Live blogging the 83rd Academy Awards

* We give it a C+. See you next year.

* And now, a very special episode of "Fame" as everyone in the audience applauds politely and checks their watches.

* Thanks, Anne and James. You'll never host this show again!

* It's the Best Picture award. Why not let the three producers each have their turn at the mike without trying to play them off with the music? It's not their fault you stuck in that stupid mother/grandmother gag at the top of the show.

* Congratulations, The King's Speech. A very safe, very British, very conventional choice. The Social Network was more important, The Kids Are All Right more emotional.

* An actual timpani roll? Nice.

* How many costume changes has Anne Hathaway undergone tonight? That last one was a doozy.

* Oscar voters also love British actors. So a British actor playing a character with a disability? Slam dunk.

* Colin Firth wins Best Actor. No surprise there. Oscar voters always love characters who are somehow disabled. And a bad stutter certainly counts.

* Whether it's genuine or not, Sandra Bullock always seems so charming and cute, doesn't she?

* Natalie's right. Darren Aronofsky is a visionary.

* As inevitable as it was, we still can't believe Natalie Portman is now an Oscar winner. She was good in Black Swan, yes, but bland and ordinary in so many other movies.

* We appreciate showing longer clips of the nominees, so that we can, you know, see them acting.

* We did sort of like the bit from the last couple of Oscar shows where each acting nominee got a little speech from a past costar or friend. We miss that. Jeff Bridges is sort of halfway doing that now with the Best Actress nominees.

* They make actually end it on time, people.

* Usually they give the Thalberg Award during the show.

* Tom Hooper's mom should get a job as a project scout for the studios.

* Unbelievable. Tom Hooper wins Best Director for The King's Speech. Over Black Swan or The Social Network? This means The King's Speech wins Best Picture, people.

* Still hard to believe that Hilary Swank, of all people, has two Oscars.

* We must be too young to fully appreciate Lena Horne.

* The dead-people montage. And this year, for some reason, we can't hear the audience clapping. The applause usually turns into a kind of weird popularity contest. We don't miss it. Did they decide not to mike the audience or were they told to lay off on the clapping?

* We didn't know that Gwyneth Paltrow was "country music's newest star." Did anyone tell country music that?

* This show is making us dislike James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

* Mrs. Cheese Fry: "Does it end in 20 minutes?" Uh, no.

* Why does David Fincher keep looking so glum and unhappy when the cameras cut to him?

* The rotating hallway scene in Inception is probably 2010's most amazing piece of film. Best Visual Effects pretty much had to go to them.

* Very cool idea, making it look like Bob Hope is there at a podium in the Kodak Theater. But then they blew it by having "Bob Hope" announce Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr. (As an aside, Sherlock Holmes was a convoluted mess of a movie, redeemed only partially by their chemistry together.)

* Standing ovation for Billy Crystal. We're betting right now that he gets the hosting job next year. We're also betting that he's had some work done - that is one smooth forehead, people.

* ABC is giving us the hard-sell on the new Dana Delany show "Body of Proof." She'll always be hot Army nurse Colleen McMurphy to us.

* Best Documentary Feature winner provides us with the obligatory podium political statement.

* The Auto-Tune fake song bit was funny, but not as funny as it probably looked on paper.

* We're now in the mushy middle of the Oscar-cast, doling out the Best Documentary Short award. An amazing time for the winner, time to refresh your beverage for the rest of us.

* Why is NBC's Chuck singing on my Oscar broadcast?

* Best Song nominee performances, the one thing that really should go, don't you think? Nowadays, movie songs are usually stuck in the end credits and Oscar night is the first time anyone hears them.

* Barack Obama cameo.

* We think Marisa Tomei is underrated, but she was always dogged by a rumor that Jack Palance read the wrong name and she didn't win Best Supporting Actress in 1992.

* And it did. So it doesn't have to always be about Hans Zimmer?

* Best Original Score really should go to The Social Network. Perfectly suited to that technological story.

* The Star Wars theme still gives us goose-bumps. It's like we're five-years-old all over again.

* Super 8: Coach Taylor meets Close Encounters. We're so there.

* Best Supporting Actor goes to Christian Bale, as expected. He is always very good, without question. But it's hard to forget the audio recording of his Terminator Salvation meltdown, isn't it?

* Russell Brand and Helen Mirren starring in the upcoming Arthur remake. We wonder who pulled which string to get them this prime spot.

* Franco in drag. They seem to be trying too hard, don't you think? Hathaway's whole cutesy song insulting Hugh Jackman was rather pointless.

* Best Original Screenplay goes to The King's Speech, a script David Seidler wrote many, many years ago. We would have voted for The Kids Are All Right, but no one asked us.

* The Social Network and Aaron Sorkin win Best Adapted Screenplay. Well deserved. A smart, literate, crackling script.

* We're big fans, Josh Brolin. Big fans.

* Predictable: "Toy Story 3" wins Best Animated Feature. It was pretty good, no question.

* The nominated animated shorts always look so brilliant and genius.

* "I'm Banksy." Funny line, J.T.

* Melissa Leo is annoying Mrs. Cheese Fry. Then she dropped the F-bomb. She's great, but she pushes the blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges thing a little too much.

* Guess Melissa Leo's "tacky" for-your-consideration ads didn't undermine her appeal after all. She's still Detective Kay Howard to us.

* First genuinely funny moment: Kirk Douglas delaying the delivery of the Oscar to Melissa Leo.

* First standing ovation: Kirk Douglas.

* Again, Roger Deakins loses the Best Cinematography Oscar. He's the Susan Lucci of DPs.

