As hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway displayed little wit and even less facility for working the audience. Was Franco trying to act cool or was he just bored? You know something's amiss when one of the show's liveliest moments comes from a dead guy: The late Bob Hope, a former host, appeared in a black-and-white clip introduced by Billy Crystal.
After a couple of years, it doesn't seem as if the 10-picture format has added anything to the broadcast by way of suspense or increased interest, and Oscar's attempts to reel in younger viewers seemed a bust, unless, of course, young people are starved for tedium. I'm betting most younger viewers spent more time texting than watching the show.
The evening, of course, was capped by the widely predicted triumph of The King's Speech, a movie that restored middle-brow primacy to Oscar, and proved that English accents trump even all-mighty Facebook, which seems to have played a role in inciting revolutions, but couldn't push Social Network into the year's top spot.
Oh well, Hathaway changed clothes as many times as I was tempted to change channels, and I did learn one thing: I now know why people go to Oscar parties -- so they can drink their way through the torment.
Here are a few discombobulated notes I wrote to myself during the course of an evening devoted to glazed over eyes:
-- Colin Firth (The King's Speech) shows a bit of welcome wit in his acceptance speech for best actor, another of the evening's many non-surprises.
-- Natalie Portman (Black Swan) wins the best actress Oscar. Her victory also was totally expected, but Portman seemed poised and classy. Guess a Harvard education is worth something after all.
-- David Fincher (Social Network) is robbed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), who wins best director. To be fair, Hooper gave what might have been the night's best acceptance speech. He thanked his mom, who discovered the material on which The King's Speech was based. The moral, he said: Always listen to your mother. Good advice, unless your mother happens to be someone like the character supporting-actress nominee Jacki Weaver played in Animal Kingdom. And, hey, Portman's mother in Black Swan (played by Barbara Hershey) was no prize, either.
-- Celine Dion sings a dirge-like version of Smile while we review the list of those who died last year. Schmaltz for some gifted people who passed on.
-- Thank goodness the underexposed Oprah finally found a platform. She presented the Oscar for best documentary, which was won by Inside Job. Charles Ferguson, one of that film's co-directors, made a point of saying that three years after the financial meltdown, none of the responsible parties had yet been punished. Am I wrong or was that the first topical reference of the night? Where was Jon Stewart when we needed him?
-- Bad judgment, Mr. President. With a tip of the hat to Bill Maher, a new rule: Presidents shouldn't appear on the Oscar program unless it's to announce that they've made a terrible miscalculation and (guess what?) those dreaded budget cuts won't be necessary after all. Mr. Obama showed up in the intro to the best-song segment.
-- Alice in Wonderland wins best costume design. Aside from Helena Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen), the costumes were the best thing about the movie.
-- Everyone who wins for Inception makes sure to thank Christopher Nolan, who was snubbed for best director.
-- I look at my watch. It's 7:39 p.m., and wonder whether this is the dullest Oscar show yet?
-- The band tries hard to play Social Network's Aaron Sorkin (winner for best adapted screenplay) off the stage. I hate that. Let the guy have his freakin' moment.
-- Melissa Leo (The Fighter) wins for best supporting actress. She can act, but she sure as hell can't give an acceptance speech. She rambles and gets bleeped for using the F-word, an Oscar first and, if we're lucky, a last.
-- Franco and Hathaway (as hosts). Attractive and unimpressive. And, no, I never want to see Franco in drag again. He did a Marilyn Monroe bit.
And, finally, a few asides from the red carpet...
-- Tom Hanks, interviewed by red-carpet host Robin Roberts, always seems like a guy you'd like to know.
-- Justin Timberlake, interviewed on the red carpet, easily could have been nominated for best supporting actor for his work in The Social Network.
-- Ben Mankiewicz, a host on Turner Classic Movies, actually sounded intelligent on the red carpet. If you can sound smart in that setting, you are smart.
-- There should be a limit on how many times red carpet hosts are allowed to use the word "amazing."
-- Fantasy wish for the Oscars. Ricky Gervais shows up on the Fashion Skyway above the red carpet. You fill in the rest.
-- Has Oscar become like the Super Bowl? Coverage starts three hours before the Awards ceremony? Why am I watching? Come to think of it, I was asking myself the same question at the end of the show.
If you're looking for a complete list of winners, The Hollywood Reporter has one.