The Oscars, like the Rose Parade, can usually count on weather ordered up by the Chamber of Commerce, but on Sunday the celebrities not only had to smile wide for the camera, they also had to do it while their teeth were chattering. Gray-sky gooseflesh ruled the day thanks to temperatures in the 50s and all of those strapless gowns; sensible jackets were not in favor.
The weather was the obvious topic, but the red carpet of the Oscars is the most rarified real estate in pop culture and the planet's most intense photo op, filled with Hollywood subplots, the occasional nod to geopolitics and good old-fashioned anxiety. Most of it is completely superficial, which makes it all the more fun to watch.
Hours before the broadcast, a private single-engine plane took laps in the sky with an enormous banner in tow: "Bring Our Troops Home Now" and war protesters circled the nearby streets, as did Hollywood critics decrying the liberal bias of the movie industry. They would have nodded in knowing resentment if they had seen stars reaching to shake the hand of former Vice President Al Gore.
Another world leader whose name came up often on the great red way was Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, the title subject of "The Queen." The film's director, Stephen Frears (who, smartly, arrived in a cozy white scarf — but he also had a nasty cold and a bout of laryngitis), was asked again and again if he thought the royal mother would be tuned in to the telly. His repeated answer: "I have no idea. She'd probably still be in bed. She didn't ring me up to give me any notes."
Brits are beloved old cousins at the Oscars, of course, but the Sunday carpet had signs of other international success stories as well. Director Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men"), for instance, beamed and waved a Mexican flag for a gaggle of foreign press photographers who called out to him.
Not all of the global messages were to be believed: Spike Lee, who pledges allegiance to the great nation of Brooklyn, hit Hollywood Boulevard wearing a cross filled with stones, a black-and-white ascot and a blue beret. "I'm dressed," he said, "as a French auteur."
Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669. You will receive up to 30 msgs/mo. Msg&data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
Walking the carpet, an array of languages can be heard but the most common is the staccato shout of camera jockeys who speak the shorthand of contemporary celebrity. "Beyoncé! Beyoncé! Beyoncé!" "Clint, please, Clint!" "Up Gwyneth, look up!"
The carpet was the sight of old reunions — who could not smile watching old pals and jazz lovers Clint Eastwood and Quincy Jones embrace — and new juxtapositions, such as nominees Peter O'Toole, age 74, with twinkling eyes and paisley smoking jacket, standing near sunshine-y Abigail Breslin, who turns 11 in April and arrived in a dress that resembled a basket full of flowers.
Much of the chattering media kept their heads on a swivel and searched for meaning amid the camera flashes. Where was Tom Cruise? Why did Eddie Murphy look grumpy? Did "Dreamgirls" Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Hudson bump into each other?
Some of the most interesting stories were the people whose names are part of the fine print but still find their lives rise and fall (or fall and fall) with the envelope season.
Take Kevin O'Connell, the Oscar equivalent of Susan Lucci, who was up for his 19th Oscar for best sound mixing on "Apocalypto." His challenge: "Making nonactors, wearing thongs, running around throwing sticks and stones at each other seem exciting."
He had a tougher gig Sunday: He had to go back down the savage carpet at the end of the night empty-handed.
Special correspondents Sheigh Crabtree
and Lisa Rosen contributed to this report.
'Well, it's not the talent coming out of Australia. It's Mexico. I'm blown away by what's coming out of there.'
— George Miller
of 'Happy Feet'
'She'd probably still be in bed. She didn't ring me up to give me any notes.'
— Stephen Frears
On whether Queen Elizabeth II would be watching
'I am deeply moved by the open-hearted appreciation our small film has received.'
— Alan Arkin
On 'Little Miss Sunshine'