Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

Twice as many Best Picture nominees (for the first time since 1943, there were ten). Twice the usual number of hosts.

So — was the 82nd annual Academy Awards twice as good?

Well… no.

Neil Patrick Harris got the show off to an appropriately rousing start with his opening number (somebody has GOT to write this Broadway vet a musical of his own!) …the hosts — Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin — looked awkward in their stiff tuxes and impeccably-knotted bowties but were, on the whole, pretty funny…and deep-sixing the Best Song nominees was a great idea — and a timesaver, too.

But (despite that) — oh, the length! We know that everyone and his brother-in-law wants to buy ad time on the Oscars, but did they have to go to commercial every few minutes, especially early in the show? If the telecast had been much longer, it would have been competing against the kitchen magician spots that are on at 3 A.M. (OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration.) And speaking of the length (three-and-a-half hours, and that’s with Tom Hanks rushing through the Best Picture presentation at the end — had he been told not to announce the ten nominees, or did he just plain forget?), why did the producers cut off a lot of the acceptance speeches (as usual), only to then “treat” us to that mega-dance number in the second half? Don’t know about you, but we’d rather have listened to what all the winners had to say than watch a Broadway-style dance spectacular. And the Best Actor/Best Actress “introductions” — they were certainly well-intentioned, but as close as we were to the finish line, wouldn’t the show have been better off if they’d just kept things moving?

And where were the surprises? Yes, we remember the “Kanye West” moment — how could we forget? — but that was just about the most exciting thing to happen all night. Except for the final award — the Best Picture nod going not to “Avatar” but to the much less expensive (and, we think, much better) “The Hurt Locker” — everything seemed to run pretty true to form. Even Kathryn Bigelow’s win for directing “The Hurt Locker” — the first win by a female director in Oscar history — seemed somehow pre-ordained. (We would have given it to Tarantino.)

The speeches — that is, what little of them we could hear before the orchestra started playing — were, for the most part, a tad lame as well. Sandra Bullock’s was fun (and even moving), and the thank-yous delivered by Geoffrey Fletcher (who won Best Adapted Screenplay for “Precious”), and Mark Boal (Best Original Screenplay for “The Hurt Locker”) were memorable, but for the better part of the evening, most of the winners behaved as if they’d been told to keep their comments not only brief, but bland.

As for the gowns, among the better ones (in our uneducated opinion) was Tina Fey’s: black, simple, and elegant. On the other hand, teen queen Miley Cyrus looked awfully frumpy in her off-the-shoulder job, and Charlize Theron looked a bit too flora-riffic with those flowers sewn, chest-high, onto the gown she was parading around in. The men, as usual, all wore tuxedoes, and exactly the same kind, to boot; couldn’t anyone have worn a gray pinstripe, or tails, or dispensed with the tux look altogether? Only Sean Penn, who came out late in a skinny tie and jacket, and looked like he HADN’T shopped at the same tuxedo joint as everyone else, dared to be different. Go, Sean!

But the night was, as always, about honoring cinema’s best, and some of the winners (most, in fact) were truly deserving. Christoph Waltz notched his expected win in the Best Supporting Actor category for “Inglourious Basterds”…”Up” won Best Animated Film in what was probably a runaway…Mo’Nique (a personal favorite) won a richly-deserved Oscar for her terrifying turn in “Precious”…Jeff Bridges (hardly a surprise) nailed Best Actor for “Crazy Heart”…Sandra Bullock won, predictably, for “The Blind Side” (we would have voted for the far grittier, far riskier performance turned in by the amazing Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious”, but what the heck) …and, of course, at the very end, “The Hurt Locker” and Bigelow won, well… big-time.

“Avatar”? It ended up getting dwarfed — despite its size and budget — by a suspenseful little movie about the war in Iraq, directed by James Cameron’s ex-wife, no less.

So, ultimately, despite all the telecast’s flaws — and there were many — we can’t complain.

In a world briefly held hostage by blue-skinned Pandorans and ten-foot-tall avatars — justice was served, after all.

OSCARS 2010 by Stuart R. Brynien