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Thanks for Trying, Billy Crystal

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billy crystal oscars
Billy Crystal dances onstage as he hosts the 84th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Why does Chris Rock ever not host the Oscars? True, any number of people could have done a livelier job than Billy Crystal last night, including Seymour Cassel (how punk was that macaroni and cheese ad?), Angelina Jolie’s thigh (a truly rock & roll moment), Emma Stone, the cast of Bridesmaids, James Franco, Kim Richards, Billy Beane, Billy Ocean, Billy Ray Cyrus, even the late great Billy Barty. Anybody. No, really, anybody. But Chris Rock was in the house – the funniest Oscar host of all time. His brief presenter bit about voice-over work bagged more laughs than Billy Crystal did all night. So why didn’t they beg him to step in and save the show? Because Billy Crystal was so awful it’s not even.

You have to give Billy credit for getting a few things right. He did get perkier as the night went on, after a beyond-disastrous first hour. He did not make any of his patented "hey, the show’s running long" jokes. He only appeared in blackface once, he only made one baseball joke, he didn’t do any hacky gags about French people or Rooney Mara or George Clooney’s 8-foot-tall date (who is so totally coming back next year with Jean Dujardin), he kept the show-tunes-nobody-recognizes medley brief and – most shockingly – he didn’t roll out his "we’re halfway through" gag at the end. So he was trying. This was Billy doing his top-dollar best. He just didn’t have anything in the bag except blackface and baseball. Oh, it was ugly.

The poor man didn’t have any help, either – not on an Oscar telecast so low-budget nobody bothered to fix the broken microphones, which gave off Fun House levels of feedback. (Milla Jovovich and her harem of technical-award-winning sex slaves would not approve.) They cut the speeches short to make more room for hilariously moronic montages of canned chitchat – hey, ever wonder about Michael Bay’s definition of "true artistry?" How about Adam Sandler’s creative process? Wouldn’t you rather hear Brad Pitt reminisce about War of the Gargantuas?

Fortunately, in any room full of movie stars, you’re going to get some choice moments of ego-flaunting and slut-unshaming and crazy-mouthing and all the other things that make the Oscars. Christopher Plummer, rocking a purple velvet tux, showed how you give a speech, as did Meryl Streep, Octavia Spencer, Dujardin and Colin Firth, who was Mr. Charm as always, even if he spoiled the surprise plot twist of Mamma Mia! Angelina showed how you shamelessly hijack the camera and make the moment all about you, which is terrible manners, but in this case, why the hell not? Otherwise that moment would have been about Woody Allen beating Bridesmaids for Best Original Screenplay. By all means, let us praise Angelina’s thigh for calling bullshit on that.

Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz made a surprisingly chummy comedy duo, evoking the summer of 1998, when Out of Sight and There’s Something About Mary were luring the pervs to the multiplex. (They were a funnier duo than Will Ferrell and That Guy Who Isn’t Jack Black But Does the Award Show Bits Jack Black Used To Do.) Say what you like about Cams, but anyone brave enough for an ass-off with Lopez is a champ, which isn’t to say Lopez didn’t win. In the audience, the awesomely incoherent Nick Nolte was probably thinking, "Remember when I had a sex scene with this woman in U-Turn? Me neither. What happened to us, Jennifer?"

Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords (who wasn’t wearing the funky eyepatch) won the Best Song award for "Man or Muppet," and touchingly thanked Jim Henson, though not his Conchords mate Jermaine. (If only they could have won for "Bowie’s In Space.") Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter Kelly is still speaking into microphones to express disapproving opinions about other people’s looks. Good luck with that, Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter Kelly. The Christopher Guest focus-group sketch was a hoot (more Fred Willard "flying monkeys" banter, please) as were all six Bridesmaids, especially Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy. ("Scorcese? Drink!") The dean from Community was the second-coolest bald guy of the night – the coolest was P. Diddy’s lint-brush roadie, who gave him a once-over on the red carpet.

Once again, they censored the applause-o-meter in the dead-people montage. (Liz Taylor would have aced that shit, and don’t think for a minute Liz didn’t spend years daydreaming about all the applause her Oscar memorial clip would get.) Why? So Esperanza Spaulding could sing the eternally icky "What a Wonderful World," a sentiment rarely expressed by dead people. But was that the dumbest moment? No, no, no. That would be the Cirque De Soleil interlude with all the mimes. Mimes! On trapezes! Not even a mimes-in-the-movies montage! Miiiiimes! Complain all you want about The Artist, it wasn’t about mimes. And when Chris Rock hosts next year (please?) there won’t be any mimes.

As for the notion of bringing back Billy Crystal to do this again, you have to quote the most famous mime of them all, Marcel Marceau, who had the only word of dialogue in the Mel Brooks classic Silent Movie. As Marcel would say, "No."

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV and pop culture. He is the author of two books, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran and Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

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