LOS ANGELES — Apropos for an Oscar ceremony in which the boxing movie “Million Dollar Baby” was the big winner, host Chris Rock came out swinging Sunday night, unleashing his acerbic wit on anyone and everyone in Hollywood — including himself.
Rock kept it clean compared to the profanity that fills his standup comedy routine. But he slung the mud in a way that kept the audience laughing.
“All right! Sit your a---- down!” he shouted after walking on stage in a white tie and tux and receiving a standing ovation from many in the star-studded crowd.
Then he let ’em have it.
His main point: Filmmakers should wait for better talent instead of rushing bad movies into theaters.
“Clint Eastwood’s a star, OK? Tobey Maguire’s just a boy in tights,” Rock joked.
“You want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law? Wait. You want Russell Crowe and all you can get is Colin Farrell? Wait. ‘Alexander’ is not ‘Gladiator.”’
But Rock wasn’t afraid to include himself in that assessment.
“You want Denzel (Washington) and all you can get is me? Wait,” he joked. “Denzel’s a fine actor. He woulda never made ‘Pootie Tang.”’
One actor snapped back, though.
Sean Penn, taking the stage to present the best-actress Oscar, took time to defend Law as “one of our finest actors.”
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Then he introduced the category by saying, “What Jude and all other talented actors know is that for every great, talented actor, there are five actresses who are nothing short of magic.”
Backstage, Rock shrugged off the remarks and said he and Penn had talked.
“He said ’cause he’s working with Jude on a movie right now he felt the need to ... I don’t know,” Rock said. “It’s kinda funny.”
One of the raunchier moments — though an intentionally goofy one — came with help from Adam Sandler, who like Rock is a fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum.
Sandler took the stage to present the adapted-screenplay Oscar, and it was announced that Catherine Zeta-Jones would be joining him. But Zeta-Jones never came out.
So Rock strode calmly from the wings and offered to read Zeta-Jones’ teleprompter lines — which he did in a playfully stiff manner, making fun of the often awkward exchanges that take place between presenters at awards shows.
The dialogue went like this:
Sandler: “Catherine, may I just say your dress looks incredibly sexy tonight.”
Rock: “Why thank you, Adam. It’s Versace.”
Sandler: “Well, with you in it, it should be Ver-sexy.”
When Rock said teasingly that Sandler needed a spanking for being so naughty, Sandler responded, “Sign me up, Mrs. Douglas.”
About concern that he might say something bleep-worthy, Rock said backstage after the ceremony, “It seems made up, put it that way.”
“I don’t curse in front of my mother. My mother was front, center, right in my view,” he added. “I could never curse in front of Rose Rock so why would I do it on television?”
Robin Williams also got in on the act. Before announcing the winner of the best animated feature award, he stopped to rip a large piece of white tape from his mouth. The stunt appeared to confirm reports that producers had censored his gags.
Then he made fun of those who connect cartoon characters with pro-gay messages.
Getting down to business, the first category, art direction, provided the first chance for producer Gil Cates to show off some of the new logistical tricks he implemented to jazz up the broadcast.
The nominees walked out on stage together en masse, then stood around on a floor illuminated by dozens of LED screens, waiting to find out who would be the winner. After hearing presenter Halle Berry announce their names, Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo stepped forward and accepted their statuettes for “The Aviator.” The losing nominees quietly exited.
Slideshow: Academy award fashion Asked backstage what he thought about receiving the award in this new format, Ferretti responded, “I liked to be there, to be on the stage — also because we won.”
The changes provided yet another opportunity for Rock to joke about the ceremony.
“Aw, man, they gave ’em the Oscar on stage,” he said after the documentary-short winners were announced with all the nominees on stage. “Next they’re gonna give the Oscars in the parking lot. It’ll be like a drive-through Oscar lane. You get an Oscar and a McFlurry and keep on moving.”
Earlier, Cate Blanchett announced the nominees in the best makeup category while standing in an aisle in the audience. The winners — who happened to be seated right next to her — were Valli O’Reilly and Bill Corso for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” who made their acceptance speech standing at a microphone a few feet away.
And Scarlett Johansson announced some of the earlier technical Oscar winners while standing in a Kodak Theatre balcony.
But the evening began in a traditional manner, with a montage of scenes from decades of classic films, including “Gone With the Wind,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Animal House” and “The Sixth Sense.”
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