The stars took to the Academy Awards like white on rice.

So much for the new rule of not reading from a prepared acceptance speech. I think I would have preferred a blunt "thank you" from Eddie Murphy to best supporting actor Alan Arkin's "heartfelt" and tearful reading from his chicken-scratched note.

When Arkin started his acceptance with "I know I'm not supposed to do this ..." I knew we were in for a forgettable moment.

But I loved Ellen DeGeneres.

She was a cool cucumber in the thick of most likely the most terrifying audience she'd ever faced. To think that just a few years ago — actually, 10 — she had a career meltdown: Her hit sitcom bombed after she had her character come out of the closet, and then her personal life came apart when then-girlfriend Anne Heche had her own public meltdown.

It's genuinely nice to see such a professional and personal comeback, and the picture with Clint Eastwood taken by Steven Spielberg was a classic moment that will go down in Oscar history.

Al Gore was a good sport, pretending to have his speech cut short by the orchestra just as he was to announce he'd be running for president. Gore was there to thank Hollywood for being so environmentally conscious.

And as I drove through Beverly Hills on my way to the Kodak Theatre on Sunday, I could see the love for the environment in their well-manicured landscapes, which shielded their energy-guzzling mansions with the wrap-around driveways for multiple cars (not a Prius in sight — unless Mercedes is making them now). And I could see it in the many private airports where the stars house private jets for quick trips to Cannes.

Talk about an inconvenient truth. But Hollywood's green. I guess lip service is as good a start as anything.

The live performances from James Taylor and Randy Newman, Melissa Etheridge and The Dreamgirls were worth the price of admission.

And the presence of such great filmmakers and actors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Peter O'Toole was truly awe-inspiring.

But the highlights of the night were Ennio Morricone's honorary Oscar, presented by none other than Eastwood, and the best-actor win for Forest Whitaker, whose portrayal of Idi Amin should be studied by every student of the craft of acting.

Jennifer Hudson gave the most genuine speech of the night, and perhaps of the past decade here at the Oscars. I can't help but to think back at how Grrr'd I was when Gwyneth Paltrow won for "Shakespeare In Love," and she cried at exactly the same moment during her speech at the Oscars as she did weeks earlier during the same speech at The Golden Globes.

That reeked of farce.

That said, Paltrow did look more beautiful on Sunday night than she'd looked in a while. Too bad the dinner discussion is just so much more interesting across the pond.

Without further ado and keeping in the celebratory theme of the night, allow me to indulge in my own thank-you list of people who mean nothing to you, but to whom I need express my gratitude for all the help out here in Hollywood.

Jon Brady, Mike Waco, Rick Smosky, Kathy Wright, Jen Girdon, Justin Craig, Erica Parsons, Robert Coleman, Eric Graychock, Jenny Katz, Stephanie McCollister, Rich Deanda, Rolo Luna, Frankie Rodriguez and Al Gore.

Uh-oh, the music is playing. I'd also like to thank my co-host Courtney Friel, Bill McCuddy on the red carpet, and Katrina Szish for her fashion expertise on our two-hour show. And of course, all the little people who clicked on our Web stream.

It is you I live for.

And, oh yeah, my wife. Or am I supposed to wait for the backstage camera for that?

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