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Last night, in one of those interesting confluences of events, I found myself at my church, helping to mentor a group of 9th and 10th grade students who are part of our Coming of Age class.  This program, one of the crown jewels of the Unitarian Universalist religious education program, guides high school students as they contemplate their personal ethics, morals, faith, and vision for themselves, both now and in the future.  And, in an ironic and timely coincidence, the evening’s theme was on good and evil.

Is there inherent good in the world, we were asked?  Or inherent evil?  Or does it take people for either, or both, to exist?  Why do people do good things, and have you ever experienced them?  And why is it that evil occurs?  The youth, and we, their advisers and mentors, wrestled with those very big questions, all in light of the tragedy that had occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

After class was over, Ben and I went on to meet our nephew and niece at the movie theater to escape the weekend’s headlines.  There, we watched “The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey,” and I was pulled in once again to the story of Gollum, the tormented creature who engages Bilbo Baggins in riddles and struggles with his inner selves…part good, part evil…unsure which way to go.

Face of Gollum

Gollum, who struggles with good and evil in Tolkien’s stories.

I do believe — have always believed — that it takes people to cause good in the world, that good exists because of what we do, because of how we experience it through our eyes.  And I also believe that people cause evil to exist in the world.  The sick or twisted mind loses its way, causes pain and suffering and hatred to be visited on others.  If a tree falls in the forest, it must be witnessed in some way to be known.

So while Gollum, alone on his island imagines what he might do to feed his lost soul, it requires the presence of another — in this case, Baggins — to push him to action.  And, returning to the realities of our own nightmarish existence of the last several days, it seems clear that Adam Lanza’s warped sensibilities sought out the lives of innocents to carry out his mission in the horrible, desperate way that he did on Friday.

In the Coming of Age class on Sunday night, the question was asked:  “What have you done that was good?”  People thought hard as they struggled to answer that question.  My own response was pretty simple:  This weekend I wrote a letter to a very good friend who lives in Newtown, telling her that I was thinking of her.  And at church yesterday, I sought out a woman — with two beautiful children of her own — who teaches kindergarten in our town, and thanked her for what she does.

Someone I know wrote, in an email to others, that we might not be able to do much right now for the people of Newtown, but that we can be kind to one another.  True, we can sign online petitions to the White House, the National Rifle Association and public interest lobbies — and that is important.  We can write to our elected representatives and the President of the United States, and that is required, I think.  But if we do those things and we are pushed, in a moment of anger, to scratch the door of someone at the parking lot because they parked too close, or to cut someone off in traffic, or push to the front of the line at the movie theater, we might have missed the bigger point.

Child lighting candle Make no mistake:  I am no Pollyanna.  As my friends — and some who are not — will tell you, I have been known to proclaim someone an ass—e on plenty of occasions, and I certainly don’t get it right every time in my life.  But long ago, I resolved to try to treat people with kindness; to live out what I held on to when I was a teenager, about the same age as these kids who I now seek to mentor:  I chose to believe that people are, as Anne Frank once said, really good at heart.  And that we should try to treat one another with kindness and do good where we can, even in small ways.

Right now, as we thread our way through the thorns and blossoms that reside next to one another in the garden of good and evil, that seems like it might be a pretty important goal — and the one that we can all work toward, no matter where we are on our society’s power ladder.

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We went to see “The Help” last night at our wonderful little movie theatre, the Lexington Venue.  It was as full as I’ve ever seen it, full of folks about our age, baby boomers in an upscale Boston suburb, who wanted to see what Hollywood had done with Kathryn Stockett’s novel based on a particularly sad time in our U.S. history.  I expected to hate the movie, and had squirmed in making a decision about whether to see it.  I’ve had enough anti-racism/anti-oppression/multiculturalism training and work to set off my internal radar with cheery, do-gooder versions of other peoples’ histories, and I was afraid that this movie would fall into that hole.

But it did not.  Some have called it a little too upbeat, but I squirmed in my seat as I saw mean-spirited women take on their maids to make sure they did not behave in a manner not befitting their status, watched other characters cast their eyes down as hard-working domestic workers were demeaned and dissed.  And I was transported back to the time when I recalled – as a young girl — the assassination of Medgar Evers, Jack Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

More than that, I thought about our own ‘help.’  My mother had grown up with parents who believed that African Americans were less than others.  She once handed out a stern warning to her mother, I remember, when Gram referred to the “niggers” across the street, telling her that such language was not OK while I was around.  She knew, I suspect, that she couldn’t change her parents, but she wasn’t about to let them launch a verbal attack in my presence.

