I'm one of those (apparently rare) people who enjoys the Oscars as much (or more) for the pomp and pageantry of the ceremony as the announcement of the winners. So while normal people grouse about montages and overlong shows, I tend to just enjoy it.
That said, this was a pretty terrible Oscar ceremony. Anne Hathaway was enthusiastic (and gorgeous) but didn't have the best material with which to work, and James Franco looked more or less stoned throughout (which is just how he is, but doesn't make for the most dynamic host). The whole "history of the Oscars" schtick (which felt random in the 83rd Oscar ceremony) amounted to very little, featuring brief snippets of classic films so far upstage they lost any sense of immediacy. Clearly, the producers realized they weren't working, and they got downplayed. But then, when bits came up which relied on the theme (such as Billy Crystal's routine), the whole thing felt even more out of place. I'd have just preferred some montages.
Honestly, it was one of the worst telecasts I've ever seen, and I am generally very forgiving of these things. If nothing else, the Oscars should be a celebration of movies. This one failed to even do that (which is astonishing considering it explicitly set out to celebrate the history of movies).
And I swear: I'm not just down on this year's show because I lost my Oscar pool for the first time in five years.
The best bit from the hosts (other than the "host inserted into the best picture nominees" routine, which is always good for some laughs, and this year was no exception):
James: You look so beautiful and so hip.
Anne: Thank you, James. You look very appealing to a younger demographic as well.
Funny cuz it's true. But the ratings were still down from last year, apparently.
Kirk Douglas presenting the Supporting Actress award was like a Family Guy bit; it went on so long it stopped being funny, then looped back around to being funny.
More on the whole "History of the Movies" routine: Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gliebermen praised the technique, saying, "This year, the enforced nostalgia that few in the audience are old enough to feel anyway was reduced to a handful of back-projected images of landmark films and events (Gone With the Wind! Titanic! The first Oscar ceremony in 1929!) that felt sketchy and perfunctory but went down easily, without making you feel as if you were breathing the musty pages of a film-history coffee-table book." The problem with that analysis (aside from the fact that you could easily argue they did NOT go down easily) is that I WANT it to feel like I'm breathing the musty pages of a film-history coffee-table book. That's what makes it feel like history!
Melissa Leo's bleeped out F bomb was probably the highlight of the show. Which is saying something.
The producers brought back the performances of the original songs, then split them up across several awards, making the whole thing feel longer (there were only four songs, after all).
One notable improvement: the jettisoning of the terrible "five actors praise each nominee" schtick. Unfortunately, Best Actor and Actress presenters Sandra Bullock and Jeff Bridges were asked to do all the praising themselves, which wasn't much better (though at least Sandra Bullock's Roast-style presenting was funny).
Another improvement: during the In Memoriam montage, the producers kept the camera focused on the death reel and not on Celine Dion, though they cut the audio in the theater so we couldn't play the "who got the most applause" game at home. Which is probably for the best (turns out the audience was asked to hold their applause until the end).
I was also glad they brought back the montage of the original scores playing while the nominations in that category were read.
Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. should totally host the Oscars some year. Their banter whilst presenting the Visual Effects award was funny and effortless, the way banter should be.
I liked Spielberg's bit about how one of the best picture nominees would join the ranks of other accomplished winners, while the losers would join the ranks of equally-accomplished films that never won Best Picture.
In terms of the awards themselves, an evening with potential for upsets fizzled, with the only major upset coming from Inception taking Cinematography from True Grit's Roger Deakins, a nine time nominee who many felt was a lock to finally nab an Oscar (The Social Network nabbing Original Score from The King's Speech was another, albeit minor, upset). Otherwise, Melissa Leo held on to win Supporting Actress and DGA winner Tom Hooper bested David Fincher for Best Director (and the producers of the show more or less killed any suspense from the end of the show by announcing Best Director, the last category with any buzz around it, before the acting awards; once Hooper was announced, any thought that Social Network might eke out a Best Picture win was snuffed; once Hooper won, everyone at my house started totaling their ballots since the last three categories were all foregone conclusions).
Speaking of Best Picture, the final montage cutting together scenes from all the Best Picture nominees was very well edited, though as one of my friends pointed out, it was funny that the closing speech from The King's Speech played over them all, considering it was the favorite to dominate the category.