In general, I found the ceremony (and Billy Crystal's much-ballyhooed return to the hosting gig) generally affable. It's wasn't bad, nor was it terribly good. It was safe, and after last year's debacle, that's probably exactly what the Academy and ABC wanted. So even if the show wasn't as entertaining, in its own way, as watching last year's train wreck or when the host, the show, and the nominees combine to make for a genuinely good show, it wasn't as awful as some on the internet would suggest. And for good or bad, it delivered exactly what it promised. Which is an achievement all its own.
I did like the overall premise of the show's design, hearkening back to classic movie theaters, and thought the various stage designs rolled out throughout the evening (as well as the title cards that appeared on screen when nominees were read) did a nice job of "celebrating the movies" without being too garish or attention getting. It tied in nicely with the fact that many of this year's best picture nominees were also about the history of or a celebration of movies.
Humor is subjective, so as with all hosts, some people will probably like Crystal's gags more or less than others. Again, it felt very safe to me, with Crystal recycling the Oscar bits he's most well known for (inserting himself into the year's movies, a song-and-dance number about the best pictures, that whole "I know what they're thinking schtick"). Some of it was funny, some of it most definitely wasn't (and it seemed, on TV, like a lot of his actual jokes were falling flat in the theater), but that's the nature of the game (of all his various jokes, the ones that worked the best for me were the repeated digs at the now-bankrupt Kodak pulling their name from the theater in which the ceremony was held).
In terms of non-humorous hosting duties, Crystal did a fine job of moving the show along (always a concern for many people), never taking up too much time after his opening bit without feeling like he disappeared entirely later in the evening.
My biggest complaint about the show (aside from getting skunked in the Oscar pool by Mr. Shabadoo again) was the awful, awful sound quality, that led to a consistent ting of metallic feedback whenever Crystal was on stage (as well as many other presenters). At first, when it wasn't going away, I thought it might be my TV, because I figured a show as professional as the Oscars would have fixed the problem already. But Twitter quickly made it clear that plenty of other people were hearing the same thing, and for some reason, it never really went away.
Every year it seems like the producers of the show shuffle the order of awards, and this year, they loaded up the front of the show with a lot of the technical awards, which was a bit surprising. Usually, they like to toss out the Best Supporting Actor or Actress early on, to hook those people who think the technical awards are crap and shouldn't waste precious air time.
The funniest (scripted) part of the night came when Billy Crystal presented an old film of a focus group discussing The Wizard of Oz, featuring a bevy of Christopher Guest players and Fred Willard repeatedly expressing his love of the flying monkeys and Catherine O'Hara insisting that Dorothy was the worst character in the film. Great stuff.
Emma Stone's banter with Ben Stiller while presenting the Best Visual Effects award was also very funny (my Oscar party was convinced she was high or drunk or something when she first came out, before it became clear it was a bit), and a nice example of how to do that faux-impromtu presenter banter (the opposite of the Robert Downey Jr./Gwyneth Paltrow bit).
Christophe Plummer's acceptance speech was the best of the night, and while it can sometimes seem insincere, going into these things knowing you have a good shot of winning allows you to craft a decent speech. His was personal, appreciative, funny and heartfelt, all the things a good speech should be (in fact, most of the speeches were pretty decent, with very few rushed "OMG I have to thank everyone including my lawyer and accountant" list speeches on hand).
For a while, I thought the funniest moment of the night would be Zach Galifinakis intentionally mispronouncing his name, but then Jim Rash took the stage to accept the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and immediately struck a pose mimicking presenter Angelina Jolie's ridiculous "stick out my bare leg in an attempt to look seductive" stance.
Not that it was at all a surprise, but I was pleased to see Bret Mackenzie win an Oscar (for "Man or Muppet"). Backstage, he reportedly said he's looking forward to writing songs with Jermaine again so he can hold the Oscar card over him. Ha! (and it's been said a hundred time already, but seriously Academy, either cut the Original Song award or treat it like a real award).
The awkward "who drew the biggest applause during the In Memoriam segment" bit didn't occur this year, as the Death Reel was shown sans applause. Apparently, an announcement was made in the theater before it started asking everyone to hold their applause.
They really need to cut this new tradition of having the Best Actor/Actress presenters speak personally to each of the nominees. It's awkward, painfully scripted, and only works when the presenter has a personal connection to one of the nominees. No one, including, I'd bet, the nominees, wants to hear it.
Awards-wise, the biggest shock of the night was Meryl Streep winning Best Actress over frontrunner Viola Davis, but it was a shock that was only kinda shocking, as Streep was generally considered the only person who could upset Davis (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning Best Film Editing was also a pretty big upset).