* Tim Burton's best movies remain two of his earliest - Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice.

* Winner of Best Art Direction goes to Alice in Wonderland (which was a very strange movie, even for Tim Burton). Interesting. Could mean no big sweep for The King's Speech.

* The Oscars run three hours plus and we're wasting time on Hathaway/Franco mom/grandmom bits? Seriously?

* Yeah, so the Hathaway/Franco hosting decision? Big mistake so far. Awkward.

* Opening bit putting Hathaway and Franco into the Best Picture nominees... pretty lame. Alec Baldwin scored the best lines. And a completely random and unmotivated Back to the Future spoof.

* Minutes away now.

* Source Code seems kind of cool, but we remain unconvinced about Jake Gyllenhaal.

* ABC had to go and remind us about Roberto Benigni's embarrassingly over-the-top, aren't-I-a-funny-Frenchman-who-no-speak-much-English acceptance shenanigans for Life Is Beautiful. Some things are better left unremembered.

* James Franco will always be Daniel Desario to us.

* Oscar-related celebrity interaction #1: delivering script to Silver Pictures, we caught a look at Robert Downey Jr., slouching on the sofa in the office of his soon-to-be wife Susan Levin.

* Reese Witherspoon looks like Carrie Underwood, or is it the other way around?

* 45 minutes to show time and our first indication if the unconventional recruitment of James Franco and Anne Hathaway to be hosts was brilliant or misguided.

* Our predictions: Best Picture - The King's Speech, Best Actor - Colin Firth, Best Actress - Natalie Portman, Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actress - Hailie Steinfeld, Best Director - David Fincher.

* Why doesn't Warren Beatty make movies anymore?

* For a truly snarky, bitter take on the Oscars, keep an eye on Nikki Finke's real-time blogging at Deadline.com.

* Another future ex-Mrs. Cheese Fry: Scarlett Johansson.

* We also wonder about the origins of this deplorable practice in which commentators critique red carpet dresses. And "critique" is being generous. What really happens is that a panel of snarky, self-styled fashionistas rip apart the actresses like they're filling the pages of some middle-school slam book. It usually feels more about scoring the best line than really examining the fashion. It's even stranger when the attacks come on the same network as those that carry the events. So Ryan Seacrest on E! asks about the dresses and marvels at how great everyone looks, while two days later another show on E! happily attacks everyone with a snotty "what were they thinking" condescension.

* Dear ABC, I'm here to look at movie stars, not inner city kids who sing. Is that so terrible?

* Why wouldn't E! broadcast their red carpet show in high-definition?

* We liked Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but no way is Russell Brand Oscar-show-worthy,

* Maria Menounos is, quite literally, too cute for words, people.

* It always seems that the bigger stars show up right before the show starts, while the lesser stars, like Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence show up 2 hours ahead of time. Is that just an unwritten Oscar etiquette rule or do the Oscar handlers issue arrival times to everyone?

* 90 minutes to showtime.

* We usually don't have sympathy for Ryan Seacrest, but Michelle Williams did him no favors in their red carpet interview. It was like pulling teeth to get her to say more than two words at a time. If you don't want to talk to him, keep walking.

* Where and when did this irritating practice begin in which celebrities get asked about their clothing on the red carpet? This is a relatively new phenomenon. We wonder if it was Joan Rivers when she started this whole red carpet marathons on E!. Seriously, aside from the designers and fashion geeks, does anyone care? We wouldn't know a Donna Karan from a Versace if you held a gun to our head.

* The Cheese Fry spent five years living several blocks from the Kodak Theater in a little one-bedroom Hollywood apartment. An interesting experience to watch the show on TV and hear the helicopters buzzing around outside the windows. Oscar night would start a week beforehand when the award cops would shut down Hollywood Blvd. to get to work building the grandstands, laying the red carpet, and rolling in those giant Oscar statues.


Knee-jerk review: "The King's Speech"

1. We won't be too disappointed when this wins Best Picture tomorrow night. But we still prefer The Kids Are All Right and The Social Network. Those films fresh and urgent. This one more familiar.
2. It's exceedingly well-done and at times subtly brilliant, but much of the film's power (and helps it transcend that BBC/Film Four familiarity) comes from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
3. We never really liked Rush, mostly because of his greasy, squinty, over-the-top, look-at-me performance in Shine. Hard to shake that first impression. But here he is magnetic, albeit in a much showier role.
4. It took us a while to recognize Guy Pearce.
5. We went into this movie considering it medicinal. We didn't really want to see it, but figured it would be "good" for us. Critics loved it, lots of Oscar nominations. It's our duty to see it. But it's a movie about a king with a stutter. Not exactly high-concept.
6. It's definitely a film that seems designed to win awards, what with its period setting (look at the old cars!) and British class conflict (the rich treat the poor so terribly!). One of these gets onto Best Film lists every year, it seems.
7. Without question, there's something about period English stories that appeals to a certain American audience. Is it a morbid curiosity about the culture from which this country came? Is it envy for all of those great clothes and plush country mansions?
8. Unpopular truth: it's always fun to see a pompous clergyman get taken down a peg.
9. Helena Bonham Carter watch: this is the frumpy, stolid HBC, not the sexy freewheeling HBC on display in Fight Club or as a bad guy in the Harry Potter movies.
10. Hard to imagine a time when radio was a novel invention that went by the title "wireless" and changed the way politics was conducted.
11. Love the wide-angle lenses and the overall muted blues of the cinematography. Why? Not sure.
12. Overall, it is pretty amazing that the filmmakers wring so much sympathy for a millionaire king who wants for nothing and whose biggest problem involves public speaking.


