The Sexiest Part of the Oscars Is ... the Sci-Tech Awards?

If you love Oscars, you love the tradition of it. And you start looking for tradition in every corner of the ceremony. How last year's Best Actor winner presents Best Actress. How Billy Crystal would always do those dumb little song medleys. I'm still pretty much holding a grudge that the first award of the night is no longer Supporting Actor or Supporting Actress.

One of my favorite manufactured traditions involves the presentation of the Academy Scientific and Technical Awards. Generally held several weeks before the Oscars, the Sci-Tech awards honor achievements in ... well, guess. They have also -- for the last fifteen-plus years, at least -- been hosted exclusively (or at least with very little variation) by beautiful young starlets. The meta narrative is crude but also somewhat irresistible: a room full of tech nerds not "cool" enough for the main show getting thrown the consolation prize of looking at Salma Hayek or Jessica Alba all night. Sexist? Hey, I'm just the messenger. They're the ones refusing to let anyone ogle Channing Tatum for a change.

There are some specific tendencies for the SciTech hosts, beyond their beauty. The average age of a SciTech presenter is 30. They are usually on the cusp of Hollywood legitimacy but not quite there yet.  They are usually ... well, here, take a look:

1996 - Helen Hunt

Age:  33

Previous Project: "Twister"

Next Project: "As Good As It Gets"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 2 (1 win)

Helen Hunt was still primarily a TV actress at this point, but "Twister" was a pretty clear indication that she would be moving up the Hollywood ladder. And indeed, a year later, she was accepting the Best Actress trophy for "As Good As It Gets." Still, you can tell the Academy was still tweaking the SciTech formula here. Hunt was young, yes, beautiful, yes, but to call her a "starlet" at this point would have been a stretch. Too much gravitas? Yes.

1997 - Ashley Judd

Age:  29

Previous Project: "Kiss the Girls"

Next Project: "Simon Birch"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Here's where the Oscars started hitting their stride, SciTech-wise. Judd was an ascendant beauty at this point in her career, having moved on from indie work like "Ruby in Paradise" to studio fare like "Kiss the Girls." "Simon Birch" didn't really land the way anyone might have wanted, but Judd would then enter her brief period of box-office formidability with "Double Jeopardy."

1998 - Anna Heche

Age:  29

Previous Project: "Psycho"

Next Project: "The Third Miracle"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Heche was always more of an actress than an onscreen sex symbol, but she was coming off of a career year (in addition to "Psycho" were the big-budget "Six Days, Seven Nights" and the tiny "Return to Paradise"). Her career would fall off a cliff almost immediately thereafter, making her brief Oscar moment something of a time capsule.

1999 - Salma Hayek

Age:  33

Previous Project: "Dogma"

Next Project: "Timecode"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 1

A pre-"Frida" Salma Hayek was the perfect SciTech presenter/host. This was before the Academy decided to make her the official emissary to the Best Foreign Language Film category, there to glower at every non-Mexican winner.

2000 - Renee Zellweger

Age:  31

Previous Project: "Nurse Betty"

Next Project: "Bridget Jones's Diary"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 3 (1 win)

Talk about capturing an actress at the exact midpoint between her days of playing The Cute Girlfriend and her (brief, as it turned out) streak of Oscar nominations. Here's where the SciTech-presenter  slot starts to become a good women for future Academy success. Kind of like a sorority initiation process.

2001 - Charlize Theron

Age:  26

Previous Project: "Curse of the Jade Scorpion"

Next Project: "Trapped"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 2 (1 win)

Another precursor to Oscar success! Nobody could have known it at the time, of course. Charlize was the quntissential Pretty Girl in Important movies (okay, "The Devil's Advocate" wasn't an important movie, but still) and still a couple years away from "Monster" changing the course of her career forever.

2002 - Kate Hudson

Age:  23

Previous Project: "The Four Feathers"

Next Project: "Le Divorce"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Oof. Look at those two movies there. The two post-"Almost Famous" flops that basically sentenced Hudson to a life of crappy romantic comedies. It was kind of out of the ordinary for Oscar to pick an actress who had already been nominated and then have her career trend downward after.

2003 - Jennifer Garner

Age:  31

Previous Project: "Daredevil"

Next Project: "13 Going on 30"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

A perfect choice that should have been more perfect if Garner's career hadn't been so puzzling thereafter. I know "13 Going on 30" sounds stupid and even looks stupid, but it is SO GOOD, and it should have launched Garner into much better projects than it did. I hope those SciTech nerds appreciated her for the rare angel she is.

2004 - Scarlett Johansson

Age:  20

Previous Project: "In Good Company"

Next Project: "The Island"; "Match Point"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Oscar went really young with the SciTech presenters for the next five years or so. ScarJo has always been established far beyond what her age would suggest, so it's a surprise to see she was still only 20 a full year after the "Lost in Translation" hoopla. It still feels strange that she never managed to pull an acting nomination since she seemed like such an Oscar favorite.

2005 - Rachel McAdams

Age:  27

Previous Project: "The Family Stone"

Next Project: "Married Life"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Young, beautiful, poised to break through -- Rachel McAdams fit the SciTech bill perfectly. Then, in a Jennifer-Garner-like mystifying turnaround, the momentum died out. On the bright side, acting as window dressing while a bunch of guys are indulged for doing things the rest of us don't really get was probably great training for "Sherlock Holmes."

2006 - Maggie Gyllenhaal

Age:  29

Previous Project: "Sherrybaby"; "World Trade Center"

Next Project: "The Dark Knight"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 1

Perfect timing, Oscars! Maggie was just about to jump from indie darling to big-budget supporting player (we can talk about the quality of that "Dark Knight" performance another day).

2007 - Jessica Alba

Age:  26

Previous Project: "The Eye"

Next Project: "The Love Guru"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Ah, yes, here's where the SciTech hosts stopped being "beautiful actresses who we think will be Oscar nominees some day" and started being "beautiful actresses who ... no, just beautiful actresses."

2008 - Jessica Biel

Age:  26

Previous Project: "Easy Virtue"

Next Project: "Valentine's Day"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

In accordance with the rules of the universe, where one Jessica leads, the other must follow.

2009 - Elizabeth Banks

Age:  36

Previous Project: "Surrogates"

Next Project: "The Next Three Days"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Breaking the trend of twentysomething chippies without much talent, Oscar went with Banks around the time that her career was moving from comedies to action-dramas. (She's so much better in comedies, though.)

2010 - Marisa Tomei

Age:  46

Previous Project: "Cyrus"

Next Project: "The Lincoln Lawyer" ("Crazy, Stupid Love"; "The Ides of March")

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Only in Hollywood would a fortysomething actress strike so much fear into the hearts of men. (Or, you know, the six of us who cared about the Oscar SciTech hosting trends.) SHE'S BREAKING THE TREND! She's not 29 years old and ascendant! She's got too much gravitas and remembers what it was like when Jimmy Carter was president!

2011 - Milla Jovovich

Age:  36

Previous Project: "The Three Musketeers"

Next Project: "Resident Evil: Retribution"

Subsequent Oscar nominations: 0

Jovovich might not have the established pedigree of Marisa Tomei, but she's also not exactly a new kid on the block. She's pretty well settled into the action-junk genre, so it's not like she's being groomed for a Best Actress award.

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