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Inside Oscar Night

While host Seth McFarlane and his A-List pals tripped the light fantastic, Jennifer Lawrence just tripped — and won people over all the more. We go behind the scenes of one of the most surprised-filled (and highest-rated) Oscar shows in years.

Jennifer Lawrence was the first one to kick herself for falling down. Just about everyone on planet Earth saw the 22-year-old stumble on the steps of the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24, as she went up to collect the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. They also saw her regain her poise at the microphone and tell the crowd, which was rising to its feet: ''You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that's really embarrassing.'' But virtually no one saw what happened next, which was just as endearing. Walking through the curtain at stage right, the actress laughed and recalled nearly pulling her dress apart at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January. ''All right, that's like my second fiasco going up,'' she said. As she swept along the shadowy corridor behind the Oscar stage, Lawrence suddenly slammed to a stop, causing a mini-pileup among her entourage, which included last year's Best Actor winner, The Artist's Jean Dujardin, who was escorting her to awaiting press in the hotel next door. Still holding her Oscar in one hand and her gown in the other, Lawrence backtracked a few steps to a folding table holding drums of coffee and a stack of Krispy Kreme boxes — chow for the crew. She flipped open the box on top and regarded the two remaining doughnuts. Each glistened with gooey chocolate frosting. She looked nervously at her publicist, then flipped open the other box. More chocolate.

Lawrence frowned, looking down at her pale pink and white Dior ball gown, then walked off, shaking her head. Knowing her luck lately, she wasn't about to risk a chocolate fiasco.

Part of the charm of observing Hollywood's biggest night from the wings of the Oscar stage is seeing the world's most beautiful and glamorous performers at their most unguarded. Awards season 2013 was a humbling experience for many contenders. The eventual Best Picture winner, Argo, found itself propelled to repeated victories thanks in part to sympathetic voters rallying when filmmaker Ben Affleck was left out of the Academy's directing nominees. While collecting the Best Picture honor as a producer, Affleck also could have told the Academy: ''You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell.''

After a particularly strong year for films, the Academy chose to spread its honors among a handful of deserving titles. Life of Pi won four awards, while Argo and Les Misérables took home three each. Pi director Ang Lee scored a surprise win over Lincoln's Steven Spielberg, and Christoph Waltz, from Django Unchained, beat out heavyweights like Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) and Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln).

Whatever happens on stage, the Oscars tend to turn into the Awkwards behind the scenes, where things are a lot less glam and a lot more human. Early in the ceremony, Kristen Stewart was hobbling on crutches backstage when Les Miz star Anne Hathaway appeared, clutching both her Best Supporting Actress trophy and her husband, Adam Shulman.

''Oh, man, what happened?'' Hathaway asked Stewart.

''Nothing,'' said the Twilight star, who was about to present the Production Design award with Daniel Radcliffe. ''I'm just an idiot.'' (Stewart had stepped on a broken bottle two days before.)

''Please tell me you're going out there with the crutches,'' Hathaway said, smiling warmly.

Stewart laughed and shook her head. ''No, I'll be fine.''

''All right, well, good luck,'' Hathaway said, waving as she moved on. ''Break a leg!'' It took the newly minted Oscar winner three steps before she stopped dead, cringing in agony. ''I didn't mean that!'' she called back over her shoulder.

There was no pain over the ABC broadcast's ratings. Critics were divided over the raw humor of first-time host Seth MacFarlane, including the actress-mocking ditty ''We Saw Your Boobs,'' but overall viewership climbed 3 percent to 40.3 million and surged 11 percent in the coveted 18--49 demo. ''The Oscars have always skewed older, and the Oscars have always skewed female,'' says Craig Zadan, who produced the show with Neil Meron. ''At this point, we've broadened it to the point where it also skewed astonishingly well in male viewers, and went much younger.''

The duo, exec producers of the 2002 Best Picture winner Chicago, leveraged relationships to bring some stars to the show. Jack Nicholson (who starred in their 2007 film The Bucket List) turned up for the first time in five years, co-presenting Best Picture with First Lady Michelle Obama, who appeared live via satellite. The producers also orchestrated a real Dancing With the Stars moment for the show's opening number, with Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt soft-shoeing and Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron unleashing some ballroom moves. Afterward, Gordon-Levitt and Radcliffe practically leaped into each other's arms. ''I can't remember a thing from out there,'' Radcliffe said.

''I know I didn't do it perfectly, but I think I did it well enough,'' Gordon-Levitt said.

Tatum was less reflective: ''I'm getting wasted!'' he declared, hurrying happily back to the theater.

During a tribute to movie musicals of the past decade, Catherine Zeta-Jones belted out ''All That Jazz'' on stage while Les Misérables stars Hugh Jackman and Sacha Baron Cohen sang along loudly from the wings, along with presenter John Travolta. ''Come out with us,'' Helena Bonham Carter told Travolta as she bumped hips with Les Miz's Samantha Barks in time with the swinging music. He looked tempted to join in on the Les Miz medley, but shook his head.

The producers' biggest coup: getting Barbra Streisand to sing ''The Way We Were'' in honor of the late composer Marvin Hamlisch to close the In Memoriam segment — her first time performing at the Oscars since 1977. Characteristically, Streisand was a nervous wreck. ''My legs were trembling,'' she said, walking off stage to take the hand of husband James Brolin. ''Could you see it? Could you see the trembling?''

Despite high anxiety, some winners managed to stay low-key. Christoph Waltz, who won his first Best Supporting Actor prize for Inglourious Basterds three years ago, kept to himself. Quentin Tarantino, the Best Original Screenplay victor for Django, loudly geeked out with Michael Douglas over one of the actor's more obscure 1970s films. ''You know what I just watched?'' Tarantino gushed to a bemused Douglas. ''Adam at 6 a.m.!''

Before long, Meryl Streep got into place to present the Best Actor award. On TV, it appeared as if Streep never opened the envelope before announcing that Lincoln's Daniel Day-Lewis had won, as was widely expected. In fact, she had opened it just before walking out. That's technically not allowed, according to Brad Oltmanns, balloting supervisor for accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. ''But I wasn't going to stop her,'' he said.

Day-Lewis, watching backstage as Argo defeated Lincoln for Best Picture, wore a thin smile but said nothing. Although the Argo victory couldn't have been a surprise, Affleck still bounded backstage exploding with energy and grinning as he made his way through the crowd, escorted by his fellow Argo producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov. By the time Affleck reached the refreshment table, his voice was hoarse from a litany of thank-yous. Clooney clapped him on the shoulder and steered him into the darkness backstage, ending one of the most volatile seasons in recent memory.

When MacFarlane finally wrapped up the show just moments later, he walked off the stage to applause from his crew. The host smiled and waved it away: ''Now let's drink.''

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