Oscar liveblog: 'Avatar' cleaning up on below-the-line-categories means...
7:55 pm: First "Avatar" wins for art direction. No huge surprise. But then it wins cinematography, a significant achievement given the resistance among the hard-core DPs ("The White Ribbon" won the group's guild award). And now the film pulls a below-the-line hat trick, winning visual effects. None of that necessarily means anything when it comes to best picture, but there are a lot of rank-and-file members of the academy who clearly like what the film has accomplished technically, which could put it over the top in the final ballot.
Backstage, a lot of the questions to the winners boil down to "How much work did you do, given that so much of it was compiled on computers?" Maura Fiore, the D.P. on the film, explains to reporters that he did all the live-action portions. And Robert Stromberg, who wins for best art direction, gives the most touching backstage interview of the night when he describes how he overcame a life-threatening illness more than a decade ago. "This award to me is actually me understanding I'm alive."
-- Steven Zeitchik