There’s something to be said for reliability. And that’s what Billy Crystal brought to the Oscars Sunday night when he hosted the show for the ninth time.
What’s so great about reliability as opposed to, say, unpredictability? The main thing is this: In the hours and days after the telecast, few will complain about the host this year — even those who don’t particularly care for Billy Crystal. A year ago, the majority of the post-Oscar talk was all about how Anne Hathaway and James Franco flopped (especially him). And in other years, “unpredictable” hosts such as David Letterman and Chris Rock were panned too.
But with Billy Crystal, you get a guy who takes on one of the hardest jobs in show business and then makes it look easy. He’s a consummate entertainer — he sings (not perfectly, but good enough for a comic), he dances (sort of) and he knows how to get off jokes and one-liners that are neither too soft nor too sharp. Instead, Billy tends to bowl ’em right down the middle, which is what this telecast demands and, seemingly, only he can deliver.
And deliver he did for a ninth time, starting with one of his trademark, pre-produced bits — an epic retrospective that opened the show, in which Billy turned up in scenes from all nine of the Best Picture nominees. The most memorable moment in this bit: When George Clooney kissed him tenderly on the lips in a spoof scene from “The Descendants.”
After his grand entrance, which also included an elaborate song-and-dance routine in which Billy sang lyrics poking fun at all the nominated movies, he appeared at various times throughout the evening, got off a joke or two and then made himself scarce. That’s also a talent he possesses: Knowing when to get on and off stage before the audience tires of him.
We loved his constant jabs at the theater the telecast was coming from — the former Kodak Theatre that no longer carries the name because the revered company is bankrupt. We counted at least three references to Kodak’s plight when Billy renamed the venue “the Chapter 11 Theater,” “the Your Name Here Theater” and “the Flomax Theater.”
And we loved the way this veteran comic delivered his jokes. “So, tonight enjoy yourselves,” he said near the beginning of the show, “because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues!”
Later, he introduced presenter Christian Bale this way: “A dark knight, an American psycho, a charismatic crack addict [referring to some of Bale’s best-known roles] . . . You’ll get to choose one on super Tuesday!”
And after a soaring performance by Cirque du Soleil (which really was mind-blowing), Billy said, “Wow, I pulled a hamstring just watching that! Now it’s a party! We got puppets, acrobats, we’re a pony away from being a bar mitzvah!”
We also enjoyed Melissa McCarthy spoofing her own performance in “Bridesmaids” when she tried to “seduce” Billy backstage.
As for the non-Billy moments, our favorite was the pre-produced bit with the 1939 “focus group” that critiqued “The Wizard of Oz.” That bit’s participants included Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Catherine O’Hara — who we love in Guest’s movies such as “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show.” That was a great surprise.
In the moments before the telecast began, ABC’s Robin Roberts caught up with Natalie Portman on the way into the theater and Portman, last year’s Best Actress winner for “Black Swan,” probably spoke for many of us when she told Roberts she was looking forward to the Oscar show because Billy Crystal had returned.
“We’re in good hands,” Portman said. And she was right.