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Brevity was the name of the game at last night’s Directors Guild of America Awards, held at the Grand Ballroom above the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Last year’s event celebrated the DGA’s 75th anniversary, and as a consequence, the evening ran so voluminously long, DGA president Taylor Hackford felt obliged to promise “to keep things moving quickly” for this year’s affair, to much thankful applause from the crowd.

As it turned out, Hackford needn’t have worried. While it is customary for all the feature film nominees to speak at the DGAs, both Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) did not attend — Allen has rarely if ever attended awards events, and Fincher had to jet to Japan for Dragon Tattoo‘s premiere in Tokyo. Best Documentary winner James Marsh (Project Nim) and Musical/Variety TV show winner Glenn Weiss (The 65th Annual Tony Awards) were also no shows. So all told, between the dinner and the awards, the evening clocked in just under four hours. Progress!

And EW was there for all of it. Check out the highlights below:

DGA hearts SOPA/PIPA Hackford started off the evening by giving a full-throated defense of the controversial SOPA/PIPA anti-piracy bills that were pulled from Congress last week. Said Hackford, to much applause: “Unfortunately, most of the protests and claims about what the problems were with those bills were outright lies, spread by Google and other technology companies, whose business model are made all the more profitable when the work of the people in this room … is stolen, made available on the Internet for free.” To much applause, Hackford pledged to continue to fight against piracy, or in his words “digital theft.”

Your host for the evening, Frasier Crane He may have won a Golden Globe for his fiery portrayal of a ruthless Chicago mayor in Boss, but the evening’s host, Kelsey Grammer, was happy to show off the light comic touch that won him so many Emmys for playing Frasier for two decades. As it happens, Grammer was stepping into the considerable shoes of Carl Reiner, who had hosted the DGA Awards virtually every year for just over two decades. “The reason Carl’s not hosting this year’s awards is because he’s still hosting last year’s,” Grammer quipped with a wry smile.

The Bold and the Boisterous By far the loudest, rowdiest tables belonged to those representing the seven nominees for best Daytime Serials director. The eventual winner, William Ludel for ABC’s General Hospital, paid subtle tribute to the waning art of soap operas by noting that on an easy day, he shoots 80 pages of material — and on “slightly abnormal” days, it’s more like 120.

The Woodman steals the show 3,000 miles away Stepping in at the last minute for her Midnight in Paris co-star Owen Wilson, actress Kathy Bates brought the house down in her tribute to director Woody Allen with a charming story about how, on her last day of shooting the film, she blurted out to Woody that she hoped he’d liked her performance. His enigmatic response: “I got exactly what I expected.” Bates then pitched it to Woody himself, who accepted his nominee medallion via a video response and with his inimitable neurotic charm:

Needless to say, Woody won the biggest laughs of the night.

Gotta keep that run time down Best commercial director Noam Murro brought the house down with his pithy acceptance speech: “Thank you.”

NEXT PAGE: George Clooney lovingly roasts Alexander Payne, while Payne pays loving homage to a late mentor

Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Most charmingly nervous nominee Even though his film is a big love letter to old Hollywood, eventual winner Michel Hazanavicius remains a relative newcomer to the American movie industry, and he let his nerves show, even though his actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (who’s also Hazanavicius’ wife) described their director as having “zee cool at-tee-tood.” Still, Hazanavicius did tell a winning story of how his mother spent her childhood in an apartment that shared a wall with a movie theater, “and through her bedroom wall, she would go to sleep listening to the soundtracks of the great movies of the late ’40s and early ’50s.”

Oddest attempt at ribald humor After introducing presenter Octavia Spencer, Kelsey Grammer asked her if she had made the evening’s delicious chocolate dessert. Spencer coyly answered “maaaybe,” to which Grammer said, “You make my mouth water.” If you haven’t seen The Help, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, and if you have seen The Help, this makes pretty much no sense at all.

Best attempt at ribald humor Using his director’s Greek heritage as a launching point, The Descendants‘ George Clooney presented Alexander Payne’s nominee medallion with a speech lauding all the nominees as Greek gods. There was Martin”Apollo” Scorsese, god of poetry; David “Pluto” Fincher, god of the dead; Michel “Hermes” Hazanavicius, god of travel; and Woody “Zeus” Allen, whose dominion is self-explanitory. “Friends,” said Clooney, “I am here today in the humble service of the Greekest of all the Greek gods, Alexander ‘Uranus’ Payne, god of the heavens.” Naturally, Clooney proceeded to refer to Payne only as “Uranus,” while Payne laughed while only partially covering his face. “So friends,” Clooney concluded, “in the night where only one god can be crowned supreme, this is my final plea: Pick Uranus.”

A loving tribute to an unknown mentor Rather than use his time on stage to pay Clooney back, Payne instead used the bulk of his speech to commemorate the man who had served as his filmmaking mentor for 19 years, Czech filmmaker and professor Jirí Weiss. “I’ve never mentioned him in any interview,” Payne explained. “I just thought tonight would be a nice time to bring him up.” They met while in line at a video store when a 23-year-old Payne was in his first year at UCLA film school; that night, Payne says he showed Weiss the dailies from his first film. “And over takeout chicken, he told me how awful it all was,” said Payne with a smile, “and he questioned why I wanted to be a director in the first place.” From that day on, the two kept in regular contact, with Weiss advising Payne on all of his films up to 2004’s Sideways. A few months after Weiss visited the set of that film, Payne was at his side when Weiss passed away at age 91. “Ours was a private friendship,” said Payne. “I may never speak of him again. But tonight I risk corniness and abusing your time to tell you that these past few weeks, since this lovely nomination from the DGA, I’ve been thinking about him.”

But, Sir Ben, tell us how you really feel Whereas Clooney’s paean to his director was with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Ben Kingsley spent his time on stage presenting Martin Scorsese’s nominee medallion with the kind of pomp usually reserved for lifetime achievement awards. Some samples: “Throughout a career that has spanned over four decades, he has provided us with some of the most indelible cinematic images of this century and the last. … Privileged as I am to speak on the behalf of some of the greatest of my peers, who would readily acknowledge that they own their finest moments on screen and indeed even their careers to Martin. … Not a scrap of energy is wasted on Marty’s set, so perfect is the collaboration.” You get the idea. Scorsese appeared to be somewhat abashed by Kingsley’s rhetorical effusions, but by the time the actor was finished, he’d rousted the entire room into a standing ovation.

Guess that black tie dress code was a suggestion As we all applauded Scorsese, I noticed actor Cary Elwes sitting at the table behind me. Well, actually, I noticed a man wearing a black sport coat, dress shirt, and blue jeans, and then realized it was Elwes.

Most charmingly nervous winner After winning the evening’s top prize — and setting The Artist‘s frontrunner status in stone — Michel Hazanavicius kept his acceptance speech to just under 60 seconds. But he definitely had something thoughtful to say. After thanking the DGA for the honor, Hazanavicius said, “I want to say that, ‘Best Director,’ really I don’t know exactly what it means. I think we all did out best to make the movie we did. Every movie is different, so it’s strange to compare them and to try to say which one is best.” He paused briefly to smile. “But I’m very happy to get this, and thank you very much.”

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