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updated 2/23/2012 2:02:30 PM ET 2012-02-23T19:02:30

Billy Crystal is back Sunday as host of the Academy Awards, a responsibility he's held eight times before. By now, the 63-year-old comedian is a pro at this — a reliable, familiar choice who's beloved and admired by his peers.

And he's achieved that status in this business through his many indelible comic roles. Here are five of his best.

"When Harry Met Sally ..." (1989)
Easily THE performance of Crystal's career. Everyone involved here is at the height of his or her powers: Meg Ryan, director Rob Reiner, writer Nora Ephron (who earned an Oscar nomination for her screenplay). It's got a retro romantic comedy vibe with a directness that makes it a modern classic; a Woody Allen rip-off, yes, but with a charm all its own. Crystal is at his snappy, sarcastic best but he has a sweetness, too, as the neurotic Harry, who keeps running into Ryan's high-strung Sally as they struggle to navigate the complex dating scene of Manhattan. They are, of course, meant for each other, and Crystal was a surprisingly convincing romantic lead. This movie would be cast totally differently today. It would star Channing Tatum or Ryan Reynolds, someone great-looking. Maybe Seth Rogen. Maybe.

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"Monsters Inc." (2001)
Man, this movie made me cry. I mean, it's one of the greatest Pixar films, and Crystal has a delightful interplay with John Goodman as a couple of monsters who inadvertently befriend a little girl they're supposed to frighten. But it takes a heart-wrenching turn, and that emotional impact comes from both the writing and the performances. Crystal lends his voice to Mike Wazowski, a green, one-eyed ball who looks like a hyperactive lime with spindly arms and legs. His high-pitched, whiny shtick provides the perfect contrast for Goodman's rich, gravelly vocal tones, and he brings great energy to this fast-talking, lovable little dude.

"The Princess Bride" (1987)
One of the greatest comedies of all time, of course, and a sentimental favorite of mine growing up. Reiner's fairy tale has a strong ensemble cast full of great, memorable performances. That includes Crystal's as Miracle Max, the disgruntled former employee of the evil Prince Humperdinck who creates a magical pill that brings the swashbuckling hero Westley back to life. Because he's only mostly dead, you see. Crystal described the character, with his exaggerated nose and ears and wild, gray hair, as looking like a combination of former New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel and his grandmother. He and Carol Kane have a lively, old-school banter as a bickering but loving husband and wife, like something out of a Borscht Belt comedy routine, and while he's only in one scene, it's a standout.

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"Throw Momma From the Train" (1987)
I always admired the fact that everyone involved here has the decency to acknowledge that they're stealing from "Strangers on a Train," which happens to be my favorite Hitchcock film. This is not an homage, this is outright theft, but it's respectful, and with a comic twist. In Danny DeVito's directing debut, he and Crystal co-star as two guys with nothing in common but the desire to have someone killed, so they agree to swap murders to avoid suspicion. Crystal, who plays an author, serves as the frustrated straight man among larger-than-life figures — an abusive ogre of a mother, a skittish momma's boy. And every writer can relate to the anxiety of looking at a blank page (or screen) and not being able to get past the words "The night was ...."

"Soap" (1977-81)
OK. So this is a bit of a cheat because it's a television performance. But the role was so groundbreaking, Crystal was so good in it and the show was so culturally significant, I had to include it. In this nighttime parody of daytime soap operas, Crystal played Jodie Dallas, an openly gay character functioning as a major figure on network television, a rarity at the time. His inclusion drew criticism both from religious conservatives as well as gays, who believed the character perpetuated some negative stereotypes. Actually, he was one of the more grounded and low-key characters in a show full of eccentrics and melodramatic weirdoes. It was an early indicator of great things to come.

Think of any other examples? Share them on Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Billy Crystal to host Oscars for ninth time

  1. Transcript of: Billy Crystal to host Oscars for ninth time

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Well, speaking of sports, when you need a pitcher late in the game you call a veteran out of the bullpen. And that's just what the Academy Awards did today. After Eddie Murphy pulled out yesterday, the nation turns its lonely eyes to Billy Crystal . Once again he'll host the Oscars for the ninth time in his career. And there's still a lot of zip on his fastball. Up next

Photos: Oscar nominees luncheon

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  1. George Clooney

    George Clooney, nominated for best actor for his role in "The Descendants," arrives at the 84th Academy Awards nominees luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, Feb. 6. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Brad Pitt

    Brad Pitt is nominated for his role as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball," and the film, which he produced, is also up for best picture. Joked Pitt of his competition in the acting category, "I met this guy named George. G-g-george ... very nice guy." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Jonah Hill

    Jonah Hill is nominated for best supporting actor for "Moneyball." He plays a brainy assistant Billy Beane brings in to help with a new baseball strategy (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Michelle Williams

    Michelle Williams is nominated for best actress for playing Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Octavia Spencer

    Octavia Spencer is nominated for best supporting actress for her role as a southern maid in "The Help." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Viola Davis

    Viola Davis is nominated for best actress for her role in "The Help." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Jean Dujardin

    French actor Jean Dujardin is nominated for best actor for his leading role in the almost-silent film "The Artist." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Berenice Bejo

    Berenice Bejo is nominated for best supporting actress for her role in "The Artist," as the young silent-film ingenue who begins to rise in talkies. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Melissa McCarthy

    Some Oscar-watchers were surprised when Melissa McCarthy was nominated for best supporting actress for her very comic role in "Bridesmaids." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Meryl Streep

    Multiple Oscar-winner Meryl Streep is a favorite again to win best actress, this time for playing former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rooney Mara

    Rooney Mara is up for best actress for her role as "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." It was a good weekend for Mara -- her father is a vice-president of the New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl on Feb. 5. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Max Von Sydow

    Max von Sydow was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Demian Bichir

    Perhaps the most surprising name to make the best actor nominee list was Demian Bichir, who stars in the litte-seen "A Better Life." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Nick Nolte

    Nick Nolte is up for best supporting actor for his role in "Warrior." (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Glenn Close

    Glenn Close is nominated for best actress for her role in "Albert Nobbs" in which she plays a woman in Ireland posing as a man. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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