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Kate Winslet

Pascal Le Segreta in/Getty Images

Penélope Cruz survived the new Oscar format. Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston sucked the air out of the room. One winner got lost in translation—er, make that, lost his translator.  

The night's backstage doings—and sayings—at the 81st  Annual Academy Awards:

5:51 p.m PT.: Well, I snagged a choice seat assignment. I'm next to a Spanish radio reporter who translated the end of Cruz's speech for me. Cruz, she said, dedicated her Oscar to her fellow actors and citizens in Spain, and thanked them for sharing in her happiness.

• I kinda wish I was sitting next to a burly longshoreman, too, on the off-chance I need a Mickey Rourke acceptance speech translated.  

• I just put a call into Nate Silver, the FiveThirtyEight.com guy who called the 2008 presidential election with unerring accuracy, and, last week, said his computer told him Taraji P. Henson had the best shot at winning Best Supporting Actress. Haven't heard back from him yet. Maybe he's arguing with a spreadsheet.

• I have never, ever heard as big a gasp in the press room as when the TV telecast cut to a shot of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt during Jennifer Aniston's presenting gig. At first, I thought Aniston fell out of her dress. Or Jack Black fell into it.

• Silver called back. "I can't say I'm surprised," he says of Cruz's win, which was expected by most people—and things—save for his computer. "I kinda had an asterisk on it. We had Penelope as a pretty good shot ." As for the art of calling the Oscars? Silver admits it's no electoral college: "We're still working out the kinks."

Dustin Lance Black, the Original Screenplay winner for Milk, was emotional on stage, so I'm not going to flatter myself and say he choked up back here because I'm the all-new Barbara Walters. All I asked him was whether he knew what he was going to say if, and when, he got to make an acceptance speech. "I had an idea. For me the whole thing was always to pay it forward. Harvey [Milk] gave me his story…," Black says, before pausing and tearing up. "Harvey gave me his story, and it saved my life…I just wanted to tell those kids out there it'll be all right."

• Is there a Japanese speaker in the house? This request goes out from an Academy flack who tells us the winner of Animated Short, Kunio Kato, has lost his translator.

• I better start looking for that longshoreman.

• I'm sitting so far in the back of the room that I can't tell if Penelope Cruz or Sophia Loren is with us now. 

• Okay, it's Cruz, projecting some serious old-school glamour, and talking about Loren, with whom she appears in the upcoming musical, Nine: "Sophia is incredible…She's become my second mom. She tells me what to eat. She's just so real. She's just seen everything."

• More Cruz on Loren: "She's a woman with a gold of heart. What did I just say…?" 

• I tell Cruz that all the actresses in her category looked like emotional wrecks when, per the telecast's new format, former winners paid personal tribute to each of the nominees. She didn't disagree. "It was amazing to see all those women up there, and [hear] the beautiful things they said up there...And when it happens [when you win], it was a magical moment, and I [didn't] know if I was going to survive it."