When I was five and we lived in Akron, Ohio, my mother decided that she would like to go back to work, at least part time.  She signed up as a substitute teacher, and often, she got called to come in to school.  She had hired a woman name Elizabeth Baileys — large, Irish, a little rough around the edges, always wearing a blue maid’s uniform — to come and help clean the house and look after me when she wasn’t there.  On days when Mom was at a school, I’d walk home from school for lunch (as we did in those days) to find burned tomato soup and a peanut butter sandwich on my plate.  I didn’t mind, though…in fact, I got to like the burned soup, which developed when Mrs. Baileys would turn the heat on the stove and then go off to clean something, forgetting what was on the fire.  She would sit and talk to me while I ate, send me off to school again, and continue her work.

When we moved to Connecticut Mom began working at Planned Parenthood of New Haven as a volunteer, and later, board member.  She would meet women who wanted access to birth control.  Some of them needed jobs, and she would hire them to help at our house.  She’d pick the women up at the bus stop, bring them out to the house, they would clean some and talk some to Mom about ways to get better jobs, and she would share recipes for ‘economical and healthy’ food, like Sloppy Joes, food that would help stretch a dollar and feed a hungry family while getting a few servings of vegetables in at the same time.  They came and went, some with curlers in their hair (as in the film, “The Help,”), some disappearing into the social welfare system or moving away.

And then Zula Simmons came to our house.  I don’t know where Mom met Zula.  She was elderly, moved slow, and reminded me, when I saw the film, of Constantine (beautifully played by Cicely Tyson).  Zula had served all her life as a domestic worker, and I think she was grateful for the job at our house.  I don’t know that she had much energy left to clean, but she was a presence.  My mother had been hit by psoriatic arthritis and diverticulitis, and her health was not good.  I was in high school and though I was the center of the world, so I expected attention.  I’d come in the door and be greeted by Zula, shaking her finger at me:  “Now your mother is sleepin’ down the hall.  Don’t you make no noise and bother her!  She needs to rest!”  She scared me enough to pay attention — I was not going to take Zula on — so I did as she said.  She was in charge while she was there, made dinner for us, did the laundry, kept me in line, and when my father would come home from work, he would drive her to the bus stop, and off she’d go until her next date at our house.

It was a difficult time.  Our high school had a race riot, with the Italian kids fighting the Black kids, that made it into major news outlets.  On a trip across the country the summer of the Watts riots, we saw groups of restless people gathered on street corners.  The Viet Nam war added yet another element of heat to the mix.  And through it all, there was the help in our house, keeping things moving, keeping the child in line, adding a level of stability.

I’ve often wondered what happened to Zula, just as Skeeter wondered about Constantine in Stockett’s novel.  I hope that she was able to end her days with some dignity and grace, but I fear that she lived in deep poverty and privation.  And now, early in the morning, I drive through the town where I have lived for the last twenty-some years and I sometimes watch the current generation of help get off the bus.  Few of them wear uniforms now, as they walk to the large, elegant houses where they raise other women’s children and cook, clean, and do the laundry.  But they are here, and they, too, call for us to know their names and tell their stories.

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On Tuesday night, Abby — who we often refer to as “Slim Sunny” for her nearly 5’10” stature and her cheery disposition — returned from two amazing weeks in New Orleans.  She had come up with the idea of taking this trip, participating in the Rustic Pathways program.  She had earned some of the money needed to make the trip, and worked to come up with rest of the financing for it.  She so wanted an experience that was different from what she viewed as her routine life in a small New England town.

