Israel’s fourth nominee in five years falls short, while Iran’s winning director gives a gracious, uncontroversial speech. Relive Oscar night as it unfolded.

The glitz! The glamour! The barely concealed disappointment on the faces of the losers!

It’s the 84th Academy Awards, taking place tonight at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Following the worst year of ticket sales since 1995, top honors are expected to go to “The Artist,” whose entire audience so far has brought in barely a quarter of the opening-weekend gross for last summer’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (the latter of which is nominated for three technical prizes, incidentally).

But while tonight’s show will probably be among the least-watched in recent Oscar history, it should still offer plenty of moments of interest. Will Billy Crystal, hosting for the ninth time, be rolled onto the stage in a Hannibal Lecter mask as he was at the 1992 ceremony? Will Sacha Baron Cohen really be barred from entering the auditorium for arriving in character as the Middle Eastern dictator he’s playing in his next movie?

After receiving its fourth nomination in five years, will Israel finally win its first Oscar for best foreign language film? (No.) When Iranian director Asghar Farhadi accepts the foreign film prize for his amazing drama “A Separation,” will he say anything about the, um, rather, um, tense relationship between his country and the rest of the world?

And finally, on a scale of 1 (stunningly beautiful) to 10 (so preternaturally, glowingly gorgeous you should wear sunglasses to look at her), how will last year’s Jerusalem-born best actress, Natalie Portman, look as she presents one of this year’s prizes?

For answers to these and other burning questions, follow our live of blog of tonight’s proceedings!

While we wait for the action to begin, read our Jessica Steinberg’s piece on the potential impact for the Israeli movie industry if Joseph Cedar’s ‘Footnote” defies expectations and triumphs tonight.

Here’s the ‘Footnote’ trailer:

Shlomo Bar Aba (who plays Eliezer Shkolnik — the father) told Israel TV tonight that Meryl Streep had just stopped him and told him “she liked my work…!” He couldn’t keep the delight out of his voice… He may even have said something about wetting his pants. Evidently, the Israelis are having a pretty good time in Hollywood.

Continuing the shamelessly Israel-obsessed focus, here’s the film poster — so you’ll know what to line up for at a cinema near you.

Strangely, its distributor, Sony, is only to set to release it in March. For more on the controversy and politics that have inevitably accompanied a night when an Israeli movie is up against an Iranian nominee among others, see our piece from this morning.

ABC’s broadcast from the red carpet has been predictably fashion-obsessed, with a loopy few moments supplied by Best Supporting Actor nominee Nick Nolte. His competition in the category, Jonah Hill of “Moneyball,” is being a very nice Jewish boy tonight by bringing his mother as his date for the ceremony. Jessica Chastain, who played a young Mossad agent in last year’s Hollywood remake of the Israeli drama “The Debt,” looked thrilled to be there, even if she didn’t get a nomination this year.  She’ll have her moment before too long.

After months of build-up, the show is finally underway. Billy Crystal’s doing his standard pre-taped opening montage, featuring Crystal parodying scenes from the nominees. The vignette from “Midnight in Paris” features Justin Bieber. Lots of scatological humor in the scenes inspired by “Bridesmaids” and “The Help.”

Did Tom Cruise just say “oy” during a fake scene from the latest “Mission: Impossible” movie?  Sounded that way to us.

And here’s Crystal live and in the flesh onstage. This is his ninth time hosting, but the first he’s made a joke about texting at the movies. He’s launching into a musical number about the nine Best Picture nominees. He’s singing about “War Horse” to the theme song tune from “Mr. Ed,” and just made a fat joke at Jonah Hill’s expense. Hill smiled but didn’t look pleased.

Spotted: Natalie Portman sitting behind George Clooney. That’s clearly the power section. She looks beautiful, and significantly less pregnant than she did at last year’s ceremony.

Tom Hanks is presenting the Best Cinematography and Art Direction prizes alone, after his co-presenter, Halle Berry, reportedly broke her foot.  Both went to “Hugo” – not a bad start for Martin Scorsese’s movie, which has the most nominations of the night, with 11.

