Billy Crystal

So how did everyone like 127 Hours: The Oscar Show?

Past experience has lowered our Oscar night expectations, but the enormity of this year's train wreck was hammered home when the starry audience stood and cheered as Billy Crystal took the stage midway through — as if to say: "Come back, Billy! Do something! Please save this show!"

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The 8-time former host teased, "We're running a little long, so here are the nominees for best picture." Bad boy. Funny boy. Boy oh boy, could the show have used a little more of Crystal's comic polish — or even that of the ghost of legendary host Bob Hope, introduced in one of many misguided attempts to evoke Oscar's and movie past while merely reminding us of better nights, better years — and of the passage of time, creeping slowly toward the predictable end.

In a year offering virtually no surprises among the top winners, the only shock was how quickly the show went off the rails, and stayed there in a sluggish slow dance of glittery incompetence. Anne Hathaway, busily changing costumes as if to beg "Emperor's New Clothes" commentary on such a hollow long night, was a game and pretty cheerleader, "woo-hooing" many of the presenters she brought on stage. But James Franco was a drag long before he donned a Marilyn Monroe gown and cracked a Charlie Sheen joke. Squinting and smirking in some peculiar sustained state of dazed ironic bliss, his non-performance — or was it performance art? — had the Twitter masses wondering what he'd been smoking.

A gifted actor and notably quirky oddball, Franco was a risky choice that might have paid off if only he had committed to something beyond his own amusement. Throughout the telecast, he posted pictures and videos online from his cell phone. Maybe he could have spent a little less time social networking and a little more time boning up on little things like stage presence. (A telling moment came at the very end, when after a Glee-style climax involving a children's chorus from Staten Island sweetly if randomly singing "Over the Rainbow," Hathaway gave the kids enthusiastic high-fives while Franco blew silly kisses to the audience.)

Melissa Leo's wasn't the only F-bomb dropped along the way. Oscar "Fatigue" set in early, giving us time to realize that maybe the Grammys are on the right track, reaping its highest ratings in years because it doesn't even pretend to be an awards show anymore. The Oscars, of course, don't have that luxury, and this year the musical bits were among the show's weakest, from the mediocre best-song performances and the overdone Auto-Tune mash-up to the peculiar decision to have Hathaway, a terrific singer, deliver a pointless parody of a song from Les Miserables. Which isn't even a movie.

After Leo's bleeped gaffe, which more inspired hosts might have been able to turn into a running gag, Hathaway piped up: "It's the young and hip Oscars!" Is it too much to ask for our old and unhip Oscars back? Kirk Douglas' presentation of the supporting actress award may have had its awkward moments, but he displayed a charming mastery of comic effect as he milked the reading of the winner, reminding us what it feels like to be in the presence of a true star.

And isn't that what the Oscars should be all about? I would much rather have spent the night playing movie Charades with the Modern Family cast.

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