Yes, despite all the promises from the new producers that they would spice things up and deliver an Oscar show unlike anything we'd ever seen, this year mostly felt like an effort to get us in and out as quickly as possible. The awards went by fast and furious, and little was done to add any extra oomph. Sure, the Neil Patrick Harris opener went a long way, but this was his fourth awards show in the past year. His presence is kind of expected now. So while he was of course great, I assumed there would be more innovation to follow.
As far as Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as duel hosts go, I'd give them a B. They, like Neil Patrick Harris, have the uncanny ability to spout out somewhat lame material and still make it funny based solely on their delivery. There was an almost effortless quality to their hosting, knowing they could coast on their personalities alone to still make things enjoyable. So while that was the case, they didn't do much more. With Neil Patrick Harris essentially doing the "monologue" section for them, they just had to step in and say a few words every now and then. Seemed like a pretty hands-off hosting affair. So while they certainly did their job, this was no Hugh Jackman situation where anyone would accuse them of revolutionizing the show.
As for the awards themselves, well, I predicted 16/24. I know that doesn't sound all that great, but I'm REALLY bad at predicting. And of the 8 I missed, most of them were my 2nd choices. If you poll the broader Oscar watching community, I doubt anyone would say there were any real surprises. Probably my biggest surprise came when Precious stole Up in the Air's best adapted screenplay award, but that "surprise" was more about the fact that Up in the Air really deserved it more. I also went against the consensus in predicting Inglourious Basterds for original screenplay over the expected Hurt Locker, proving consensus generally ruled out.
So what are the takeaways here? The Hurt Locker gets to go down in history as the best picture winner of 2009, and I'm totally fine with that. A lot of deserving frontrunners won their expected awards, like Kathryn Bigelow making history as the first woman to win best director, Jeff Bridges taking a lifetime achievement-ish award for his great performance in Crazy Heart, and Christoph Waltz and Mo'nique winning awards only unexpected because they stand so far above their competitors.
I'm disappointed they still had five people introduce the best actor awards, as it seemed to add that entire last hour to the show. Fun to try to figure out the connections, but otherwise just extra time wasted. However, I'm glad they introduced all the best picture nominees, even if there were ten of them. It helped me remember how much I loved Up in the Air, and even more so Up, to the point that I kind of wished Up had somehow managed to win best picture. And I certainly don't begrudge anyone the John Hughes tribute, which was easily one of the highlights of the night.
I feel like every year it's expected that everyone criticizes the Oscars for any number of reasons: for making picks either predictable or wrong, for the hosts being too conciliatory or too inflammatory, for being too long or insanely too long. So I don't want it to seem like I'm just going through a yearly ritual and kvetching. Because at the end of the day, the deserving movies and performances and craftsmen generally won, and the producers got us through the night in a perfectly reasonable way. Did I feel like this was a particularly innovative year outside of the ten best picture nominees? Not in the slightest. But there was nothing particularly offensive about it either. Mostly, I just hope this time next year there will be movies I loved even more, so that I'll feel even stronger about the outcome.