Oscar Contest

The Cheese Fry announces its first-ever Oscar Contest.

E-mail to thecheesefry@gmail.com your picks for the Big Five: Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Director before the show starts on Sunday, February 27. To help with tiebreakers, please also submit your guess for the show's total running time. In the event of a tie, the person closest to the actual time without going over wins (call it "The Price is Right" rule).

The winner will receive an original Cheese Fry art piece related to the Oscars.

Best movie of 2010...

A case could be made that the best film of 2010 wasn't a feature film, but this incredible goose-bumpy trailer for The Social Network. Moody, important, compelling, urgent, dramatic, hip... the perfect combination of visuals and music (Vega Choir's cover of Radiohead's "Creep"). And in some ways, better than the actual movie it's selling.

"The Social Network" and the Issue of Protagonist Likability

Do you have to like a movie's main character? How essential to a film's success is what Hollywood sometimes calls "likability"?

As much as we admire The Social Network as an important and engaging film, we had big problems with the main character, Mark Zuckerberg. As we read it, Zuckerberg's an antisocial creep unable (or unwilling) to empathize with anyone else. He's so self-absorbed and driven that he rarely cracks a smile in the whole movie. He's a genius, true, but a genius very much aware of his genius-ness and thus uninterested in hiding his impatience, scorn, and contempt for those not his perceived equal.

Does this sound like the sort of person you'd want to spend two hours with? Maybe, maybe not.

If it were just these irritating character quirks, we might have let him slide. But Zuckerberg (the character in the movie, we mean - whether any of this actually involved the real person is apparently subject to debate) allows his only genuine friend to be screwed over in so ruthless and cruel a fashion, that we found ourselves actively disliking him and hoping for a dramatic comeuppance. We wound up rooting for the friend, not Zuckerberg.

The question is: is that okay? Is it a problem that we had such a negative reaction to the Zuckerberg character? Did the filmmakers push the warts-and-all approach too far?

Hollywood executives make a big deal out of creating "likable" protagonists. It's essential, the thinking goes, that audiences like the main character and and root for him to get what he wants. One famous screenwriting guru even coined a phrase for this tendency: "save the cat." As in, somehow in the first few minutes of the movie, the main character must say something or do something (like save a cat from a tree) to give the audience permission to like him. This is particularly true for darker, edgier characters. In The Town, for example, scary bank robber Ben Affleck shows his softer side in the first sequence by treating one of his hostages with kindness and sympathy. That's his "save the cat" moment.

Some consider this a needless simplification. People are evil and abrasive and petty, so why shouldn't our movie protagonists be the same? Why must Hollywood dumb everything down? Why can't a main character like Zuckerberg be a shameless jackass?

For one, most Hollywood movies are multi-million dollar enterprises most often designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. This means don't alienate the customer with main characters who are completely unpleasant.

Two, it's not as simple as that.

To us, it's absolutely okay for a movie to tell the story of a shameless jackass, so long as he also...

1. Displays some charisma - After much reflection, we believe that this is our main problem with The Social Network. Zuckerberg is a complete wet blanket. There's not even a little zip or zing to his personality. He speaks in a monotone chatter, can sometimes barely focus on the person talking to him, and seems completely humorless. Think Scarface's Tony Montana or The Godfather's Michael Corleone or Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter or Inglorious Basterds' Hans Landa. All very bad men doing very bad things, but still charming and charismatic enough to engage you. They pop. Zuckerberg fizzles.

2. Generates empathy - There's often a lot of confusion between sympathy and empathy. We think it's okay to tell the story of a bank robber like Ben Affleck in The Town. You don't have to like what he's doing (sympathy) - shooting at cops and robbing banks and lying to his girlfriend. But you do have to understand why he's doing what he's doing (empathy). You have to get a glimpse into his thinking and understand that, "Yeah, I might do the same thing if I were in his shoes."

At first, we had no inkling why Zuckerberg was behaving so cruelly to his friend or why he had to undertake a scorched-earth strategy in pursuing Facebook (as much as we enjoyed seeing the Wiklevi get screwed, there's no denying that Zuckerberg strung them along long enough to get his rival site up and running). But after some spirited conversations/arguments with fellow film geeks, we've changed our thinking. In fact, it's all right there in the opening scene (perhaps a "save the cat" moment after all) as Zuckerberg worries about getting into one of Harvard's finals clubs. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin clearly sets up Zuckerberg as the outsider desperate to belong. But... one look at this guy and it's clear he will never fit in for the reasons we described earlier. He's brilliant, yes, but socially incompetent. And in a place like Harvard, social awkwardness seems to be a big handicap. Zuckerberg's many jackass moves are motivated solely by the need to succeed and prove that he does belong. We don't like what he does, but we begrudgingly can understand why he does it.

3. Comes to an internal understanding - If "likability" is a Hollywood dirty word, the word "arc" is even dirtier. Put simply, audiences respond best to a main character who undergoes some kind of transformation. He learns a lesson and corrects a past misdeed or flaw. Or, in the case of someone like poor Tony Montana, he is destroyed by his inability to learn a lesson or correct a past misdeed or flaw (in that case, through a spectacular cocaine-binge shootout). This is called the "arc." How do you know if a character doesn't change? If you leave the theater wondering what was the point. We had this reaction to the True Grit remake. An engaging, compelling Western full of charismatic outlaws (#1 above) and empathy for some dastardly deeds (#2 above). But in the end, we're not sure if anyone learned anything. So what was the point? The non-arc ending of True Grit undermined what was otherwise a pretty solid movie.

