A 'wow' moment for Streep
One of the night's most emotional moments arrives when Meryl Streep takes best actress for The Iron Lady, topping favored Viola Davis (for The Help) and collecting her third Oscar in 17 nominations. She's so flustered heading backstage that she simply gasps, "I can't even believe it."
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A stage manager asks if she needs to sit down to collect her thoughts before she's whisked to the media room. As the best-picture nominees roll, Streep sips bottled water and occasionally exclaims "Wow!" and "I'm just so shocked!"
Finally, she walks with a flushed face to the thank-you cam, which allows winners to express gratitude to all the people they couldn't fit into their onstage speeches. At the end, she promises, "I'm going to drink a lot."
Presenter Colin Firth hands her the gold envelope that signals her win. "You don't want forget this," he says. "Do you want me to hold onto it?"
She replies emphatically: "Yes, I do."
A 'bowwow' moment for Dujardin
Before Streep's upset, best-actor winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) strides backstage, pumping his fist in the air, Oscar in hand. He's greeted i by canine co-star Uggie (and Uggie's handler) and allows the Jack Russell terrier to lick his face. "Thank you, Uggie. Thank you, boy," he says.
When The Artist wins best picture, a celebration of the entire cast convenes backstage. After Missi Pyle andPenelope Ann Miller welcome Tom Cruise, who presented the award, Miller tells him, "We're going all night tonight."
"You guys enjoy. Congratulations!" he says.
Sandra Bullock watches the Academy Awards' supporting-actress presentation on the backstage monitor, holding her hands almost prayer-like below her chin as the names are read off. She laughs especially hard as a clip of Bridesmaids' Melissa McCarthy rolls.
But when Octavia Spencer's name is announced, she gives a shriek of delight and claps madly. As soon as Spencer walks off the stage, Bullock squeezes her in a big hug.
Spencer heads somewhat unsteadily toward the thank-you cam.
"Oh, God," the first-time Oscar winner says out loud, as if the moment is just starting to hit, as Bullock reassures her, "Don't worry, I've got your (gown's) train."
She calmly thanks her agent and her family, then loses her composure and has to walk away, overwhelmed. "I don't want to cry, I want to look pretty," Spencer says.
Presenting is quite a 'feet'
After presenting the award for best documentary, Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. huddle backstage. "Oh, my feet," Paltrow moans, sitting in the first director's chair she finds. "Nice shoes," Downey says.
Speaking with Melissa Leo, last year's supporting-actress winner, Downey asks, "How do you feel about relinquishing your title?" Leo explains that she gets to keep her Oscar. "I'm just not sure how this all works," Downey jokes.
Pressure? What pressure?
Two hours before the live broadcast, host Billy Crystal walks backstage with a content look on his face, wearing jeans and a neat blue sweater. Leaning against the doorjamb of his dressing room, he cracks jokes with a number of tuxedoed onlookers.
"I just tweeted that the opening number has changed. War Horse broke his leg, and we had to put him down," Crystal declares with a grin, causing bystanders to break into laughter.
Don't drop the trophies!
A sea of gold Oscar statuettes roll by on a humble two-level cart, pushed by three tuxedo-clad workers up a slight wooden incline to the backstage. As the trophies wobble slightly, one Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences onlooker shivers and says, "Oooh, that makes me nervous."
But the Oscars arrive unharmed and are lovingly polished to meet their new owners.
Even Oprah gets nervous
Oprah Winfrey walks through the hallway backstage, clutching longtime partner Stedman Graham's hand, a tight expression on her face.
The couple runs into Tom Hanks, who pumps Graham's hand and greets Winfrey with a hug and a "Hello, darling."
"You had such a look of worry on your face - you'll be fine," Hanks tells Winfrey, who's receiving the honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, previously bestowed upon Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, and Paul Newman.
Graham asks where Hanks' wife, Rita Wilson, is. Hanks responds: "She's at home with her hand in a bucket of ribs and enjoying herself."
Hustle and bustle
At 12 minutes until airtime, a bevy of celebrities goes by, with Prince Albert of Monacohelpfully preventing a rogue TV camera from veering off into a line of stars. Martin Scorsese, Bradley Cooper, Winfrey and Graham head for their seats.
With five minutes to go, Crystal emerges with a blue coffee cup in his right hand and makes his way to the stage.
After presenting the awards for cinematography and art direction (to Hugo), Hanks follows the winners backstage, proudly proclaiming, "Congratulations, you Hugonites!"
Before stepping out onstage, presenters Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez go over their lines quickly while nervously adjusting their fitted cream-colored gowns. The two share a bottled water, sipping out of the same green straw.
"I'll do that, but even better," Lopez vows after their run-through.
"Good luck!" a well-wisher tells Diaz, who flashes a smile and a thumbs-up.
A successful turn
"That was genius!" Bullock yells out when Diaz and Lopez return backstage, reacting to their decision to turn their backsides to the crowd as the camera panned back to them. "That's what makes the Academy Awards great!"
Afterward, the two huddle with producer Brian Grazer, who tells them, "I thought it was really great, really sexy." J. Lo responds, "Yes, but it seems like a really tame crowd this year."
Emma Stone follows Ben Stiller offstage, but as Stiller departs, Stone suddenly seems confused. She looks about for a good five seconds before someone approaches her and asks, "Can I help you?"
"Where do I go?" Stone asks.
"We can take you to your seat or we can take you to the lobby bar," the academy member says. Stone says conspiratorially, "I'm just going to go to the bar!"
On the way out, she runs into Grazer, who tells her that the Bridesmaids cast has been watching her from a side room and laughing hysterically.
"They were just digging you," Grazer says. "Thank you," she replies. "That was seriously one of the greatest moments ever."
Tying up loose thank-yous
When Christopher Plummer walks offstage after winning his much-awaited supporting-actor award (for Beginners), he immediately walks to the thank-you cam to finish his speech.
"I left out my last sentence," he says, and then thanks the rest of the cast, including Goran Visjnic and a Jack Russell terrier named Cosmo.
"I'm just sorry I didn't mention it," he says.
Always by her side
Brad Pitt waits backstage like a nervous spouse, watching Angelina Jolie present the awards for adapted and original screenplay.
When Jolie returns, the couple congratulate producer Grazer on the show, Pitt's arm around her waist. He holds out his hand for Jolie to grab, and the two walk arm in arm into the greenroom.
See you next year?
As the night winds down, Spencer trudges by, complaining that her feet hurt, though she's switched to flat sandals under her gown. But carrying her Oscar and her purse in her right hand, she's still beaming.
"That was the best Oscars ever," she tells Grazer outside his office.
After the show, a beaming Crystal poses for pictures and hugs production staffers. As he walks off, stage manager Dency Nelson, who came out of retirement to manage the show, tells him, "I don't want you to go."
Crystal smiles and says, "I never said this was going to be my last year."