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The Departed takes away top honors

As a long-time veteran of Oscar telecasts - remember the streaker and David Niven's comments about his shortcomings; Charlie Chaplin's triumph return; and Sally Field's 'You really like me' moment? - I felt this was one of the most relaxed, enjoyable programs yet. The hosting job is a difficult one and subject to minutia criticism, but I think that Ellen DeGeneres had an amiable manner that exuded the right amount of calmness yet playful mischievousness. After opening with filmed comments from the numerous nominees against a stark white background, Ellen appeared in a velvet tuxedo. No glamour gown for this gal. She just had fun interacting with the audience with her usual composure. And she continued to have fun during the four-hour plus program.

Let us talk about the program's length. Directors and producers over the years have threatened, cajoled, and begged winners not to ramble on, and on, and on… As Ellen said, it is not necessarily the long acceptance speeches that are the killers; it is the boring ones; and the orchestra was very gentle about playing off those who lingered a bit too long. There could be other ways the Academy could shorten the agenda: 1) reduce the number of montages that honor this person or that theme, 2) cut out the Best Song renditions, 3) lose the quirky dance numbers, and 4) decrease the awards presented. As for me, I wouldn't want anything to change.

This is the one evening where the Academy gets to shine and promote itself, its artisans, and its films. And so what if they give awards that may not have much meaning to the viewer? The film editor, for example, is as important to the movie's quality as are the actors and director. I have seen films edited so badly that they were incoherent messes. Case in point - the recipient this year was for 'The Departed.' In my original review, I wrote 'A judicious bit of editing would have helped move the pace along.' So the Academy and I do not always agree.

You can always channel flip, but, mostly, you are watching the Oscars for the glamour, glitz, and a political statement or two. If I had a reason to be cranky during the broadcast, it is that I wish someone would instruct the presenters not to lean into the microphones. Al Gore showed a surprising confidence with the microphone and exhibited very humorous moments.

Were there any surprises for me? Big time in the Supporting Actor Category as Alan Arkin received the Oscar instead of Eddie Murphy. I thought Eddie Murphy would win for 'Dreamgirls' even though I rooted for Jackie Earle Haley for 'Little Children.' Murphy won at the Golden Globes, and that is usually an excellent barometer for the Oscars. Arkin certainly was not on my radar even though his role as the cantankerous, sex-crazed, drug-tootin' grandpa was a riot.

I predicted Jennifer Hudson would receive the Supporting Actress nod; Helen Mirren, Best Actress; and Forrest Whitaker, Best Actor. Where the Academy and I differed was the recipient for Best Director and Best Picture. I felt that if the Academy were to give the Director Oscar to Martin Scorsese for 'The Departed,' it was only to make up for not giving him one earlier for better films ('The Aviator,' 'Gangs of New York,' 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' 'Goodfellas'); but I am in the minority for my views with 'The Departed.' Having George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola presenting him with the award was like indoctrination into a very exclusive club.

And Jack Nicholson's and Diane Keaton's pronouncement of 'The Departed' as Best Picture was the end of a very long journey for Scorsese. Congratulations.