In The Social Network, Zuckerberg seemed fairly static to us. He doesn't change. His friend Eduardo certainly changes, learning a hard lesson about the way power and money can corrupt friendships. But this is Zuckerberg's story. He's the first character and the last character we see. So... does he change? It's hard to tell, thanks mostly to Jesse Eisenberg's inscrutable performance (which is either brilliant or lazy, we can't tell). We thought perhaps there was a glimmer of something in Zuckerberg eyes when Eduardo says to him at one deposition, "I was your only friend." Could that be his realization of how far he's fallen? Or are we just imagining things?

The moment seems to involve the infamous last shot of the movie as Zuckerberg tries to "friend" the girl who dumped him in the first scene. He pathetically hits "refresh" over and over again, desperate for a reply. At first, we thought this proved that he hasn't changed. After all he went through and all of the success, he's still hung up on that one dumb girl? He hasn't changed at all. He hasn't learned anything. Or has he? It was suggested to us that the act of "friending" by someone as introverted and closed-off as Zuckerberg might be the most profound statement of change he could make. Maybe seeking out his ex-girlfriend on Facebook suggests he is trying to make amends for the past and become more sociable. So which is it? Both? Neither? In a strange way, the ambiguity of the ending may be the best part of the movie. As with any good art, the meaning often involves how the viewer reads it, not what the creator intended.

So what does this all mean? Even though arguments with fellow moviegoers helped convince us that Zuckerberg is not as bad as we thought, we still don't like him. But we do like his movie.


Ke$ha meets $tar Trek

An older mash-up, but one we find... fascinating (arch your Vulcan eyebrow as you say it).


Is the the Grammys' Best New Artist really the best?

To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, last weekend millions of Justin Bieberites suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced when obscure jazz musician Esperanza Spalding won the Best New Artist Grammy.

Which got us thinking. How accurate are the Grammys when it comes to identifying new talent? Do the voters really know what they're doing? Are they picking artistic merit or commercial popularity? Will hindsight prove to be 20/20?

Let's look at the last 40 awards given out.

1970 winner: Crosby, Stills & Nash
>They're certainly popular and well-regarded, but we couldn't hum one of their songs. They beat out Led Zeppelin and Chicago. Can you imagine that Led Zeppelin was ever considered a "new artist"? When it comes to revolutionizing music, doesn't the vote have to go to them? They practically invented heavy metal/hard blues rock.

1971 winner: The Carpenters
>Seems like a vote for a group that was popular at the time. Toothless and completely white-bread. They beat Elton John, who has surely demonstrated longevity and talent. Also losing to the Carpenters was the Patridge Family (were they ever a real band?) and Anne Murray from Canada.

1972 winner: Carly Simon
>>We have no opinion. She beat Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Bill Withers, and two others we never heard of. Guess 1972 wasn't a banner year for new music development.

1973 winner: America
>>We know we should be able to name at least one America song, but we can't. They beat the Eagles. Seriously, Grammys? The frickin' Eagles? Few bands have been as influential or as popular. So far, we've agreed with none of the Grammy picks. None.

1974 winner: Bette Midler
>>Bette has a certainly style and flair and we can't argue with her beating out Marie Osmond, of all people, for the Grammy. But we have to deduct points because Bette nowadays is considered more of an actress than a singer. The award should have gone to Barry White.

1975 winner: Marvin Hamlisch
>>Didn't know composers could win, but we're big fans of "Nobody Does It Better," so we'll reluctantly agree. He beat out Bad Company and others we never heard of.

1976 winner: Natalie Cole
>>How old was she when she won this? We thought she was a nobody until the 1990s when she did that lame "Unforgettable" duet with her dad. Learn something new every day. She beat out KC and the Sunshine Band and a few others we never heard of. Bottom line: not a very worthy crop of nominees.

1977 winner: Starland Vocal Band
>>Let's see... the fluffy disco group that sang "Afternoon Delight" or power-chord classic-rock staple Boston? Bad pick, Grammys. Maybe the worst so far. Were the voters just trying to prove how hip and relevant they were by going disco?

1978 winner: Debby Boone
>>Now we're waist deep in the empty-headed 1970s. Debby may be the least deserving person on this entire list. She sang "You Light Up My Life." For that, shouldn't she be banned from the music industry altogether? Come on, Grammy voters. She beat out similar vanilla pretty-faces Andy Gibb and Shaun Cassidy. She also beat non-threatening rock band Foreigner.

1979 winner: A Taste of Honey
>>Who or what is a A Taste of Honey? All we can think of is the candy bar Bit of Honey. Whatever they are, they beat big-time artists Elvis Costello, Toto, and The Cars. Said Grammy, "Oops."

1980 winner: Rickie Lee Jones
>>We've heard of her, can picture her plain-jane face, and seem to recall Rolling Stone liking her a lot. She beat out Dire Straits, another band that critics seem like more than us. Also beat The Blues Brothers (file that under "Really?" along with the Patridge Family) and Robin Williams, of all people. Whatever, 1980. No one cares.

1981 winner: Christopher Cross
>>We think he was already something of a joke when he won this award, another silky-smooth singer-songwriter custom-built for dentist's offices across the country. We think the Pretenders should have won. "Back on the Chain Gang" works. "Sailing" does not.

1982 winner: Sheena Easton
>>Another safe pick, it seems. Pretty girl who offends no one. We love "For Your Eyes Only," but no way does Sheena beat out the Go-Gos or Adam and the Ants. She also beat R&B heavy-hitters James Ingram and Luther Vandross. In other words, the least deserving person won. Welcome to show biz!

