The 77th Annual Academy Awards weren't as deathly dull as last year's ceremony, although it came awfully close at times. No upsets in the major categories--yes, I know, when will Scorsese get his Oscar, etc; However, even though I haven't seen THE AVIATOR, I'm guessing it's more GANGS OF NEW YORK/CASINO than TAXI DRIVER/RAGING BULL.

I was half hoping SIDEWAYS would pull off a surprise win for Best Picture (a la its '70s equivalent, ANNIE HALL), and maybe it could have if MILLION DOLLAR BABY hadn't come from out of nowhere and stole its thunder. And though I didn't hate Clint Eastwood's film, I'm still having trouble accepting it as a Best Picture. Oh well, it's far from the worst film to receive that honor in the past decade.

Anyway, here's WHAT WORKED:

Chris Rock as host. At least for the first hour, until his momentum started to sag. Still, would Billy or Steve bluntly, honestly criticize Tobey Maguire, Jude Law, Colin Farrell and President Bush on the telecast, and top it off with a little self-deprecation (two words: POOTIE TANG)? Whoopi might.

Best Acceptance Speech: Jorge Drexler, who simply sang a verse from Best Song winner "Al Otro Lado Del Rio" from THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, and did so far better than Antonio Banderas, who had earlier performed an out-of-place electric version of the song on stage with Carlos Santana.

No cheesy Debbie Allen (or Allen Carr) assisted dance montages! Yes, they could be a(n) (unintentional) hoot, but they were filler, they padded the telecasts out to four hours, and I'll take a tasteful tribute to Sidney Lumet over a trotting out of the "Oscar Family Album" any day.

And here's WHAT DIDN'T WORK:

Requiring nominees for most of the lesser-known categories to stand in a massive throng; some were lucky enough to congregate on stage, others had to remain in their strategically-placed seats. Might've been done to give them a little more face time (or save broadcasting time?), but it just looked weird. They should've made all the nominated actors do the same so we could've seen the losers trying to hide their disappointment and contempt amidst their applause.

Beyonce, Beyonce, Beyonce. Once was bearable (loved the audacity of her key-lime eye shadow, but was she wearing True Star, her perfume?), twice was a tad annoying, thrice meant they couldn't get any other diva. Better her than Counting Crows, though (irritating vocalist Adam Duritz's white boy pineapple dreads continue to haunt us more than a decade after "Mr. Jones").

Humorless Sean Penn coming to Jude Law's defense. Both are fine (if occasionally overrated, and in Penn's case, overacting) actors, but please, don't try to stir up sympathy for someone who gets as much work (and press) as Law. Although I didn't think Rock was as stellar a host as Whoopi, I did like his comeback to Penn. Humor always triumphs over sanctimony.