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Billy Crystal returns to host a winning Oscarcast

Perhaps the biggest nail-biter of Oscar night stirred no suspense at all: "The Artist," however unlikely as an art-house upstart, still seemed destined to win as Best Picture.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Perhaps the biggest nail-biter of Oscar night stirred no suspense at all: "The Artist," however unlikely as an art-house upstart, still seemed destined to win as Best Picture.

And did — also treating the audience to the not-so-inevitable wins for Michel Hazanavicius, its director, and its leading man, Jean Dujardin, as Best Actor.

That left as the night's second-biggest question: Would Billy Crystal rise to the occasion as host, as he had done eight times in the past?

In an Oscarcast promo leading up to Sunday's ABC telecast, Crystal was seen retrieving his hosting formal wear from a locker and trying it on.

"It still fits," he declared.

Turns out he was right: His role as host did fit him like a glove, despite his eight-year break. There was nothing new or unexpected in his act, mind you. But it was comfortable for all.

No one doubted the evening could have been otherwise. All too fresh are viewer memories of last year's fiasco, when Anne Hathaway and James Franco were in charge — barely. And Eddie Murphy, originally tapped to emcee this year, could have gone seriously awry.

Crystal began with a flashy parody of many of the year's films, as he was tortured into agreeing to return as host (in a silent-movie horror scene spoofing "The Artist") and brought back to life by George Clooney in a scene lampooning his film, "The Descendants." Clooney planted a kiss not on the lips of his comatose wife, but on Crystal's, beseeching him to "please wake up. We're all waiting for you to come home, where you belong."

Crystal, blinking awake, proved definitely at home on his return as Oscars host.

Arriving on stage at the former Kodak Theatre, which he jokingly referred to as "the beautiful Chapter 11 Theater," referring to the bankrupt company, Crystal invited everyone to sit back and enjoy the show, "since nothing can take the sting out of the world's economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues."

And then, of course, came the song-and-dance number, a Crystal tradition, where he made tuneful sport of the nominated films.

The show came with other prepared features.

Crystal introduced what he said was an unearthed film clip of a 1939 focus group reacting to the new film "The Wizard of Oz."

In that black-and-white sketch, the group leader (played by Bob Balaban) questioned the viewers about what they'd seen.

"Is there a particular character you would rather not see?" he inquired.

"That's easy," said one audience member (played by Christopher Guest) — "Dorothy."

"I didn't particularly care for the rainbow song," complained another respondent (Eugene Levy).

"Cut the rainbow song," noted the perplexed Balaban.

A spectacular number from the performing troupe Cirque du Soleil was supposed to depict what it's like to go to the movies. It was an impressive spectacle, to be sure, but in choreographing that experience they overlooked the sticky theater floors, overpriced popcorn and lobbies cluttered with video arcades. Maybe that part just got cut for time.

Christopher Plummer was charming in accepting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar at age 82: "You're only two years older than me, darling," he said, addressing his statuette. "Where have you been all my life?"

Not so charming was one of the Best Documentary winners, who in his excitement dropped an F-bomb (bleeped by an alert censor).

Emma Stone was a scene-stealer, feigning breathless excitement alongside Ben Stiller in her first turn as an awards presenter.

Presenters Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis made the most of their two-nominee Best Song category. They arrived from the orchestra pit crashing cymbals (and inevitably dropping them, too, for comic effect).

Not so funny was Robert Downey Jr., who joined Gwyneth Paltrow onstage to present the Best Documentary Oscar with his own camera crew in tow, filming him, he said, for his own documentary to be called "The Presenter."

As a presenter, Meryl Streep donned her eyeglasses with a flourish, perhaps a reminder of her plight a few weeks ago at the Golden Globes, when she erupted with a bleeped s-word on realizing she had left her glasses at her table and would have to rely on her memory to accept her award as Best Dramatic Actress.

But when she came on stage to collect her Oscar for "The Iron Lady," she seemed in no need of eyeglasses or notes for her emotional remarks.

Then, right on her heels, "The Artist" was named Best Picture.

Wonderful, but hardly a surprise.

Maybe that applies to Crystal, too, on his return to host duties. To no one's surprise, he stewarded a sleek and entertaining Oscarcast.