1983 winner: Men at Work
>>It's hard to argue with the win when the competition were similar 1980s flame-outs Asia, Human League, Jennifer Holliday, and Stray Cats. Then again, we never liked "Down Under." And that lead singer gave us the creeps. You know why.

1984 winner: Culture Club
>>Culture Club probably had more hits, but surely we can all agree that the real talent was fellow nominee Eurhythmics. Also losing: Big Country (we liked "Big Country") and Men without Hats (ditto "Safety Dance"), neither of whom should have been nominated.

1985 winner: Cyndi Lauper
>>We endorse this pick, although the Judds probably wound up with the longer, more important career. But Grammy wasn't yet ready to embrace its inner country yet. Cyndi beat out, no kidding, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Corey Hart, and Sheila E, three acts who all wound up being go-nowhere one-hit wonders. Grammy must not have known that "Relax," "Sunglasses at Night," and "Glamorous Life," respectively, were as good as it was going to get.

1986 winner: Sade
>>She's the sexy pick, for sure. Critics loved her smooth-jazz vibe. Still do. We're okay with this, even if Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" is one of our all-time top 20 songs. Also losing: 1980s where-are-they-now trivia answers a-ha and Julian Lennon.

1987 winner: Bruce Hornsby and the Range
>>Bruce is a talent and was really the only viable option. Other nominees: 1980s top-40 artists Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz (you can't make this stuff up), Timbuk3, and Simply Red.

1988 winner: Jody Watley
>>A tough one. Jody is a dance-pop artifact stuck in 1980s amber and we love her for it. Ditto her fellow nominees Breakfast Club, Cutting Crew, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Swing Out Sister. That list reads like the liner notes for Now! That's What I Call 1988. They're all equally irrelevant now, so you could make the case for any of them to win. You know who we just realized never got nominated? A little band called U2. Nicely done, Grammy.

1989 winner: Tracy Chapman
>>Like Sade, Tracy is a critical darling with a small but loyal fan base, the kind of smug hipster fan base who'd dump her and shout "sell out" if Tracy ever accidentally became actually successful. She beat out Rick Astley, Toni Childs, Vanessa Williams (who's now an actress), and something called Take 6. This win makes sense.

1990 winner: Milli Vanilli
>>We all know how this one turned out. If only Grammy could preserve its dignity and go back in time to give the award to one of the other nominees, a real musical talent, someone like Tone Loc. Seriously, this probably should have gone to Indigo Girls. We think they're still playing at a Lilith Fair somewhere.

1991 winner: Mariah Carey
>>So far, this is the only slam dunk. Grammy got it right. Mariah remains commercially successful. And she's got chops. She beat out Black Crowes, Kentucky Headhunters, Wilson Phillips, and Lisa Stansfield, none of whom are doing much these days unless it's at your local state fair.

1992 winner: Marc Cohn
>>The "Walking in Memphis" dude beat out two bigger talents, Boys II Men and Seal. But he rightfully prevailed over the manufactured sound of C+C Music Factory and the painfully embarrassing Color Me Badd (note the rebellious extra D because they, like, just don't care about your spelling rules, man).

1993 winner: Arrested Development
>>Another of those critically beloved bands with the world-music sound who never made the crossover into mainstream acceptance. We'll take the critics word for it because after the first 30 times of hearing "Mr. Wendell" we started to really really loathe it. We must also give thanks that they beat Billy Ray Cyrus and Kris Kross, neither of whom should ever ever have a Grammy.

1994 winner: Toni Braxton
>>We prefer other nominees Belly and SWV, but that's just us. Toni was a big success and had a fairly long career until she recently went bankrupt, yadda yadda. Whatever, 1994. Yawn.

1995 winner: Sheryl Crow
>>Another slam dunk, though a case could certainly be made for fellow nominee Green Day. Ace of Base and Crash Test Dummies have a special place in our post-college hearts, but they're not Grammy-worthy. Let the record also show that we happily play the contrarian role and proclaim a fierce hatred of Counting Crows.

1996 winner: Hootie and the Blowfish
>>Wrong answer, Grammy. Three women nominated with Hootie were far more deserving: Alanis Morissette, Joan Osborne, and/or Shania Twain. Hootie had a huge record that no one dared admit owning (who then who was buying it?), then rightfully vanished into oblivion.

1997 winner: LeAnn Rimes
>>She was a trendy pick that provided a good storyline - little girl who sings unreleased Patsy Cline song. Her win offended no one. But we would argue a more important, more worthy winner would have been either Garbage or No Doubt.

1998 winner: Paula Cole
>>Now we're in the tail-end of the alternative 1990s, which was chock full of earnest, heartfelt one-hit wonders like Paula ("I Don't Wanna Wait") Cole. She beat out Fiona Apple, who's cut from the same cloth. We don't know much about Erykah Badu, but she still seems relevant and thus might make for the better pick here.

1999 winner: Lauryn Hill
>>As groovy and funky as Miss Hill may be, there's no doubt that from this class of nominees, the monster musical talent is the Dixie Chicks. Big miss, Grammy. Big.

2000 winner: Christina Aguilera
>>We can't find fault with this pick (and it was wise to pick Christina over Britney Spears), though it would have certainly been a nice surprise is fellow nominee Kid Rock would have won. He's dangerous in a way that art should be. Who the heck is Susan Tedeschi?