And she got it. Her time was filled with work cleaning a building that’s being re-opened as a charter school and insulating homes that are being restored post-Katrina.  And in doing this work, she got a peek at the trauma some of NOLA’s residents — survivors, really — have experienced.  She found that one resident, who has been waiting for a very long time for help with restoring her home, became intensely frustrated and angry when the youthful workers in her house weren’t behaving the way she wanted.  She ordered them out of her house.  That night, as the kids debriefed, they met with St. Bernard project coordinators who explained that one of the unfortunate side-effects of the trauma from the storm is anxiety and depression that sometimes gets focused on the folks who are trying to help.  It was an important lesson for these high school students, although a difficult one.  Several days later, however, the kids were back at it in another house, insulating once again, and the home owners came by, thrilled at the work being done.  They wanted to bring the teens cold drinks (and did), wanted to cook for them (alas, no time for that).  But the two experiences helped Abby see some of the challenges that New Orleanians are continuing to experience, even five years after the storm.

There was more.  They watched parts of Spike Lee’s excellent documentaries on the storm (When the Levees Broke, If God is Willing and da Creek don’t Rise), had a sobering tour of the Lower 9th (how, Abby wondered, could there be these concrete steps to nowhere, and why were there all these empty spaces where homes used to be and now, nothing?)  She saw houses with the marks on the front that showed the visits from safety personnel in the weeks and months following the storm, spray painted on the outside.  Including one that said “1 person, 1 dog” – presumably, dead inside.

She heard jazz at Preservation Hall and in the French Quarter, ate beignets and red beans and rice (on Mondays, of course), visited Tulane (she might be interested), learned sissy-bounce dancing, and even saw a Mardi Gras Indian.  She made wonderful friends from around the country – and now is mourning separation from them — and has said, over and over, “I’m so glad I did this.  I miss New Orleans so much.”

It was one of those life-changing experiences that gets under your skin, I think to myself.  Similar to the one I had during the summer between my junior and senior years in college, when I lived with a family in Greece.  I remember thinking, after that summer, “I’ll never view the world the same way again,” and in fact, that remains true.  Immersion in another culture, even for a relatively brief time, can open your eyes to a different way of being in the world.  That’s happened to my girl, I think, and it’s a blessing.

Slim Sunny is glad to see her Lexington friends, it’s true.  She has reunited with her cats, her comfy bed, my cooking, and sleeping late in the morning.  Yet she yearns to go back to the sweltering, humid heat of the Jazz City and its survivors and dreamers, who have captured her imagination and her heart.

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Much has been written over the last few days about the “Harry Potter generation”: those children — now teens or young adults — who grew up with J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels as part of their lives, and who now face the wrench of discovering what life will be like without the continuing adventures of Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and the rest of the Hogwarts gang.

My daughter, Abigail, is 17 and she is one of these children.  Tonight she will go to the 12:01 AM screening of the last part of the Harry Potter saga, dressed as Hermione Granger, just as she did many years ago, for Halloween.  Then, Abby’s Hermione appeared as a young witch, complete with Hogwarts patch on her robe, custom-made broom and wand in hand.  Today, our Hermione will wear the dark skirt, Oxford shirt, grey cable-knit sweater, knee socks, and Hogwarts scarf that we have seen the teen Hogwarts pupils wear in the movie.  She’ll be accompanied by one friend dressed as Dolores Umbridge (a vision in pink, no doubt) and another portraying Harry Potter.  Snape may also make an appearance, I’m told.

What Ben and I are painfully aware of is that this is the beginning of the end of days.  Days of having a teenager living in the house, a child in public school, a dependent who we are charged with watching over.  A week ago, we marked the official beginning of ‘the year of lasts,’ as Ben calls it:  Abby’s last summer on Star Island as a member of a children’s program group.  She’ll be back to Star, gods willing, but it will be as a young adult, an employee, a woman with her own family – a child no more.

It’s the last summer before college, the last summer of free-and-easy, and, yes, the last opening of a Harry Potter movie. Abby decided to re-read the entire Rowling series before she saw this last film;  she is home as I write, finishing the final chapter of the final book.  It has been marked by laughter and many tears, as beloved characters meet their fate. These characters are her friends, her muses, and she will not say goodbye to them easily.

Years ago, Ben and I started reading Abby these books as bed time stories.  At first, she didn’t want to hear them.  She had somehow decided that they were math textbooks, and refused each time we tried to lure her into the books.  But we were eventually able to convince her that these were uncommon stories… about a magical wizard and his friends, about minotaurs and house-elves… and she, and we, succumbed to the magic.  We took summer trips to Canada listening to Jim Dale tell the stories; we queued up in line at bookstores or pre-ordered new books online so that they would arrive on the legal publication release date. Ben created a wand-making business, Preston and Wickes Wands of Distinction, which sold beautifully made, hand-crafted exotic wood wands to wizards and muggles alike.  We went to sleep dreaming of visiting Diagon Alley, we yearned to try chocolate frogs.

