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Few surprises, some laughs at Oscarcast 2012: At least it was better than last year

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Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin celebrate their Oscar wins backstage. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage
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And I missed watching Luck on HBO for this?

It might seem a bit harsh to describe Sunday’s Oscarcast as anticlimactic – as little more than a mere formality, really – but consider this: At the end of the program, just after the makers of The Artist picked up the Best Picture trophy that we’ve long known they would receive – the determinedly effervescent Billy Crystal more or less shrugged and told the audience: “That’s our evening. Good night, everybody.”

Like he didn’t think it was worth the effort to tell one more joke to cap off the evening.

 Making his much-hyped return as Oscarcast host after an eight-year absence — and, apparently, after some strategic nips and tucks — Crystal brought a fair amount of zip to his trademark shtick. 

Give him some credit, though: Making his much-hyped return as Oscarcast host after an eight-year absence — and, apparently, after some strategic nips and tucks — Crystal brought a fair amount of zip to his trademark shtick during the show’s opening minutes.

Yes, he inserted himself into scenes either excerpted from nominated films, or newly filmed for the occasion (including one featuring a game George Clooney in an amusing goof on The Descendants). And, of course, he incorporated all nine titles into a jokey musical number that was relatively painless.

Thoroughly predictable, all of it. But no more so than the Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director wins for that pleasant little gimmicky movie relatively few people have actually bothered to see, the one about the silent movie star who has a hard time making the transition to talkies.

Crystal did his best to help maintain an efficiently brisk pace throughout the entirety of the 84th annual Academy Awards extravaganza. Even when stuck in a truly leaden introductory skit with Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy, he maintained his playful poise, and even indicated something like enthusiasm. Trust me: People have earned Academy Awards for less convincing jobs of acting.

Some other Oscarcast 2012 highlights:

THEY LIKE HER, THEY REALLY LIKE HER

Ocatavia Spencer’s emotional response to her Best Supporting Actress win for The Help – and, yes, to the standing ovation she justly received -- was by far the evening’s most affecting moment. Unable to hold back tears, Spencer came across as at once genuinely apologetic for losing control – “I’m sorry, I’m freaking out!” – and fiercely determined to thank everyone she wanted to thank before the “Get the hell off the stage” music started to overwhelm her words.

At that point, I strongly suspect that even folks who had been rooting for rival nominee Melissa McCarthy were a little bit in love with her.

AND THEY LIKED HER, TOO

To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember what award Angelina Jolie handed out. I was too distracted by the shapely limb she brazenly displayed while proudly posing on stage with the sort of haughty self-assurance that comes only from just knowing you are drop-dead gorgeous. Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed: Someone immediately started an “Angelina Jolie’s Leg” Twitter account – and by the end of the show had attracted more than 6,300 followers.  Cowabunga.

 In her acceptance speech after being named Best Actress for The Iron LadyMeryl Streep quipped: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no! Oh come on, why her? Again!’” 

OK, IT WASN’T ALL PREDICTABLE

The editors of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo admitted their Best Editing win was a complete and utterly gobsmacking surprise – and then confirmed the sincerity of their words by demonstrating they had not prepared any sort of acceptance speech. After some awkward stammering and fumbling, one turned to the other and said: “Let’s get out of here.” And so they did.

BEST EXECUTION OF A CLEVER CONCEPT

Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show) joined other members of his “mockumentary” stock company – including the wonderfully insane Fred Willard – in a hilarious skit that imaged a 1939 focus group’s response to The Wizard of Oz.  

NOT-SO-GOOD EXECUTION OF AN UNFOCUSED CONCEPT

What was with all the celebrities telling us what they love about movies? (If only one, just one, had admitted: “I love my obscenely huge paychecks.”) And why did the montages designed to evoke the magic of the movies seem so arbitrarily (if not haphazardly) assembled?  

ON THE OTHER HAND

My inner geek is perfectly OK with Brad Pitt’s sentimental shout-out to War of the Gargantuas as one of the first movies he ever saw. Pitt is such a nice guy, I can’t hate him even just a little bit for getting to go home with Angelina Jolie.

WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?

Cirque de Soleil. Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Why?

MOST BRUTAL HONESTY

In her acceptance speech after being named Best Actress for The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep quipped: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no! Oh come on, why her? Again!’” Well, now that you mention it, Meryl…

BEST SELF-MOCKERY

During Billy Crystal’s opening sprint through real and faux movie snippets, he dropped into a street scene from Midnight in Paris, and found himself conversing with an impressively self-possessed Justin Bieber. “I’m here to get you the 18-to-25 demographic,” Bieber matter-of-factly announced, casually acknowledging the shamelessness of the show’s producers – and his own lack of shame in accepting their invitation. You know what? This kid may go farther than I thought.  

SPEAKING OF SHAMELESS

I wrote one of the very first thumb’s-up reviews of Undefeated – winner of the Best Documentary Feature award – when I covered it for Variety at SXSW last year in Austin. There is absolutely no reason other than self-aggrandizement for me to bring this up. Well, I could lie and say it’s a plug for SXSW, but you’d see straight through that, wouldn’t you?

HARVEY WEINSTEIN IS GOD OF THE OSCARS

The Weinstein Company is the distributor of Undefeated, The Iron Lady – and The Artist. Lesser producers, gaze at his accomplishments and despair.

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