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81st Oscars 11:37 p.m.

Posted by Wesley Morris  February 22, 2009 11:37 PM

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Another impressive gang of past winners, this time for best actor. But it's already off to a dubious start with Michael Douglas telling Frank Langella that his Richard Nixon is the definitive movie portrait while Anthony Hopkins stands on the same stage. Robert De Niro reroutes things, saying to Sean Penn that it's amazing that he's gotten away with playing straight guys for all these years (I know!). Adrien Brody does Richard Jenkins. Hopkins does Brad Pitt, and Ben Kingsley does Mickey Rourke. I wonder if they drew straws to pick the man they salute.

The Oscar goes to Sean Penn. "You commie homo-loving sons of guns," he says, depriving us what was sure to be a speech for the ages from Mickey Rourke. Penn says something nice about Rourke and proclaims the need for the passing of gay marriage laws. It's a decent acknowledgment of a political moment, and a far milder speech than Penn could have given. Is it possible that a little of Milk's elegance is now part permanently part of Penn? Could he be hosting the show in top hat and tails next year? Also, one of the few American winners this evening, for what it's worth.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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