Now, Abby has mourned the end of the book and the series.  And, we all know, it’s not just because the story’s over.  It’s a piece of her life, and ours, too.  These kids may be known by demographers as “The Harry Potter Generation,” and they should be, for this amazing set of stories has shaped their years and their viewpoints, made them dream and believe and wonder in wondrous ways.

Abby as Hermione - Halloween, 2002

Ben and I can’t bring ourselves to run to the movie theatre right away to see the last film.  We want to string it out a little.   Probably, because we want to string out our younger daughter’s childhood a bit, too.

Oh, I will miss these books.  And I will miss that little girl I’ve loved for so long,  too.

Abby as Hermione, July 14, 2011

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It’s nearly 8:30 PM EST on February 27, and the Academy Awards are about to begin.  Back in the day, I worked in the entertainment industry, and watching the Tony Awards was an annual fete that was not to be missed, as I gathered with other theatre professionals, watching to see who of our friends would win awards, what folks were wearing, and more.  It was wicked fun, and it was wonderful to see folks like Charles Dutton, James Earl Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, and others up there strutting their stuff, given our connections to them in shows.

Though my path in life has taken me in directions away from arts administration over the last two decades, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to humbly (maybe) offer commentary on the awards the film industry’s about to hand out.  So here goes.  Stay tuned as I live-blog this year’s Academy Awards!

8:35 PM:
We’re being treated to the special effects-driven intro to the awards show, as James Franco and Anne Hathaway show up in clips from all the films nominated for Best Picture.  This particular intro was a little more smoothly executed than some in terms of technical achievement, although the bits that Hathaway and Franco were clumsily scripted into (the “Brown Duck” moment meant to highlight “The Black Swan” was particularly clumsy) were pretty lame.

8:39 PM:
Hathaway’s gown is terrific — elegant, beautiful lines, very classy.  The opening bit, in which Hathaway’s mom and Franco’s grandma are introduced, is silly.  “It’s been a great year for lesbians,” Hathaway says.  “Dancing lesbians, Mom lesbians.”  Pleeze…not necessary.  Now the Kodak Theatre is bursting into mock-flames as “Gone With the Wind” is recalled.  Tom Hanks – a class act always – has arrived on stage to remark that very few films have won awards for art direction, cinematography, and best picture.  One of them was “Gone with the Wind” — ah, now we get the weak connection to the intro — and most recently, “Titanic.”

Art Direction:  nominated were Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, Inception, The King’s Speech, and True Grit;  Alice in Wonderland won the award.

Cinematography:  Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit were nominated; Inception won the award.

8:52 PM
Kirk Douglas is on stage.  He’s suffered strokes, he’s very frail, and the producers are having him present Best Supporting Actress.  He is a legend, but I question whether he was the right choice to present this award (read on).  Nominees are:  Amy Adams (“The Fighter”), Helena Bonham Carter (“the King’s Speech”), Jackie Weaver (“The Animal Kingdom”), Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”), Haley Steinfeld (“True Grit”).  Melissa Leo won the award – a triumph for Beantown movie fans.  Douglas, on the other hand, almost gave all the nominated actresses a heart attack as he cracked non-funny jokes and reminded the audience at the Kodak Theatre that he had been nominated for Academy Awards three times, and had never won. It took a bit of time for Douglas to move out of camera range so that Leo could make her acceptance speech.

9:01
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have come to the stage.  Kunis is wearing a gorgeous lavender gown – Grecian in style – and they have arrived to present awards in animation.  “Day and Night,” “The Gruffalo,” “Let’s Pollute,” “The Lost Thing,” and “Madagascar” were nominated;  “The Lost Thing” won the award.

For Animated Feature Film, “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Illusionist,” and “Toy Story 3” were nominated.  It was no surprise to hear “Toy Story 3” announced as the winner.

