How bad was Billy Crystal as Oscar host?

Slate Critics Debate the Merits of This Year’s Oscar Ceremony

Slate Critics Debate the Merits of This Year’s Oscar Ceremony

All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 27 2012 5:44 PM

Crystal Comedic Anemia

Slate critics debate the merits of this year’s Oscar ceremony.

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Troy Patterson: What I found oddest about the kiss gag is that Crystal made two later jokes about it, which I guess counts as a leitmotif, or something.

Dan Kois: Whoo boy you guys, I can't get behind the Crystal it-wasn't-so-bad-ism. The guy had a hit rate of about 15 percent on his jokes. Even jokes that should be slam-dunks—introducing two gorgeous actresses, say—came off like crap that Mr. Saturday Night would've booted from his act. I winced every time I saw him, and the crowd at my Oscar party declared him finished by the end of the first hour.

Dan Kois: Yeah, I didn't find the kiss gag homophobic—it was played extremely straight, so to speak.


Dan Kois: Also, Troy, Bret is wrong! Octavia Spencer finished her speech UP with a panicked, teary thank-you to her management. It actually seemed like she was terrified about what would happen if she forgot them.

Dana Stevens: The last words of Octavia Spencer's speech were "I'm sorry ... I'm sorry ... " toward all the people she didn't have time to thank! I liked her genuine, flustered, teary manner. One of the moments, along with Asghar Farhadi accepting for best foreign film, that were sincerely moving.

Troy Patterson: Thanks for the BEE fact-check, Dan. But the speeches were generally pretty, do you agree? And do we think that the Undefeated guys, accepting their prize, were charming frisky puppies or simply sloppy dogs?

Dan Kois: Yes, there were some very good speeches. Christopher Plummer's, Asghar Farhadi's and Meryl's among them. And whichever one of the tech winners thanked, basically, everyone watching and not watching, already dead and not yet born.

Troy Patterson: Hey, Dan—I will venture that it is a measure of Crystal comedic anemia that, try as I did, I could not muster a wince. He excited raging dispassion.

David Sanchez: It was actually really sad seeing Billy Crystal bomb over and over again. It just felt like he was mumbling inside jokes the entire night. The highlight for me, and perhaps something that justified all the nostalgia the awards show was trying to market the entire night, was Christopher Plummer's acceptance speech. His manner, eloquence, and class are unparalleled.

Dana Stevens: Agree to disagree on Crystal—but can we all come together over the acknowledgement that it was painful to watch Brett McKenzie get his Oscar for the Muppet song, with Jason Segel & Kermit & Miss Piggy looking on, and not get to sing it. Why not cut a couple of the "hey, remember what movies are?" montages to make time for the nominated songs? "Man or Muppet?" would have brought the house down.

Troy Patterson: Yes, Dana, "Man or Muppet" was a missed opportunity. In my imagination, it's great, and it involves a variation on James Brown's cape routine.


Andrew John: Struck me as an increasingly desperate attempt to convince somebody (anybody!) that America's culture industry is still relevant to human beings rather than corporations. And absurd that lifetime achievement and humanitarian awards are now regulated to a separate night—with a theater box and a bow—and that time instead used to have actors explain how great they and Hollywood movies are. Ha! And someone please get Angelina a cheeseburger and a therapist, stat.

Dan Kois: Yes, I also thought the evening felt disingenuous at times. I preferred Chris Rock's blunt (and funny) honesty about how voice-over acting is the easiest job in the world.

Dana Stevens: Dan, if we'd watched the Oscars together there would've been some tension in the room! Chris Rock was born to stand on a stage and be funny (and I loved the natural 'fro he was rocking), but that voice-actor diss sort of bugged me. It's only easy to make a million dollars voicing an animated character if you're already a movie star.

June Thomas: But, Dana, Chris Rock did tweak animated casting agents who do seem pretty narrow in how they cast even super-famous black actors.


Kendice Masse: The show was wrought with problems. The jokes were horrible, the audio was plagued with a tin and it could not have been more painful to watch. The production staff is too old, the show formula does not work and until a suitable host is found they should not give it air time.

Dan Kois: Yes, I too noticed major audio problems. I could barely hear Crystal sing in that opening song; Paltrow's mic got stuck in the floor; the sound overall was buzzy and lousy. Was it all a conceptual tribute to The Artist?


June Thomas: Resolved: TV people won the night. I'm thinking of the Bridesmaids presenters, who are mostly associated with TV at least for a little longer; Jim Rash, of Community and Reno 911 fame; Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords; Octavia Spencer has been on a bunch of small-screen shows, etc. Other than Meryl Streep, who perhaps didn't deserve the win but gives a great speech, and Christopher Plummer, the funniest and most moving bits were from telly peeps.

Chuck Kallenbach: Cirque de Soleil has nothing to do with movies. Shouldn't have been there. Besides, one guy fell down. That stuff weirds me out anyway.

Dan Kois: Yes let's discuss Cirque! That was weird, right? I mean weird in execution but also weird in that an ostensibly magical live performance featuring actual humans was supposed to make me excited about seeing movies?