Show gets under way under cloudless skies, protest

Christoph Waltz was the night’s first winner Sunday, taking the Oscar for his performance in “Django Unchained,” while “Brave” took best animated feature.

The newly christened Dolby Theater enjoyed its Oscar debut under cloudless skies, with nominees braving the red carpet press gauntlet before making their way inside to put to rest one of the more topsy-turvy kudos seasons in memory.

Seth MacFarlane also debuted as host of the Academy Awards, eschewing a cold open for a long monologue.

“Now begins the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh,” was the first joke from the “Ted” director and creator of “The Family Guy.” (The camera turned to Jones, who laughed.) William Shatner then appeared on a giant screen in character as Captain James T. Kirk, advising MacFarlane “from the future” to dump some planned offensive jokes and numbers which, of course, they proceeded to show.

“Argo” was the presumed front-runner for best picture, but “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook” still lurked as dark horses despite across-the-board guild wins for Ben Affleck’s period thriller.

Christoph Waltz’ win was a mild surprise in the category that was wide open until the end.

“We participated in a hero’s journey here, that hero being Quentin (Tarantino),” Waltz said. “You scaled the moutain because you’re not afraid of it. You slayed the dragon and walked through fire because it’s worth it.”

The night had many other opportunities to make history: With a win, Daniel Day-Lewis would became the first thesp to win his third Oscar for a lead performance. And the lead-actress category had the youngest-ever nominee in Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and oldest-ever ‘in Emmanuelle Riva, who celebrated her 86th birthday on Oscar Sunday.

Beleagured visual effects artists brought the drama outside, holding a street rally at Hollywood and Vine, some 200 of them sporting greenscreen ribbons and carrying signs saying “Respect for vfx” and “We want a piece of the Pi” (a reference to Oscar-nommed “Life of Pi,” which boasts vfx from bankrupt Rhythm & Hues Studios).

Expected to be song-and-dance heavy, the show was rumored to be ending with a final number by Seth McFarlane in an ode to the losers.

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