The reviews are already coming in on Crystal’s opening number. Gawker likened it to being in the Catskills.

We’re two awards in and they’re already doing a pointless montage of old movies. They’re not even trying to keep the ceremony on schedule!

The montage ended with the immortal “I’ll have what she’s having” moment from “When Harry Met Sally.” We’re slightly less annoyed now, although Sandra Bernhard appears to be less impressed on her twitter feed.

@SandraBernhard

Sandra Bernhard

i won’t have what she’s having thank you. #oscars

“The Artist” just won Best Costume Design, which means the prize won’t go to Madonna’s “W.E.,” in which Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is apparently thanked in the credits. Fine with us.

“The Iron Lady” just claimed the Best Makeup prize, and deservedly so. Meryl Streep ages amazingly convincingly as Margaret Thatcher in that movie, playing a leader who, as a young girl, had raised money to save an Austrian-Jewish pen pal from Hitler’s Europe.

Adam Sandler, coming off “Jack & Jill,” one of 2011′s most reviled movies, just revealed that Sean Connery’s chest hair in “Diamonds Are Forever” played a key role in Sandler’s childhood decision to go into show business. So now you know.

Jerry Seinfeld and his “soup Nazi” are now shilling for Acura, apparently. Not impressed.

Here’s the big moment for Joseph Cedar and Israel’s submission, “Footnote.” Sandra Bullock’s about to name the Best Foreign Film winner. She jokingly just spoke “Chinese,” which was actually German, the native language of her mother. The announcement is moments away . . .

As predicted, Iran has won for “A Separation.” The movie has been the clear front-runner this entire awards season, and you know what? It’s wonderful. The Times of Israel will be reviewing “Footnote” when Israel’s movie opens in the US on March 9.

Asghar Farhadi, the film’s director, read a prepared statement about how we should all oppose aggression. No names were named, and the audience didn’t really know how to respond. ABC panned to Steven Spielberg, who kept his face neutral.

Asghar Farhadi reading his speech at the Academy Awards (Photo: TV screen capture)

Forgive us for our earlier mistake: Jessica Chastain was indeed nominated this year, for her role in “The Help,” not in “The Debt.” But she’s not going to win.

Back to “A Separation.” There were rumors that the director would avoid any events involving his Israeli competition, Joseph Cedar, but the two directors appeared yesterday at a press conference. They were seated at opposite ends of the table, according to JTA — the filmmakers were placed in alphabetical order according to the names of their movies.

The film’s female lead, Leila Hatami, gave an interview to Hebrew-language daily Yediot Aharonot several months ago at a film festival in Morocco. The actress said that Iranians don’t necessarily approve of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, but that the country’s true animosity for Israel comes from the regime, not the people. She paused the interview at one point to ask her translator if she would get in trouble at home for speaking to an Israeli reporter, but decided to press on.

Israelis can judge for themselves whether “A Separation” was better than “Footnote” — the Iranian movie is currently playing in Israeli theaters. It would be wonderful if Iranians could see Israel’s entry, but they probably shouldn’t hold their breath.

2012 was the fourth time in five years that an Israeli movie was nominated — an amazing accomplishment, especially for a country with such a small film industry. Cedar’s previous film, “Beaufort,” was nominated in 2007, and was also passed over. Perhaps his third time will be a charm.

“I’m not disappointed, I’m happy,” says director Cedar’s mom in an Israel Radio interview seconds after the Oscar hopes are dashed. “Till the next film. It’s all fine.” The expectation, she adds, correctly, was that the Iranian movie would win. “The Iranian director is terrific,” she vouchsafes. “It’s a shame we can’t have normal relations with creative people.” The interviewer presses: Not disappointed, really? “We’re very proud.” ‘Footnote,’ she says, “is a great film… and it was a great achievement to be nominated.”

Much has been made over the years about the ability of Holocaust movies to win awards at the Oscars. A single film about the subject was nominated this year — “In Darkness,” Poland’s entry in the foreign language category. It’s going home empty-handed, just like Israel’s film, but is currently playing in the US. Its director, Agnieszka Holland, is the daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, and her paternal grandparents were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. She also made the harrowing “Europa Europa” (1991), about a young Jewish boy hiding his identity during the war. It’s a film you don’t forget.

