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Running through the night with Rivers

Whaddya mean you're sorry Joan Rivers isn't red carpeting on the Oscars anymore? You could still catch her red carpeting online, even if junk cable TV has finally wised up.

In self-defense against this year's naive Oscar impersonation of the Tonys, I've called Rivers' grotesque but antic spirit to my side, as I sit in the chair atop the office's coffee-stained institutional gray carpet -- where Joan's spirit insists on grilling me on the Oscars last night (her corporeal self would probably rather talk to Russell Crowe).

Question (from Joan, with ill-disguised disgust): We'll get to the Heath Ledger Oscar in a minute. Who are you wearing?

Answer: J. Crew with accents from L.L. Bean. They've been dressing me for years, which is why the wonderfully descriptive Yiddish word schlepper has often been flung in my direction. The truth is I've never worn a swan a la Bjork. Nor have I ever worn anything that Mickey Rourke would be caught dead in. Let's put it this way: Philip Seymour Hoffman and I have the same fashion sense.

Q: The suspense this year! They wouldn't tell us who the presenters were in advance -- anything to goose the ratings after last year's bellyflop. I wanted to plotz from anticipation.

A: Well Joan, I wanted to yawn. Here is a partial list of major celebrities who didn't present an Oscar on Sunday night: Julia Roberts, Eric Roberts, Chief Justice John Roberts, Robert Redford, Hugh Grant, Divine Brown, Clint Black, Brian Austin Green, Betty White, Salma Hayek and the happy kid she suddenly nursed in Africa. The list could go on until next week.

Talk about the usual suspects, that was Sunday night's presenters.

Other than Ben Stiller's hilarious impersonation of a gum-chewing, bearded Joaquin Phoenix in his current rapper/homeless mode, no one did much that was interesting. (Natalie Portman to her partner Stiller in Phoenix mufti: "You look like you work at a Hasidic meth lab.")

Q: So critic! Obnoxious smark-aleck! What did you think? You happy?

A: With the awards, generally yes, except a show without a single Oscar to "Benjy Button" would have pleased me more.

You couldn't beat the supporting-actor Oscar to Heath Ledger for drama. His Australian family -- father, mother, and sister -- accepted it for him, each in turn saying their piece. And they wisely scanned the audience of famous faces at that moment and many were in tears -- Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Adrian Brody.

With the show itself? Don't be ridiculous. We knew we were in for trouble the minute they named Hugh Jackman, "sexiest movie flop alive" (see the box office for "Australia,"; for that matter talk to anyone who made the mistake of seeing it) to be emcee. You knew there'd be a moment in the show where he'd crow "the musical is back!" and sing and dance around a lot. He even got his "Australia" director Baz Luhrman to stage it.

You have to give them some credit, though, despite the inevitable Tony impersonation. They actually made an effort to give every major nominee their due. They didn't just call names at roll call, like Mrs. Fibbert on the first day of second grade.

To see past supporting-actress winners Eva Marie Saint, Whoopi Goldberg, Anjelica Huston, Goldie Hawn and last year's Tilda Swinton lined up as a kind of sorority receiving line paying overwritten tribute to each nominee in the category was rather impressive in its way, even though it seemed to threaten a very long show indeed if every category followed suit.

I've never seen a sorority ceremony before. I thought it was kind of cool -- different anyway.

They did it again, for best supporting actor, with former winners (where Alan Arkin called him "Seymour Philip Hoffma").

Q: Oh please! Who cares about all that movie worship? I'd almost rather watch "Lost." Aren't you sick of movie montages?

A: Well, maybe there were too many but they're at least put together by people who really love movies. That's kind of what the show is supposed to be about, yes?

Q: So, OK, Mr. Smarty Pants schlepper movie-lover. What about the actual prizes? Any surprises? Any winners you hated? Any losers you now want to kill for?

A: Not a one as the show progressed. The very idea of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" as an exemplar of state of the art Hollywood imagination depresses me immensely for utterly indescribable reasons.

And yet you have to admit an awful lot of beauty, whimsy and even charm went into the movie. It's a little like watching Kobe Bryant score 70 points in a Lakers game. It's wonderful and more than a little loathesome at the same time.

And besides, no matter how many big musical production numbers you watch, how can you not be happy seeing the "Man on Wire" guy balancing an Oscar on his chin?

Or Danny Boyle jumping up and down like Tigger in "Winnie the Pooh?"

Q: What was your batting average this year? I'll bet you tanked.

A: As a matter of fact, it would have been an all-time high without the big acting awards. How does a batting average of .833 strike you?

Kobe Bryant would kill for that average at the foul line.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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