Insider's guide to the Oscars

A humorous look at what you need to know about those acceptance speeches, red-carpet interviews, and the link between Jean Harlow and Justin Timberlake.

When a kiss is not a kiss. At least 14,283 kisses are exchanged during a typical Oscar show. Do not assume, however, that the kissers and kissees actually know or even like each other. You can confirm this by using any high-tech video equipment to replay a kiss in slow motion. You'll notice that at no time do lips and cheeks actually meet.

The longer the short. Whether the award is for best short documentary, short cartoon, or just plain short, this is the point in the Oscar show when the entire audience leaves the theater and goes out to change into another dress or tuxedo. Notice how during these endless speeches the camera never cuts to the audience. This is because old cardboard cutouts are installed in every chair. (Last year, unfortunately, an errant camera caught a Jean Harlow figurine next to a Justin Timberlake one.)

Where those laughs come from. Those gales of laughter you hear during the opening monologue and throughout the "casual" presenters' banter don't come from the actual audience. They're piped in from a comedy club in Canton, Ohio.

Trouble clef. For years, people have marveled at the ability of the Academy to find five film songs to nominate. If you listen carefully, however, you will realize there is only one song arranged five different ways, sung by five different singers, and danced to by 4,000 dancers.

Who, me? There are usually four to five "I don't believe it" winners per hour. (And even more "I don't believe it" losers.) Pay attention, however, to the surprised winners and see how many pull a list of whom to thank from their pockets – all written, apparently, during an "I do believe it" moment.

When in doubt, rent. Most viewers don't realize that many items they will see throughout the evening are not owned but, instead, are rented. Limousines, obviously. As well as 89 percent of the tuxedos, 68 percent of the toupees, and 22 percent of all gold fillings.

Carpet burn. It's a tradition for the stars to be interviewed as they walk down the red carpet, and most entertainment reporters can distinguish between the Toms (Cruise and Hanks). What's not known is that the reporters don't have any idea who anyone else is. Which is why, to fill the time, they only ask, "Who designed your dress?"

All the world's a stage. Pay close attention to the acceptance speeches of English and American performers. Over the years, the English actor is most likely to thank his nanny and his bank manager. The American actor is more likely to thank himself.

• Chuck Cohen writes from Mill Valley, Calif.

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