Natalie Portman’s going to present the Best Actor award near the end of the night. Someone at ABC clearly knows how to keep people from changing the channel.

The current dance/movie montage could be worse, but why do the ceremony’s producers feel the need to include this stuff? George Clooney appears to be politely concealing his boredom. Poor Cedar and his film’s stars must be annoyed right now — their part of the evening is over and there’s still at least two hours to go! “We’re only a pony away from this being a bar mitzvah,” Crystal just cracked.

In non-”Footnote”/Natalie Portman-related developments, “Rango” just won Best Animated Film and “Undefeated” won for Best Documentary. Earlier in the night, Octavia Spencer claimed Best Supporting Actress honors for her work in “The Help.” No major intrigue or upsets so far.

Here’s a transcript of Farhadi’s comments after winning the Foreign Language Film Oscar for Iran, courtesy of Reuters:

“At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy.

“At a time of tug of war, intimidation and aggressions exchanged between politicians, the name of their county, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.

“I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”

 

Eighty-two-year-old Christopher Plummer, aka Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” just became the oldest winner in Academy Awards history for his work in “Beginners.” He just noted that the ceremony is only two years older than he is. He graciously just thanked all his fellow nominees. Charming!

Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell are presenting the Oscar for Best Original Song.  We have officially entered the “Will this ever end?” stage of the evening.

 

Angelina Jolie is showing a lot of leg and giving the Best Adapted Screenplay prize. And the Oscar goes to . . . the writers of “The Descendants,” one of whom is earning applause by posing like Angelina.

Woody Allen just won his fourth Oscar but was too cool to show up. Angelina Jolie congratulated him on behalf of the Academy. Allen’s victory for “Midnight in Paris” means the prize didn’t go to “A Separation” — presumably the first time a script in Farsi would have won. We loved all the movies in this category, and as much as we enjoyed “Midnight in Paris,” on some level we would have loved to see Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo claim the award for “Bridesmaids.”

Allen is a living legend and all, but would it really have been so terrible to show up and accept his prize?

Hmm. We may have nodded off there. But we perked up at seeing online that the Academy relented on its threat to ban Sacha Baron Cohen if he showed up in character as a Middle Eastern tyrant — the main character in his next movie, “The Dictator.” Baron Cohen showed up on the red carpet Qaddafi-style, in a military uniform and accompanied by two female bodyguards. His greeting to Ryan Seacrest? “Hello. Death to the West.”

Baron Cohen ended the interview by pretending to spill Kim Jong-Il’s ashes down the front of Seacrest’s tuxedo. Wherever they came from, they looked like real ashes. Seacrest was a good sport about it.  It might fall flat, but we see a lot of potential in “The Dictator.”

We’ve finally gotten to the big awards (well, the first one). Michel Hazanavicius took Best Director for “The Artist,” which suggests the film will win Best Picture in approximately 19 hours. Hazanavicius is the grandson of Jews who, after immigrating from Lithuania, hid in France during the Holocaust.

 

Natalie Portman time! Hollywood’s most beautiful Hebrew speaker is presenting Best Actor in a beautiful red dress. We wonder who’s babysitting her son, Aleph.

Finally, a bit of a surprise. Jean Dujardin has won for “The Artist,” beating out George Clooney and Brad Pitt. “I love your country,” Dujardin just said in his heavy French accent. Huge laughs.

In one of the night’s more interesting showdowns, Meryl Streep has beaten Viola Davis for the Best Actress statuette — Streep’s first Oscar since she won for “Sophie’s Choice” in 1983.

 

The moment of truth: Tom Cruise gets to announce the year’s Best Picture . . .

Victory for “The Artist”!

It’s been less than a juggernaut at the box office and probably won’t linger in the public memory like some other winners, but it’s nice that the Academy would honor a film like this: nearly silent, black and white, a big risk in terms of ticket sales. 2011 was a fairly weak year at the movies, and this caps it off nicely.

Hazanavicius just told his kids to go to bed back and Paris, and with that, so will we!