9:12
Hathaway introduced Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, dressed like twin ice cream salesmen in white dinner jackets, to present the awards for Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay.  Writer Aaron Sorkin won the award for best Adapted Screenplay, for his work on “The Social Network.”  For best Original Screenplay, David Seidler won the award for “The King’s Speech.”  Seidler, calling himself “a late bloomer,” gave an eloquent acceptance speech, accepting the award “on behalf of all the stutterers in the world…we have a voice, we have been heard.”

9:23
Hathaway has changed into a tuxedo and is sitting on the edge of the stage.  She is presenting a parody of “On My Own,” for “Les Miserables,” about Australian actors and Hugh Jackman in particular.  The big surprise:  she has a really lovely singing voice – a pleasant treat.  Franco struts out to the stage in a hot pink silk dress and jewels with a Marilyn Monroe wig and makeup including a beauty spot.  Why?  Not sure.  Russell Brand and Helen Mirren – an odd couple of ever there was one – have come to the stage to crack wise.  Mirren, speaking in French, tells Brand he’s an idiot.

The patter gives way to the presentation of the award for best Foreign Language Film.  “Biutiful,” “Dogtooth,” “In a Better World,” “Incendies,” and “Outside the Law” were nominated.  “In a Better World,” from Denmark, won the Award.

Reese Witherspoon arrives in a lovely black and white dress, to present the award for best supporting actor.  The nominees were Christian Bale (“The Fighter”), John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”), Jeremy Renner (“The Town”), Mark Ruffalo (“The Kids Are All Right”), and Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”). Christian Bale won the award – another award for “The Fighter,” set in Lowell. Bale gave a shout-out to Mark Wahlberg, the Executive Producer of the film, as well as to Dicky Eklund (who Bale portrayed in the film) and Mickey Ward, who Wahlberg portrayed.

9:39
Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, two of Australia’s most notable film stars, are introduced by Hathaway (who has donned a black, jewel and lace dress, reminiscent of costumes for “Kiss of the Spiderwoman”) to present awards for best new original score.  The nominees were composers for the following films:  “How to Train Your Dragon” “The Social Network,” “127 Hours,” and “Inception.”  The winners were Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, for “The Social Network.”

Scarlett Johansson  – wearing a dark red lace sheath that was a yawn, with hair that looked like it had been styled by a toddler, arrived on stage along with Matthew McConnaghey arrived to present an award for excellence in sound.  Sounds designers for “Inception,” “The King’s Speech,” “Salt,” “The Social Network,” and “True Grit” were nominated, and the designers who worked on “Inception” were winnters (sorry, check the official listing of winners for details on the names).  Sound editing nominees were “Tron Legacy,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” and “Unstoppable” were nominated; Richard King won for his work on “Inception.”

So far the award show is moving along, but it is a total snore in terms of entertainment value.  Give me the streaker who surprised David Niven, or almost anything Billy Crystal could dish up…this show is too tame!

9:53
Morissa Tomei sweeps onstage in a black dress with way too much tulle on the skirt and a borrriiinnnggg bodice.  Tomei summarizes scientific and technical awards presented prior to the awards show.  Cate Blanchett, wearing a pale pink dress with an odd pearled bodice, presents awards in makeup.  Nominated were “Barney’s Version,” “The Way Back,” and “The Wolfman,” with “The Wolfman” winning the award. The costume desig award went to Colleen Atwood for her work on “Alice in Wonderland.”

The first two of the songs nominated for Best Song were introduced by Kevin Spacey. “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3” was performed by Randy Newman. Performing “I See the Light,” Mandy Moore (in what looked like a blue prom dress) and Zachary Levi appeared, offering up this year’s sentimental ballad among the nominated songs.

Is it my imagination, or is this year’s awards show one of the most lackluster in years? The Oscars program has been on for more than ninety minutes, and nothing about the program is exciting or thrilling.  Everything (except Kirk Douglas, who was embarrassing and a little sad, I thought) is very scripted, very safe.

10:11
Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhall come out — Adams in a classy dark blue sequined sheath that is the best dress of the evening, so far — to present awards for short subjects. “Strangers No More” won for best documentary short subject, about immigrant children seeking education, and opportunity, in the United States.  Live Action Short Film went to “God of Love,” with NYU film school graduate, filmmaker and lead actor Luke Matheney, rushing to the stage declaring, “I should have gotten a haircut.”

