.’ Streep seems to sum up the mood of the night perfectly – nostalgic but hopeful.

11:35 Dorian Gray, I mean Tom Cruise, presents the Best Picture Award to “The Artist.” It’s a wrap.

Show Grade: Awards: B- Red carpet: C

- Diane Clehane is Lookonline’s Entertainment Editor. She is the author of several New York Times best sellers and is currently at work on a novel. She writes the popular ‘Lunch’ column for mediabistro.com and the Postcards from Mommywood blog for dianeclehane.com. Email her at DClehane@aol.com

DFR: New York Fashion Report