2001 winner: Shelby Lynne
>>We're big fans of Shelby, but she never really broke out. Which again points to the question: what makes for a "best" artist? Is it artistic accomplishments or commercial success? Discuss amongst yourselves. Shelby's fellow nominees are all rather underwhelming, from frat-rock thugs (Papa Roach) to hip-hop goofs (Sisquo) to country wiseguys (Brad Paisley). Shelby probably deserved it most.

2002 winner: Alicia Keys
>>Another critical darling. Does anyone ever admit to not liking Alicia Keys? We all pretend to love her. A safe, square pick over the likes of Nelly Furtado, David Gray, and Linkin Park (a scary, tattooed band who really should be glad to even be nominated by the stodgy Academy).

2003 winner: Norah Jones
>>See Alicia Keys above. It's simply not cool to say you don't like the smoky jazz of Norah Jones. If need be, you lie. She beat out a fairly strong group: Ashanti, Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne, and professional douchebag John Mayer.

2004 winner: Evanescence
>>Their song "Bring Me to Life" is nothing short of sonic dynamite, but they might as well now be in the witness relocation program. A better choice would have been the charismatic 50 Cent... which reminds us: why wasn't Eminem ever nominated for this award?

2005 winner: Maroon 5
>>A fun, peppy band that cranks out catchy songs, but no one can argue that nominee Kanye West is more talented, more important, and more relevant. He should have won, hands down.

2006 winner: John Legend
>>We hear good things about John Legend, but we know nothing about him other than he likes to wear skinny ties. We'll defer to the Grammys on this one, though if it we were voting, the winner would have been Sugarland.

2007 winner: Carrie Underwood
>>Love her or hate her, there's no denying she's the real deal. Another rare slam dunk for the Grammys.

2008 winner: Amy Winehouse
>>Keep in mind this was before she went cuckoo. Amy was a very trendy, very popular pick so it's hard to argue. Everyone loved her. We don't know what a Ledisi is, but a case could maybe be made for the other nominees Feist, Paramore, and Taylor Swift (whom we're still not sure if she's talented or simply way too precocious and cute).

2009 winner: Adele
>>The jury's probably still out on these last few awards. That said, we think it's safe to say that time will not be kind to fellow nominee the Jonas Brothers. We do still have hope for Duffy and Lady Antebellum.

2010 winner: Zac Brown Band
>>Sure, why not? We sure never heard of Keri Hilson, MGMT, or Silversun Pickups. They sound made-up.

So what's the score? By our count, out of 40 awards, we agree with 13 wins. That's a 32% success rate. If only this were baseball.


Top ten high school cafeteria items

There may have been a lot wrong with the Dallas Independent School District in the late 1980s, but cafeteria food wasn't one of them. At least not to the unsophisticated palate of a 17-year-old Cheese Fry, standing in a long line under old fluorescent lights with two dollars burning a hole in his pocket. Entrees were 95 cents, people. Two bucks and you got two lunch plates (including the beverage - which would almost always be the red fruit punch in the little plastic cups), plus a dime back in change.

1. Pepperoni pizza - We cannot verify that the little pepperoni-flavored chunks were pepperoni, but we can verify that it tasted very good. Plus, extra credit for the novelty of being rectangular, not wedge-shaped. Came in cool little cardboard containers.

2. "Fiesta Salad" - So good we've since reverse-engineered the recipe in our Cheese Fry test kitchen to bring a little taste of the 80s to today. Rice, beans, lettuce, meat, cheese, tomatoes... and the secret ingredient, Fritos.

3. Beef burritos - The Cheese Fry's political activism appeared at an early age. When the cafeteria manager inexplicably changed burrito suppliers, leading to a subpar burrito substitution, we wrote a scathing letter to the school newspaper editor. The burritos, needless to say, got changed back.

4. Little Debbie Nutty Bar - If you've ever had one, then you know what we're talking about.

5. Hamburgers - Small and simple. Like sliders before there was such a thing.

6. Chocolate milk - Admit it, you miss those little miniature cartons that you could pop open and drink from.

7. Salad bar - We thought we were being progressive and healthy. Lots of great greenery... quickly flooded with watery ranch dressing out of an industrial-sized pump bottle. Yum.

8. Rolls - We've never had a roll so fluffy and soft.

9. Salisbury steak - What public school doesn't consider this a lunch room staple?

10. Little Debbie Star Crunch - A cousin of the Nutty Bar, but slightly less expensive. And with a considerably stranger name.

Television reporter crush evolution

Lisa McRee, WFAA (Channel 8) - c. 1989
Elizabeth Vargas, ABC's "Good Morning America" - c. 1994
Bonnie Bernstein, CBS Sports - c. 2002
Vera Jimenez, KCBS (Channel 2) - c. 2005
Ann Curry, NBC's "The Today Show" - c. 2009
Andy Adler, KNBC (Channel 4) - c. 2011


Live blogging Super Bowl XLV

* Random Super Bowl memory #6: Sitting at the laptop throughout Super Bowl XLV (Packers beat the Steelers) to blog snarky, pithy commentary that no one will read. Next year: Cowboys over Jets, 28-24. See you there.

* This feels right, don't you think? Roethlisberger is a solid two-time Super Bowl winner. He's just not a three-time winner.

* We just hope Brett Favre is watching from his Mississippi compound. The Packers have officially moved on, Mr. Unretirement.

* For the Steelers, one... last... chance... No good!

* Packers now lead by six. The pessimist in us figures this will just set up Roethlisberger to score a touchdown as time expires to win the game by one point and further burnish his image.

* To the geniuses in the stands holding a "You're in Steeler Country" sign. Geographically speaking, you're in Cowboy Country.

