2015 Academy Awards telecast

Academy Awards telecast is all too predictable

How unfortunate that, in presenting the award for best director during the Academy Awards ceremony, Ben Affleck chose to quote Frank Capra's observation that "the cardinal sin is dullness."

None of the directors nominated, he added, could be accused of committing that sin. But, alas, the same could not be said for Sunday night's telecast.

With a few notable exceptions, awards-season fatigue took on a new and enervating dimension, exacerbated by a strangely defensive attitude toward many things, including but not limited to the whiteness of the nominees, the preponderance of franchise films and the public's ability to watch films on their smartphones.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2015

Even the preternaturally prepped and prolific Neil Patrick Harris seemed affected, reduced at times to a small figure on a big stage making "good job" remarks to performers and attempting to carry a long-running joke about a box. At one point, he stripped to his underwear, a la Michael Keaton in "Birdman, " and it was just as embarrassing as you might assume it would be.

In fact, much of the 87th Oscars ceremony happened just as you might assume it would, and that was certainly part of the problem. Virtually all of those predicted to win did win - from the night's first award to J.K. Simmons for his supporting performance in "Whiplash" to "Birdman" for best picture. It was so predictable that the night's biggest upset was "Big Hero 6" beating out "How to Train Your Dragon 2." The collective gasp heard round the world.

This may explain why so many of the speeches sounded familiar - if you follow awards-season coverage, and it's increasingly difficult to avoid - you may have actually heard them before. "Birdman's" Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who minutes earlier won for best director, had literally run out of things to say when he accepted the evening's last award.

Notable exception No. 1: Patricia Arquette, winner of the supporting-actress award for her role in "Boyhood, " ended her read-from-a-piece-of-paper speech with an unexpected and impassioned call for pay equity.

Predictable winners were only part of the problem. Harris, who has now hosted every major award show save the Grammys, seemed as big a shoo-in for host as Julianne Moore for lead actress (which, of course, she won). Introducing the show as a chance to celebrate "Hollywood's best and whitest, um, brightest, " he flashed his trademark sass to address the many complaints about the very Caucasian nature of this year's nominees.

OSCARS 2015: Complete list | Show highlights | Red carpet | Quotes from the stars | Backstage | Top nominees | Q&As with the contenders

Pointed and righteous, if only the producers had been content to leave it at that. As if trying to make up for "Selma" being overlooked in many categories, the camera sought out and lingered on nonwhite members of the audience whenever "Selma" or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was mentioned.

It happened at a rate that was at first laughable and then irritating. Memo to the academy: Black people are not the only ones who liked "Selma"; they like other films too. On the other hand, the academy's defensiveness over being mostly white and male may well have been the reason for the higher than normal proportion of black female presenters, though the fact that the telecast was on ABC probably didn't hurt either.

Harris then segued, not surprisingly, to a song. Themed to celebrate the marvels of "moving pictures, " and including a duet with Anna Kendrick, it was quickly interrupted by Jack Black, ranting, musically, about the forces plaguing the industry: sequels, prequels, comic books and "jean screens" (smartphones.)

Funny enough, if only the writers had been content to leave it there.

Instead, the plague of franchise films, the digital age and "Fifty Shades of Grey" haunted the telecast, with Harris pointing out not once but twice that many of the nominated films actually made money. In fact, "American Sniper" is, according to Harris, the Oprah of this year's films.

"Because you're rich, " he explained when Winfrey seemed not to understand why she was being dragged into it. While not as bad as David Letterman's Uma/Oprah flame-out, the joke did bring it to mind, and the first rule of hosting the Oscars is: Never bring to mind Letterman's Uma/Oprah flame-out.

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