Forget the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, and maybe even "American Idol." The most avidly dissected annual competition, deconstructed and minutely examined the next day by water-cooler-circling cultural sharks everywhere, is that uniquely American maelstrom of ego and taffeta, the Oscars.

This year, allow us to suggest a few unexpected high- and lowlights from the proceedings, just to get the conversation rolling (or to spark it up again when the post-lunch, mid-afternoon doldrums strike):

Beyoncé: In addition to her duet with crooner Josh Groban on the theme song from "The Polar Express." Knowles accompanied the Bill Gates of musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, on "Learn to be Lonely," from "Phantom of the Opera," and the American Boychoir on "Look to Your Path" ("Vois Sur Ton Chemin"), from the French nominee for best foreign picture, "Les Choristes."

Three quick wardrobe changes; three fairly distinct types of song; three chances to do that thing with her eyes, where she lowers her head a bit and looks straight ahead while singing, as if she either wants to get really freaky, or she's stifling a burp; three songs that lost to one performed by ...

Antonio Banderas and Santana: Millions of people around the world gaped, open-mouthed, in confusion when Uruguayan singer and songwriter Jorge Drexler came up to accept the Oscar for best original song ("Al Otro Lado del Rio," from "The Motorcycle Diaries") ... and began singing. Not until it became clear that he was singing the song as it was meant to sound, and not as Carlos and Antonio had made it sound, did those millions of gawkers shut their mouths with a collective grunt of comprehension.

The show's producers, however, were hard-pressed to explain how or why both Banderas' and Laura Linney's hair looked as if they'd spent hours together before the show working beneath a Plymouth Valiant up on blocks in a front yard in San Bernadino.

Sorry, Marty: Quite possibly the most influential living American movie director, Martin Scorsese comes up goose eggs once again in the best director category, losing out to Clint and "Million Dollar Baby." Frankly, we think it's petty and cruel for the Academy to continue to punish Scorsese for inflicting the overwrought mish-mash of "Gangs of New York" on unsuspecting audiences three years ago. We know he'll get a lifetime achievement award someday, but it would be awfully nice to see the guy honored for a single film — especially when his actors and editors keep walking off with statuettes seemingly every other year.

Was that a slight tinge of annoyance we saw on his face when the Oscar was announced?

Yes. Yes, it was. He was pissed.

Say it loud ... or not: In a year when black performers and hip-hop had a bigger impact on the proceedings than ever before (leading actor winner Jamie Foxx, supporting actor winner Morgan Freeman, Beyoncé doing whatever it was she was doing, "Tupac: Resurrection" up for best documentary, and on and on), it was at once refreshing and strange that Chris Rock was the only person, with the notable exception of Jamie Foxx, who felt compelled to talk about r-a-c-e.

We have no illusions that after Denzel and Halle won their Oscars, Hollywood somehow went suddenly and permanently colorblind, but maybe, maybe, maybe in the foreseeable future the race of nominees and presenters won't even be a blip on the radar, and we can focus on talent, talent, talent.

Evidently, though, if ABC has anything to say about it, chances are good that crass appeals to (or portrayals of) race will continue to play an integral part in the proceedings. Witness the camera shots immediately after Chris Rock jokingly brought up the issue of violence at the Source Awards. Here, an unsmiling P. Diddy. There, a grinning Jay-Z. Over here, a laughing Samuel L. Jackson. Maybe the producers didn't think that shots of white folks laughing at a joke about black folks shooting one another would be all that tasteful.

But let's face it: Rock's much-hyped "edgy" hosting style was slightly undermined when his harshest jabs (at Jude Law, for instance) came at the expense of folks who weren't in attendance at the Kodak Theatre. His riff on George W. Bush somehow getting himself re-elected in a post-"Fahrenheit 9/11" election season had some bite. But how tough is it, really, to go after Dubya and his follies? It's like shooting slow-moving, Teflon-coated, three-eyed fish in a barrel.

Stand there and look silly, you! Nominees standing onstage, together, like "Miss America" contestants, awaiting their crowning? Sure, maybe it made the broadcast move along faster ... but where's the thrill and suspense of watching for the Oscar winner to come running up from the seats, trip, fall, and knock out a few teeth?

Now that's entertainment ...

We know, we know, there are many more topics from last night that are worthy of discussion. What, you want us to do everything for you? Grab a co-worker. Call that relative you never talk to anymore. Get yapping. It's the American thing to do.

For all the latest Oscar news and awards-season fashion photos, check out "Movies on Oscars 2005."