Now that Mickey Rourke's date drama is resolved, our hopes for a spontaneous, surprising Oscars are all but dead. But in some parallel universe, viewers may yet get the awardscast we dream of:
5 p.m.: Host Conan O'Brien appears on stage at the Kodak Theater, which is noticeably quiet after the nominees for sound, visual effects and makeup were rerouted over to the Arclight for a surprise alternative ceremony just for them. "We'll pipe our show in, fellas," O'Brien says into a closed-circuit camera. "The link up instructions are at the concession stand." It's just the first of producers Bill Condon and Larry Mark's many curveballs on the night, quickly followed by O'Brien's admission of the entire Jolie-Pitt child/nanny entourage to assume the nominees' empty seats. Because we all know what happens otherwise.
5:07: Having jettisoned the tradition of the previous year's acting winners presenting this year's prizes, the producers instead intoduce At the Movies hosts Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz to present Best Supporting Actress to... Robin Givens for her wicked-executive turn in Tyler Perry's The Famiy That Preys. When Givens arrives at the podium, the Bens don't recognize her. She swipes her statuette and tells them fuck off back to the nursery. They do.
5:18: During the first commercial break, stage managers drag Best Supporting Actor winner Ralph Fiennes's lifeless body from a tank housing the lethal jellyfish from Seven Pounds. While cranking shut the trap door through which Fiennes plunged minutes earlier, O'Brien reminds nominees to please adhere to their 45-second speech limit.
5:40: The show speeds along, with awards for Documentary Feature (the stunning Neil Diamond-tribute act love story Song Sung Blue), Documentary Short (Smile Pinki, because nothing makes a deformed Indian child happier than Oscar love; cleft palate surgery can wait), and Animated Short (Pixar's Presto). Dakota Fanning arrives to present Best Animated Feature, widely presumed to go to WALL-E. But a glorious, amazed smile overtakes Fanning's lips as she shrieks the impossible dream: "Delgo!" Fanning accepts the award on the absent filmmaker's behalf.
5:59: The SAG Dancers accompany their rockin' guild president Alan Rosenberg in a medley of this year's Best Song nominees. His Springsteen is a little strained, but "Jai Ho" brings down the house.
6:13: Synecdoche, New York shooter Frederick Elmes narrowly outguns Christopher Doyle (Paranoid Park) and Harris Savides (Milk) for the year's Best Cinematography prize. Doyle drunkenly rises and gives his speech anyway before being carted off to the holding cell where Josh Brolin awaits the Best Actor results.
6:20: Meryl Streep is seen beaming with pride upon winning $37,000 in the show's In Memoriam montage pool.
6:31: A bored Condon fiddles with various sound effects — a little reverb, some delay, a riotous "mouse voice" EQ — while The Jonas Brothers present the Best Song award. Joe Jonas opens the envelope, and the brothers glance quizzically at each other when nothing is written inside. Condon and Mark exchange high-fives while the boys awkwardly shuffle off the stage.
6:42: Jennifer Aniston shocks everybody, introducing Tina Fey's requisite awards-show appearance as this year's winner for Best Editing.
6:53: Another jellyfish casualty ensues merely 10 seconds into Towelhead butcher Alan Ball's acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay. The audience applauds vigorously.
6:55: Oprah Winfrey presents Best Original Screenplay to Tyler Perry for the dual achievement of Meet the Browns and The Family That Preys. Perry waits a few minutes for the standing ovation to abate, thanks the Academy, thanks God, peers over at Harvey Weinstein and makes a throat-cutting motion with the length of the statuette. Harvey spends the rest of the show squirming in his soiled Halston tux.
7:02: Condon, Mark and O'Brien accelerate the show by awarding Best Actor and Actress simultaneously, for which Philip Seymour Hoffman (Synecdoche, New York) and prohibitive favorite Dakota Fanning (Hounddog) deliver overlapping speeches in a magically Grobanesque performance-art offering.
7:04: Perry returns to claim his Best Director prize for The Family That Preys. Weinstein drops his Push lawsuit the next morning.
7:05: O'Brien, himself now under threat of execution from the booth, simply tosses the Best Picture trophy at Synecdoche director Charlie Kaufman. "That's yours," O'Brien says. "Any questions? OK! Hit it, Max." Cue music, roll credits. It was a good year.