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Whoopi is Oscar's feathered friend

Even before host Whoopi Goldberg was lowered from the ceiling, Moulin Rouge-style, singing "Oscar is a host's best friend," Sunday's Academy Awards telecast opened with style, star power and a lot of laughs.

Tom Cruise, for weeks rumored to be a no-show so as not to distract from ex-wife and best actress nominee Nicole Kidman, began the show with a monologue about how movies affected him growing up, and how Raging Bull made him want to become an actor.

Cruise introduced a montage of clips from people around the country, famous and unfamous, talking about their favorite movies. Among the famous were First Lady Laura Bush (Giant), Walter Cronkite (The Front Page) and famed Weimaraner photographer William Wegman ("anything with squirrels").

Goldberg, who once opened an Academy Awards show dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, made a grand entrance from the ceiling, lowered on a trapeze to the theater floor in a spoof of Kidman's first appearance in Moulin Rouge that included her shouting Kidman's line "Come and get me, boys."

Dressed in a gaudy, glittering, heavily feathered outfit, Goldberg old the audience, "I am the original sexy beast," referring to Sexy Beast, the film that earned Ben Kingsley a supporting-actor nomination.

Continuing her fashion salute to the Best Picture nominees, Goldberg later came out in a maid's uniform, joking that of all the maids and butlers in the English period piece Gosford Park, none were black.