Hathaway, in another sparkling dress reminiscent of a 1920’s beaded sheath, joined Franco to introduce Oprah Winfrey, who presented the award for outstanding documentary.  “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Gasland,” “Inside Job,” “Restrepo,” and “Waste Land” were nominated, and “Inside Job,” about the financial meltdown and corruption on Wall Street, won the award.

10:26
My wish has been granted:  Billy Crystal just arrived on stage and the crowd’s on its feet, cheering.  I think they’re as desperate as I am, wishing that he were hosting the show.  He jokes that he’s going right to the Best Picture award, but alas, it’s not to be.  Crystal’s time on stage is brief:  he raises up the spectre of Bob Hope, who hosted the awards show for decades with a herd of writers who were the best in the business.  The visual tricks performed with Hope’s image were just the right introduction for Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, who offered up the statue for best visual effects.  Designers for “Alice in Wonderland,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I,” “Hereafter,” “Inception,” and “Iron Man 2,” were nominated, with “Inception” winning the award.  For achievement in film editing, those who worked on The Black Swan, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and 127 Hours were nominated.  The Oscar went to the film editors of “The Social Network” (again, apologies for missing all those names, but check out the news reports for details).

Hathaway and Franco introduce Jennifer Hudson, looking fabulous in a tangerine ball gown, who introduced a song from “127 Hours,” “If I Rise.”  It’s a brief snippet, and an odd one.  That’s followed by Gwyneth Paltrow singing “Coming Home” from “Country Strong.”  None of the nominated songs are knockouts — nothing close to “My Heart Will Go On,” for instance.  Of the four nominated, Newman’s “We Belong Together,” from “Toy Story 3” was the clear favorite, and Newman took home his second Academy Award.

10:55
The “I See Dead People” section of the show arrives, with Celine Dion singing “Smile” as images of those departed from the film industry flash on the screen.  Halle Berry comes to the stage to recognize the remarkable contributions of Lena Horne, a pioneer in music, film, and theatre.

Hillary Swank arrives to introduce Katherine Bigelow, last year’s Best Director winner, to present this year’s award.  Nominated are Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David O. Russell, “The Fighter,” Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech,” Joel and Ethan Coen, “True Grit,” and David Fincher, The Social Network.”  Winning was Tom Hopper for “The King’s Speech.”

11:05
Annette Bening, in a dreadful black and sequin dress, announced the Lifetime Achievement in Film Awards, given to Eli Wallach, Jean-Luc Godard, Kevin Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola.  The evening bumps along…still a snore.

11:11
We’re getting down to it:  Jeff Bridges comes to the stage to present the award for outstanding performance by an actress in a leading role.  The nominees were Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”), Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), and Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”).  The winner, as expected, was Natalie Portman, in a gorgeous magenta gown.  “I am so in awe of you,” Portman said to the other actresses nominated for the award.  Portman thanked those she worked with on the film, but acknowledged, “most importantly, my family and friends.”

Sandra Bullock, looking fabulous in a red gown, introduced nominees for best performance by an actor in a leading role:  Javier Bardem (“Beautiful”), Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”), Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), and James Franco (“127 Hours”) were nominated, and the superb performance by Colin Firth was honored with the award.  Firth, a class act, gave a charming, self-depricating speech.

11:32
The final act:  Hathaway, in another sparkling gown (her eighth?) introduced Steven Spielberg, who walks to center stage to present the award for Best Picture.  Spielberg highlights the fact that even the films that don’t win the award join a series of remarkable films.  Starting last year, ten films were nominated for best picture (instead of five).  This year’s nominees:  “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit,” “Black Swan,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “Inception,” and “The Fighter.” Throughout the montage of film clips, which included bits from all the nominated movies, Colin Firth’s voice from “The King’s Speech” echoed in a preview of the final result: “The King’s Speech” won Best Picture for 2011.

11:38
Sweet Endings:  Franco and Hathaway (yes, another dress change) introduced the kids from PS 22 in Staten Island, who sang “Over the Rainbow,” with cute and well-rehearsed movements.  As the kids finished their song, they were joined by the flock of award winners, waving their trophies in the air.  Hathaway, standing center stage, whooped audibly, “We did it,” and high-fived a number of the kids in celebration – and relief.  It was a grinding, unremarkable awards show – without major glitches, but also lacking in the thrill and energy one has the right to hope for from Hollywood.

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