* Jennings is wide open. The Cheese Fry could have run that route and got the touchdown.

* The Packers' Jordy Nelson: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

* Harbinger of things to come? Steelers fumble the ball away.

* We're calling it now with 19 seconds to go in the third quarter. Steelers will win the game. Packers look completely overmatched.

* Joe Buck and Troy Aikman aren't in the booth. They're in the Command Center.

* Could ESPN's Colin Cowherd be right? His take: Aaron Rodgers is great at executing a first-half game plan, but struggles in the second half when the opponent makes adjustments and a quarterback must do more quick-thinking improvisations. That's what seems to be happening here.

* "Imported from Detroit." Clever. But we'd still never buy a Chrysler, Eminem.

* Harbinger of things to come? Big sack on Big Ben.

* Harbinger of things to come? Steelers get a huge defensive stop. The momentum, as they say, is turning Pittsburgh's way.

* The secret to getting the Cheese Fry to see a "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel? Give it a running time of less than two hours.

* Wondering which seats the old men from the Visa spot are sitting in. You know, the one where those characters have never yet missed attending a Super Bowl in person.

* Yep. It's a game. 21-17. Wake up, Green Bay.

* Steelers are about to make this a game.

* Ozzy Osbourne probably seems clever and trendy in some Madison Ave. ad agency boardroom, but that's not the same as being clever and trendy in the real world.

* How frustrating it must be to get knocked out of a Super Bowl because of injury.

* Don't say this Super Bowl is coming to you live from Dallas. The taxpayers of the City of Arlington paid a lot of money to Jerry Jones for that stadium. Give them their due.

* Random Super Bowl memory #5: Watching Super Bowl XXXVIII (Patriots beat the Panthers) among a group of retirees on a Caribbean cruise and being one of the few people rooting for New England. Didn't know gray-haired folks could give dirty looks like that.

* We didn't much like "I've Had the Time of My Life" when it was on the radio the first time in 1986. Sorry, we think it's written "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." How pretentious are parentheses in pop songs?

* You may not like the Black Eyed Peas, but at least they're still relevant and making hit songs, and not some creaky relic of classic rock appealing only to the 40+ demo. Which is what the Super Bowl halftime usually delivers.

* To the layman, doesn't it seem like the Black Eyed Peas are really just Will.i.am and Fergie? What do those other two dudes contribute?

* All that hype about Fox Sports' "Sounds of the Game" and it's just a bunch of unintelligible shouting and hollering (with the occasional swear word dumped). Lame.

* You didn't hold 'em, Packers. Now it's 21-10.

* Hold 'em, Packers, hold 'em.

* Are we really so unable to delay gratification (or be alone with our thoughts) for more than 60 seconds that we need the new Chevy Cruze to read our Facebook page to us? This is not a good sign, people. The radio is enough of a distraction while you're piloting several thousand pounds of metal and glass at 50 mph, don't you think? Really, can't you wait to learn that your next-door neighbor had a Coke Zero for lunch?

* Regarding Jennings' touchdown catch, as the coach said to Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty: "Now that's concentration."

* If the half ends 21-3, the Packers will win the ball game. Print it.

* Harbinger of things to come? Big Ben throws interception number two. Perhaps the K-word is alive and well. Karma. Don't worry, Ben. Losing the game won't affect your ability to pick up coeds in college bars.

* Not sure if the people freezing outside the stadium, having paid money to watch the game on a TV not completely dissimilar from the TV they probably have in their living room, are loyal NFL fans or stupid NFL fans. Or both.

* We don't understand exactly what "Super 8" is about, but we want to go to there.

* Sell it all you want, Marvel and Paramount. But "Thor" looks really, really stupid.

* Maybe the U.S. military should look into applications for Coca-Cola. If it can turn a dragon's fire-breath into fireworks, maybe we should be pouring it on Iran's nuclear reactors.

* Oh yay. Another "Transformers" movie. Just what none of us needed.

* We have "Almost Famous" to thank for giving new life to Elton John's annoying "Tiny Dancer."

* So much for a Super Bowl shutout.

* As we said in college, that there is some sticky D, Packers.

* We're a red-blooded, girlcrazy American male who (somewhat) proudly had a Maxim subscription for many years, but the Go Daddy commercials are always on the wrong side of being skanky and sleazy.

* Something undeniably universal about the panic from accidentally hitting "Reply All" on an e-mail.

* Big Ben's not going to last the full game.

* Claymation Eninem. Brilliant.

* Harbinger of things to come? Packers get a "pick six," a football term that seemed to have suddenly come into vogue this season. Like last year's "bubble screen."

* Kia Optima commercial. Best so far (not counting the movie spots).

* "Cowboys and Aliens." One of those genius ideas that seems so obvious, you wonder why you didn't think of it. Plus Olivia Wilde.

* What's with the violent Pepsi Max commercials? Two so far have featured someone getting hit in the head with a can.

* Harbinger of things to come? Packers score first touchdown.

* "Fast Five," huh? Do we need to have seen the last three in order to understand it?

* Hard to believe that not too long ago the networks didn't keep the score in the corner of the screen. Seems like such a no-brainer now. Thanks, Fox Sports.

* Switching a cheeseburger for a bar of soap. Funny, Pepsi Max.

* Thanks to TweetDeck's realtime updates, it's like we're watching the game with Sports Illustrated's uber-columnist Peter King.

* Uh oh. Mendenhall breaks off a big run.

* Random Super Bowl memory #4: The Cheese Fry was only seven when Super Bowl XIII was played (Cowboys lose to the Steelers). While we have only a hazy memory of the game, our strongest memory is the realization that each team got to have its logo painted in one of the end zones.

