THE Oscars are still popular with viewers, but ratings went down last year. For its 2012 telecast on Feb. 26 (early Feb. 27 here), the show is trying to recover by coming up with a number of special attractions. In our view, the biggest plus factor it’s offering is the return as program host of Billy Crystal.
Actor-comedian Crystal is best known for his really witty rib-ticklers on the small and big screens, especially the films, “Analyze This” and “When Harry Met Sally.” He made his debut as host at the Oscars way back in 1990, with his really funny put-downs of top Hollywood stars.
Crystal’s debut was so refreshingly effective that he was asked to do a repeat the following year. He became quickly known for his deadpan opening monologues, which were elaborate and outrageous. In one famous TV moment, he made his exit astride a horse, a tie-in with his new film then, “City Slickers.”
In 1992, Crystal opened the awards rites dressed as Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs.” He was wheeled in onstage wearing Lecter’s signature face guard—and headed straight for the eventual Best Actor winner, Anthony Hopkins (who played Lecter)! Crystal-as-Lecter’s ghoulish invitation, “I’m having some of the Academy for dinner—care to join me?” brought down the house!
In 1997, Crystal opened the awards show by interacting with Yoda from “Star Wars” (voiced by Frank Oz). He also came up with some great parodies of “Fargo” and “The English Patient.” His “Billy in the Movies” act is touted as “a classic example of Crystal as a character in several of the movies being celebrated, plus some song-and-dance.”
In 1998, Crystal introduced the Best Picture nominees in a creative way—by employing song covers. There was also “an epic mash-up of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘Titanic’”—a most unexpected comic pairing, you’ll agree.
In the year 2000, he came up with a howler of a novel concept by “letting the audience in on what the stars in the Shrine Auditorium audience are thinking.” For instance, when the camera focused on Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was made to “think,” “I can’t believe there’s no Planet Hollywood!” When it came to the revered Judi Dench, the “silent scream” went, “Oh, this thong is killing me!”
For the 72nd Academy Awards, Crystal and the Oscars’ creative think tank came up with another inspired innovation: Instead of just looking back at the film year’s releases, “the opening skit was a retrospective of the last 100 years in the movies, and placed Crystal in some of the greatest films of all time, including ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Exorcist’”—!
In 2004, Crystal was digitally inserted into the Best Picture contenders—and “got repeatedly naked” for spoofs of “Terminator 3,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “Cold Mountain” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King!”
Now you know why, after recent disasters like James Franco and Anne Hathaway’s hosting stint last year, we’re looking forward to the comeback on Feb. 27 of the Oscars’ best host ever—Billy Crystal!