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James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosted the Oscars last Sunday. They were roundly criticized for a lackluster job, despite the expectation that their youth would bring more excitement to the stage.
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The Academy Awards: a night of fashion, entertainment, extravagance, and above all, excellence. While this year’s show — held last Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. — was bursting to the seams with three of these four, it fell disappointingly short on the entertainment front. Anne Hathaway and James Franco, a Best Actor nominee himself, added little spontaneity and even fewer laughs as younger, more “hip” hosts — albeit not without a lack of effort on Hathaway’s part. Her enthusiasm was well placed, but Franco’s spacey demeanor and an overall lack of good jokes far outweighed any true entertainment value. (I mean, did he really have to walk out in a dress?)

Besides Franco’s hot pink drag disaster, the stars’ fashion this year was superb. Mila Kunis was a goddess in a flowy lavender Saab gown, Halle Berry shone in beige Marchesa, and Natalie Portman glowed — and showed off her baby bump! — in a beautiful plum Rodarte. Fashion risks paid off: both Amy Adams’ closed-neck glittering midnight blue L’Wren Scott dress with a bold emerald necklace and Scarlett Johansson’s flowery, laced magenta Dolce & Gabbana looked fantastic. While the women were glamorous, the men were sharp; Justin Timberlake’s tuxedo was the epitome of classic elegance. Not to say there weren’t a few fashion missteps — take Russell Brand and Nicole Kidman — but overall, the 83rd annual Academy Awards earned an A+ for fashion.

The three-hour-long marathon did include a few highlights unrelated to attire, including a semi-intentionally hilarious Best Supporting Actress presentation by 94-year-old Kirk Douglas (to The Fighter’s Melissa Leo) and a side-splittingly funny auto-tuned mashup of Harry Potter 7, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, and Twilight: Eclipse. A good deal of attention was paid to the 10 (yes, 10) best picture nominees, the highlight being an awesome countdown sequence that preluded the entire show. The original song performances (minus Gwyneth Paltrow’s rather flat rendition of “Coming Home” from Country Strong) showcased the wide variety of musical talent present in this year’s best films quite well, particularly the awe-inspiring “If I Rise” from 127 Hours. And the show’s usual historical interludes were nice additions to the playbill’s somewhat pedantic lineup; Billy Crystal’s nod to Bob Hope as an old-time Oscar host was both enjoyable and emotional for those caught up on their Oscar history.

Some of the show’s best moments, however, were its most candid. Randy Newman’s drawn-out acceptance for Toy Story 3’s “We Belong Together” — “I’ve been on this show any number of times [he’s been nominated 20 times!] and I’ve slowed it down almost every time” — and Tom Hooper’s Directing win for The King’s Speech saluting the “triangle of man love that is Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and me” contained some of the best lines of the night, not to mention Melissa Leo’s dropping of the F-bomb for the first time in Oscar acceptance-speech history.

Of course, at its heart, the Academy Awards is a celebration of film, and the awards were very well-deserved. There were no big upsets; we all knew The King’s Speech was the best film this year and that its star Colin Firth played the role of King George VI of England far too well to not win. Natalie Portman’s dramatic and much-talked about performance as Nina in Black Swan earned her the title of Best Actress, Toy Story 3 took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature (another incredibly well-deserved no-brainer ­— it was also a contender for Best Picture), and Inception won for its jaw-dropping special effects. The Social Network took home a few Oscars as well, for Film Editing, Original Score, and Writing for an adapted screenplay.

Overall, this year’s Academy Awards were a somewhat dull but nevertheless positive celebration of the best films of 2010. Here’s to hoping the coming year provides us with plenty of new exceptional filmmaking.

The 83rd annual Academy Awards aired Sunday, Feb. 27.