* There's no way to conclusively study it, but one wonders what role the Madden video game played in elevating the average fan's understanding of the Xs and Os of football. It certainly changed how we look at the game.

* How many times does a ball change hands at the bottom of a pile?

* Harbinger of things to come? Steelers go three and out.

* Random Super Bowl memory #3: Being unable to see Super Bowl XXXIII (Atlanta loses to Denver) because of work-related travel and having to see a small slice of the game at the Salt Lake City airport.

* Mike Tomlin is the same age as the Cheese Fry? Look where he is. Look where we are. May be time to start drinking beer.

* You have to admire Deion Sanders' wardrobe. Look at that shirt.

* Shannon Sharpe was a great player, but he may be one of the most annoying sports commentators working today. Something about the way he over-enunciates drives us crazy. It's like his teeth are too big for his mouth.

* Now the Super Bowl tries to pretend it's as important and significant as world history's greatest and most tragic moments... and even hired Michael Douglas to prove it. Yes yes, the game unites us all, but sometimes the back-patting self-importance gets ridiculous. It's a game, people, that involves a weirdly-shaped leather ball.

* "Heeeeaaaaahhhh... That's so dumb."

* LivingSocial. Funny ad, but we don't get what they're selling.

* "Kung Fu Panda" seems underrated. Way more funny and action-packed than it gets credit for.

* How pathetic that the Cheese Fry and Ms. Cheese Fry are actually having a discussion about whether Christina Aguilera is getting a divorce; A) who cares? and B) how is it that we actually sort of know her personal situation? Thanks, culture of "Access Hollywood" and Us Weekly. Those brain cells can surely be better spent on other, more important questions.

* Random fact: playing a marching snare drum with a tradition grip is no easy feat.

* Mike Tomlin always looks like he should have laser beams coming out of his eyes to better burn your soul to a charred crisp.

* Lea Michele: a future ex-Ms. Cheese Fry.

* Very sad that the Bears didn't get Walter Payton a touchdown in Super Bowl XX. William "Refrigerator" Perry is a bad, 1980s punchline unworthy of carrying Payton's used towel.

* Falcons on the bus. Play 60. Yes!

* Isn't Dr. House always risking his career? Yawn.

* Eagerly anticipating "Battle Los Angeles."

* Jennifer Aniston's agent should get a bonus for finally getting her into a movie that will be a sure-fire hit.

* We're mostly okay with Christina Aguilera, but we're not a fan of those who take the national anthem and twist it into an opera performance full of arpeggio runs and long, look-at-me notes. Reckon she won't be able to resist the temptation.

* At least Sam Elliott lent his gravel baritone to both teams' clip packages and didn't play favorites. He's also selling us trucks today (see below).

* Prediction: Packers 31, Steelers 24.

* We're not sure if we know anyone who still watches "The Simpsons" every week as if it were still 1998.

* We've heard that some people don't like Joe Buck. He may come off a little prudish and nerdy, but he seems solid to us. To us, the best play-by-play guy remains Pay Summerall.

* There's a graduate thesis to be written about the patriotic imagery and tough-guy language used in television ads to sell pickup trucks to American males. We may have to explore this further.

* We don't get NASCAR. And it's probably for the best. How many sports can one person really watch and still get out of the house?

* Random Super Bowl memory #2: Drinking too much to fully remember the Cowboys win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII. So maybe it's not really a memory.

* Clearly, the middle of the Declaration of Independence isn't quite as catchy and poetic as the preamble.

* We hope we get to see the "Play 60" spot with the Atlanta Falcons one last time.

* Not sure why the Super Bowl needs to include a civics lesson. Thanks, Colin Powell, for explaining the importance of the Declaration of Independence.

* Another reason to root against the Steelers: keeping ex-Cowboy Flozell "False Start" Adams from getting a Super Bowl ring.

* "Limitless." Interesting.

* A former girlfriend worked for Taco Bell's media campaign. One of the company's prime customer demographics: college students out late at night who were drunk, looking for a greasy meal. This was accepted as fact.

* We took a tour of Cowboys Stadium. It's bigger than it looks. Impossibly big. You can put the Statue of Liberty on the 50-yard-line and close the roof over her torch.

* As much as we always enjoy the "Fox NFL Sunday" crew, if we had to dump one... it'd have to be Michael Strahan. Howie Long covers the same ground, don't you think?

* Regarding "Drive Angry," does the average viewer really fall for the trick where "reviews" are quoting critics and bloggers from fanboy places like Ain't It Cool News?

* What's the harder phone call to make? Calling NFL commissioner Roger Goddell to break the news about the fire marshal removing thousands of seats? Or calling Jerry Jones?

* We're not sure Ben Roethlisberger will ever completely rehab his image among non-Steeler homers, no matter how many disarming sit-downs he may do with Terry Bradshaw.

* Random Super Bowl memory #1: During the pregame of Super Bowl XXXVII, our viewing party was interrupted by a neighbor who was a full-on, card-carrying member of Raider Nation. This character was decked out in silver and black head to toe. Including the obligatory face paint. He was loud, cocky, and 100% fired up for certain victory, the flames likely kindled by several cases of room-temperature Coors Light. But once the Raiders fell behind, and then lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers... uh oh. Raider Neighbor stopped popping into the party. We always wondered how sad he must have been wiping off the face paint, looking in the mirror, listening to his old mix tape of Judas Priest and Dokken, and thinking about what could have been. Especially considering the absurdly perpetual futility of the Raiders ever since.