I love the Oscars for many of the same reasons that most people love the Oscars – the hideous fashions, the garish production values, the lame comedy, the pompous self-congratulatory atmosphere, and the way the whole conceit of the show imposes a level of competition on what is, even for all its commercial trappings, at its heart an art form. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fun to see who wins, and to watch these gazillionaires sweat the competition, but I’ve always been of the Dustin Hoffman/Sean Penn school of thought – that this show is acceptable as a celebration of the cinematic medium, but should never be taken too seriously as a competition that pits one artist against another.

This year the Oscars maintained a good pace, and I am happy to report that I made no trips to the kitchen provoked entirely by boredom. Yeah, I would like to have seen the Hobbit movie lose something, anything (here’s a suggestion: that shapeless, melody-less mess of a song that Annie Lennox crooned), but what are you going to do? At least the Best Actor race, with the preshow odds placing three actors in a dead heat, was suspenseful. It was a good show, and here is my thank you speech to the Academy, and those associated, for another entertaining evening.

I would like to thank the Academy for keeping this one under four hours. I would like to thank them for limiting Robin Williams’ shtick to two mercifully brief minutes, and for allowing Will Ferrell and Jack Black to sing the funniest introduction to an award all night (for Best Song). Thanks for finally honoring Sean Penn, a truly brilliant actor, and for giving an Oscar to the radiant Renee Zellweger, who after turning in award-worthy work in “Jerry Maguire,” Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Chicago, was long overdue for a trip to the podium.

Thanks to Bill Murray for looking so incredibly pissed when he lost, forsaking the phony smiling-and-clapping that most losers try to graciously muster. Thank you to Tim Robbins for not seizing the opportunity to discuss the Presidential election or anything else too political. Thank you to Adrian Brody for using the breath spray before announcing Best Actress – that was the biggest laugh of the night, if you ask me. And while I’m laughing, thanks to Martin Scorsese for the hilarious American Express commercial, and to Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller for my favorite Oscar moment this year.

I’m not referring to the bit that they did during the ceremony, but the bizarre, irreverent exchange that unfolded on the red carpet during ABC’s preshow telecast. Stiller was speaking with Entertainment Tonight’s Maria Menounous, and she fires that old softball chestnut at him – “Are you excited about any of the awards in particular tonight?” – and he begins describing how much he enjoyed the work of the young actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, which is funny in and of itself because he’s so disingenuous, when Wilson butts in and starts an argument over whose “heart was more deeply touched by the kid from Whale Rider. The whole thing, like the bit they did during the ceremony, is completely staged, but their comic chemistry and the sheer ludicrousness of the argument made it a truly inspired moment. They did more to sell “Starsky and Hutch” during the Oscars than a hundred television commercials could do, and they proved that, like even the no-name who won Best Animated Short and plugged a television airing of his film, a central ingredient of the Academy Awards will always be shameless selling.

So thank you to them and the rest of the silly and self-absorbed (but lovable) movie stars who keep the Oscars entertaining year after year.

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