Billy Crystal back to basics in Oscar host comeback

Mon Feb 27, 2012 2:58am EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Making a comeback as Oscar host after an eight-year absence, comedian Billy Crystal poked fun on Sunday night at his own reluctance to return and paid light-hearted tribute to leading nominees for the 84th annual Academy Awards.

In his ninth appearance as master of ceremonies, Crystal, 63, did his best to keep the live broadcast moving with a mix of one-liners, song and the kind of comic set pieces that have enshrined him as one of the most beloved of Oscar emcees.

But early reviews were mostly negative, with a number of critics panning the ABC broadcast and Crystal's performance as dull.

The Washington Post said Crystal "seemed to be overseeing a cruise ship dinner show designed to appeal to the over-50 travel club." The Hollywood Reporter's review ran under the headline: "Oscars Become Badly Paced Bore-fest." And Daily Variety's critic wrote that "Oscar unabashedly showed its age."

The New York Daily News, however, gave Crystal a thumbs-up, saying he "recaptured smartly the formula that worked for him in the past: quick-hit opening monologue, a song-and-dance number, then a sprinkling of jobs that had an edge but never drew blood."

With a formal introduction by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who set the tone for a traditional salute to the "magic of the movies," the show opened with one of Crystal's signature film montages, inserting the comedian into footage from the year's biggest pictures.

For the very first clip, from a scene in the silent-film homage "The Artist," Crystal was seen strapped into a chair while evil scientists send bolts of electricity into his head, and he shouts, in subtitled dialogue - "I won't host it, I won't host it, I tell ya."

In a scene from "The Descendants," and one of the clips that drew the biggest laughs, George Clooney bends over Crystal, lying in a hospital bed, and kisses him, telling him softly, "Wake up. We're all ready for you to come home where you belong."   Continued...

Oscar host Billy Crystal talks on stage at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 26, 2012.  REUTERS/Gary Hershorn