After an electric kick-off from host Billy Crystal, the 2012 Oscars stumbled badly before getting an emotional shot in the arm, only to lose its footing yet again and never quite recover.
Crystal killed it early, delivering a great montage featuring the emcee in the center of several of the evening's films, as well as a strong monologue and a medley tweaking a number of the stars in attendance. It looked like the Academy was well on its way to recovering from last year's Anne Hathaway-James Franco debacle.
But soon it became clear that the show was having trouble maintaining the energy level Crystal had set. The first sign of serious trouble was a montage of great films that had no apparent connection to the night or each other, aside from the fact that they were all classics.
But after "Hugo" scored a couple of early wins on its way to tying “The Artist” with five awards, Octavia Spencer came to the rescue.
Fighting back tears in accepting the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her work in "The Help," Spencer confessed to "freaking out" and begged the orchestra to play her off the stage. It was the perfect Oscar moment.
Unfortunately, the shine was short-lived. The show was badly hampered by dull, too-long testimonials from actors and directors talking about the people behind the scenes and the magic of film and by a performance by Cirque du Soleil, which while artistically impressive just felt badly out of place.
Which is not to say there weren't many good to great moments. Robert Downey Jr.'s faux documentary "The Presenter" and Michael Douglas' understated return to the public eye were both great. And several of the acceptance speeches were amusing, including those from Best Song winner Bret McKenzie, Best Adapted Screenplay winner Alexander Payne and Best Director winner Michel Hazanavicius. But they weren't enough.
Perhaps the show's biggest problem was the way in which the awards were distributed. There are 20-some statuettes to be handed out, but the audience only really cares about, at most, half of them. Over the first 90 minutes, only Spencer's win was headline-worthy.
The issue was exacerbated by the fact that there was almost no drama in the big races, as all but one went exactly as most everyone had predicted — and the one surprise, Meryl Streep beating Viola Davis for Best Actress, came in the show's final five minutes.
We say it every year, but the question remains: If the Academy has so much trouble putting together an entertaining three-hour show, why not just make a two-hour show? And while they’re at it, instead of the pre-breakfast nonsense we're subjected to, they could maybe make the nomination announcements a one-hour primetime special — then they could still sell advertising for three hours of broadcast time.