Once you realize that Academy Awards and quality correlate only sporadically, the only reason to watch is the hope of seeing something surprising or controversial. People slagged last year's weird Pilobolus shadow-puppet interludes, but what the hell: at least it was something I hadn't seen before. Seeing as how a lot of the substantive results seem like even more of a foregone conclusion than usual this year, there's even less motivation to watch. So here are seven pleasant surprises I'll watch for on Sunday in the hopes of keeping entertained.
1. The ceremony comes in at three hours or less. It hasn't happened in the modern era; the shortest ceremony since 1996 happened in 2005 -- the year of Million Dollar Baby -- and it ran three hours and fourteen minutes. Last year's festivities took 3:21. Look, I'm generally skeptical of accusations that the Oscars are "self-indulgent": it's an awards show put on by the industry for the industry. Of course they're self-indulgent. They're also boring, which seems to me the more relevant accusation. Ratings have been steadily declining, with last year an all time low. Shorter and snappier please. That they've offended Peter Gabriel by asking him to trim his nominated song performance to 65 seconds for the show seems, I hate to say it, like a step in the right direction.