Feb 23, 1:29 AM EST

No surprise, host Neil Patrick Harris brought sparkle to an Oscarcast largely missing suspense


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Broadway and TV did Hollywood a favor, sharing Neil Patrick Harris for duties hosting the Oscars. Harris not only did himself proud, as expected after numerous triumphs presiding over the Tonys and Emmys. Even better, he stewarded an Oscarcast that made up in charm what it lacked in suspense.

First-time host Harris briskly welcomed the audience by declaring, "Tonight, we honor Hollywood's best and whitest - excuse me, brightest." No time wasted mentioning the much-discussed lack of diversity among Oscar acting nominees.

Then on with the opening number!

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BROADWAY IN HOLLYWOOD

It came as no surprise that Harris was the driver of a slam-bang opening number. That's what he does. But Sunday's tribute to films, past and present, was among his best award-show performances, and the equal of any Oscar kickoff in memory.

Thanks to computer imagery, Harris sang and danced with multiple Marilyn Monroes, and joined such cinema landscapes as the "Wizard of Oz's" Land of Oz and the "Field of Dreams."

Jack Black stormed the stage to decry the corrupt money-mindedness of Hollywood, ranting about "its margin trends and fickle friends and Hollywood baloney - believe me, Neil, you're better off just polishing your Tony."

But that wasn't the message of Harris' extravaganza. Hooray for Hollywood AND Harris!

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WHAT'S OSCAR UP TO?

The glittery stage setting at the Dolby Theater was eye-popping. But if you looked closely, you saw the many oversized Oscar statuettes that adorned it were impaled on their rods like pogo sticks, or astride them like pole dancers. A little nod to "Fifty Shades of Grey," perhaps?

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GLORIOUS NUMBER

Perhaps the evening's most moving display was the expansive performance of "Glory," the Oscar-winning song from "Selma," with composers Common and John Legend performing alongside dozens of fellow "marchers" on the stage setting of Selma, Alabama's Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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TOO FAR?

Occasionally smart-aleck Harris' mischief might have crossed the line. A wisecrack directed at Oprah Winfrey at the top of the show flopped.

And it was unclear just what he was getting at, if anything, when he said that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary "CitizenFour," "could not be here tonight for some treason"?

Awkward? Not for Harris, with skill for quick, comedic recovery.

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CALL THE `RENTS!

It was no shock when J.K. Simmons' name was called for best supporting actor Oscar in "Whiplash."

His acceptance remarks were refreshing, though, as he offered a shout-out for parents around the globe. Pivoting from praise for his wife's parenting of their three children, he urged the legions watching to "call your mom, call your dad." And no texts or emails. "Call them on the phone and tell `em you love `em, and thank them and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.

"Thank you, mom and dad," he said as he left the podium.

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MORE ADVICE: STAY WEIRD

Graham Moore, winner of best adapted screenplay for "The Imitation Game," dedicated his win to any youngsters who felt they were different and don't fit in.

"Yes, you do, I promise you do," declared Moore, who said he attempted suicide as a teen because of his own discomfort. "Stay weird, stay different, and when it's your turn and you're standing on this stage, pass the message to the next person who's coming along."

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HARRIS IN BRIEF

The host performed a clever homage to "Birdman." Locked out of his dressing room clad only in his tighty-whities, he dashed through back hallways, spoofing Michael Keaton's similarly undressed stride through Times Square, with similar percussion accompaniment, until he reached the stage to declare sheepishly, "Acting is a noble profession."

All demonstrating Harris is a great sport - and really buff!

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BATHROOM BREAK

Just as the evening is running long and viewers are getting restless, an Oscarcast typically inserts an overlong, gratuitous element into the proceedings to slow things down and really try the audience's patience.

A fine but excessive golden-anniversary tribute to "The Sound of Music" was this year's entry, complete with film clips, a medley by Lady Gaga and reminiscences by its star, Julie Andrews.

It was heartwarming, sure. But too much, much too late.

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OSCAR PREDICTION

And speaking of too late, Harris' Oscar soothsaying feat would have come across as a clever ruse had the show not been some 40 minutes overtime, with the best picture yet to be announced.

Prediction: That's a gimmick that won't be tried again.

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EDITOR'S NOTE - Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier . Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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