After years of over-thinking the concept, and trying to skew to younger demographics, the Academy Awards finally got back to its roots. For the first time in eight years, Billy Crystal hosted the program, the ninth time he has taken on that role. For those of us that like Crystal at the helm, we got exactly what we expected. He opened the telecast with a montage where—thanks to movie magic—he puts himself in Best Picture-nominated clips. First he's in black and white as The Artist, mouthing “No I Won't Host” to eating a piece of tainted pie from The Help, to kissing George Clooney on the mouth from The Descendants. He also sang his “Oscar Oscar” song, again mentioning all the nominated films.
It's hard to believe it's been so long since we've seen those familiar bits. Since Crystal last hosted in 2004, a lot has happened. There have been two Presidential elections and campaigning for a third, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have each won the World Series twice, and the iPhone, iPhone 2, iPhone3, and iPhone4 have been invented. It really has been awhile. Since Crystal's last hosting, the emcees have been Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Stewart again, and Hugh Jackman, In 2010, it was decided that two people needed to host, so we got Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, which was much better than last year's duo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Some of those hosts were better than others of course, and I'm sure you have your favorites. Not that Eddie Murphy would have been a bad choice, but we have him to thank for Crystal's return. Murphy was originally tabbed to lead this year's ceremony, but backed out in protest of a producer's resignation.
I should say that familiar is a key word here. Crystal didn't exactly blow the house down with his jokes. In his opening montage, he appeared in blackface as Sammy Davis Junior. He's getting some media criticism for that, although Davis was always one of Crystal's best impersonations. After Octavia Spencer won for Best Supporting Actress, Crystal joked that after seeing The Help, he wanted to “hug the first black woman he saw, which from Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.”
Another signature Crystal bit is when the camera focuses on an audience member and Crystal says what that person is thinking. For Brad Pitt it was “I hope this gets over soon. I have six parent-teacher conferences in the morning.” My favorite was when the camera focused on Nick Nolte. Crystal just let out a loud guttural groan. Other Crystal zingers focused on the theater. With Kodak in financial trouble, its name has been taken off the building, leading Crystal to say “Welcome to the your name here theater.” After Christopher Plummer became the oldest Oscar recipient at 82, and Max Von Sydow was also nominated at the age of 82, Crystal quipped, maybe this could be the FloMax Theater.
Reviews talk about a “flat” telecast, but that the younger viewers were about as present as they were last year. I think the thing that people have to remember is that this is an awards show. 24 statues were presented in three hours, compared to only nine actual awards at the Grammys. Unless you want to eliminate the Best Sound Editing and Best Makeup awards from the telecast, you are bound to get some tedium. They did have the Cirque d'Soleil performance as an interlude, but I could have done without it (maybe instead a performance by Lil' Wayne or Nicki Minaj would get the younger viewers, not that I think that's a good idea).
Two other Crystal lines of note. “A Dark Knight, an American Psycho, a charismatic crack addict. You'll get to choose one on Super Tuesday.” Later he looked at the front row of the audience, and said “Why don't we buy the Dodgers?”
Glad to have you back Billy. I hope it's not eight more years.
Awards: In thinking that The Descendants would win Best Picture, I drove down to Sacramento to see it on Friday, but I also stayed and snuck in to see The Artist, so I lucked out when it took home the big prize. I ended up seeing only four of the nine nominated films this year (The Help, and Moneyball were the other two)...I was happy about all of the other winners in the big categories, except for Best Actress. I was one of those that Meryl Streep talked about when she said about half the world just screamed “Oh no, not her!”. I didn't see The Iron Lady, but Streep would have been my third choice behind Viola Davis and Michelle Williams (I didn't see My Week with Marilyn either). It was Streep's third win in 17 nominations. I think she got the pity vote...You have to love Jean Dujardin, winner for Best Actor in The Artist. He began his acceptance speech with a big smile and said “I love your country.” In a pre-show interview, he was asked what he loved most about L.A. He said being able to make a right turn on red, and cinnamon rolls.
Speeches: Some notable ones this year, but probably not as many as last year. Plummer, who won Best Supporting Actor for Beginners and is just two years younger than the Oscar itself, kissed the statuette and said “Where have you been all my life?” Spencer crying was another highlight...It took until the tenth award for the orchestra to have to play someone off because they talked too long. The winners of Best Documentary for Undefeated were also the first ones that had to be bleeped... Best Acceptance—Not the speech itself, but the three guys who won for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants. While one of them started talking, the other two were posing with their legs out, mocking presenter Angelina Jolie. I didn't get it at first, but couldn't stop laughing once I figured it out.
Fashion Watch: I didn't think anyone looked exceptionally hideous this year, but from the waist up, it looked like Sandra Bullock was dressed for the mall. When the camera widened out, you could see she was wearing a dress, but from up close it looked like a short-sleeved top...I have no idea what the heck Jolie was doing while presenting, but I guess if you are going to wear a dress like that (slit up to here), you should get your money's worth...Not really a fashion comment, but wow does Nolte look old. Maybe he's playing Santa Claus in his next film...One of the reporters on the pre-show noted that red hair is in fashion this year. Hair color? Really?
What the?: What was up with the omnipresence of Tom Cruise? He presented for Best Picture, there were several clips of him (and many others) about their take on movies, and his latest Mission Impossible film was even part of Crystal's montage, even though it wasn't nominated for anything. Weird.
After the Awards: ABC ran a special post-Oscar Jimmy Kimmel Live, which featured one of the funniest sketches I have seen in awhile. Kimmel's guest was Oprah Winfrey, and the bit was Kimmel in Oprah's office, pitching ideas for the Oprah Winfrey Network. One of the ideas was after Winfrey gave away all of her favorite things on her old show, she would now take them back. Cut to video of Winfrey in a ski mask, breaking in to a garage and driving away with a car. Later in the sketch, she beats people up as part of “Book Club, Fight Club”. The sketch ends back in Winfrey's office, she doesn't like the ideas, pushes a button, and the chair ejects Kimmel from the office.