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Watching the Oscars with Ebert

Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who's still recovering from surgery, is watching the Oscars from home this year — for the first time in decades. But of course, he's still there in spirit on the red carpet. In the meantime, some observations:

It was the most elegant and somehow gentle Oscarcast I can remember, unfolding smoothly with well-chosen words, original production ideas (the segment for the adapted and original screenplay categories was brilliant), and host Ellen DeGeneres finding the right mood and pace to weave it all together. There was a lot of humor, but none of it breaking out of the comfortable, family feeling. But as in previous years, it was long.

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When I saw "Babel" at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, I walked out certain that I had seen the Oscar winner. It had all the attributes of an academy victory: bright, complex dialogue in a plot with contemporary relevance as we follow the progress of a gun through several societies until it is involved in a senseless tragedy. Just the sort of stylistic dazzle and somber message Oscar likes. It was my prediction to win.

Another early best-picture contender was Martin Scorsese's popular, all-star "The Departed." Scorsese, America's leading director, has long suffered from an Oscar jinx — but not this time.

As Oscar Sunday drew closer, I began to hear how much audiences loved "Little Miss Sunshine," a bawdy family comedy spanning the distance from conservative Dad to dreamer daughter to weirdo son to pagan grandfather.

Well, I loved it too. But could it win the Oscar? Comedies are notoriously discriminated against by the academy, even though every filmmaker will tell you they're harder to make than tragedies. By the time "Sunshine" began to run up its victories Saturday at the Independent Spirit Awards, I had a sinking feeling that my Oscar prediction was wrong, wrong, wrong. I guess some movies, you love them so much, that settles the question.

It felt wrong Saturday watching the Indies on TV. I have attended every ceremony of the Independent Spirit Awards, know most of the people, and felt strongly, "I should be there."

But I am still housebound with illness, and so was ensconced in front of my TV instead. It was a well-produced show, although who told the presenters to be as boring as possible? Yet Sarah Silverman, who hosted the Spirit Awards ceremony, finds the right note to get away with saying anything.

Sunday afternoon on the red carpet, my TV partner Richard Roeper stepped in capably beside George Pennacchio of Los Angeles' KABC as co-host of the red carpet arrivals — and was immediately exposed to the surrealism of the event. What can you say about cutting directly from talking with the elegant Catherine Deneuve to, uh, well, Sally Kirkland?

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One of the unexpected things about watching the show at home is that I never quite realized how elaborate the lead-up to the program is. Working the red carpet, you miss everything but your part. All the Interviews-Profiles-Glamour. But all I really see is backstage, and we press people watch the show on the monitors.

There was no tuxedo for me tonight at home, however. I had on gray herringbone tweed pajamas. Oh, and my usual New Balance shoes, of course. Still, it's nothing like the fun of being there. And even seeing dejected losers wandering through the post-show crowd.

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