Everything old was new again at the Oscars

By Jocelyn Noveck

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Best actress Meryl Streep, left, for "The Iron Lady" and best actor Jean Dujardin for "The Artist" pose with their awards during the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Joel Ryan, Associated Press

Justin Bieber wasn't mincing words. "I'm here to bring you the 18 to 24-year-old demographic," the teen pop star told Billy Crystal in the opening Oscar montage. "So, how long do you want me to stay here for?"

The two were spoofing "Midnight in Paris," a film about time travel, and actually it did feel like Bieber had swooped in from the future. Because everything else about this year's Oscars had a distinct vintage feel, from the honored films harking back to early years of cinema, to the longevity of some of the winners, to Crystal himself, hosting for the ninth time.

Did the Return of Crystal achieve its purpose? The reviews were mixed, with some loving his familiar zingers, others feeling they were more than stale.

But Crystal can claim a victory for the over-60 set: The Nielsen Co. estimated Monday that 39.3 million people watched the Oscars on ABC Sunday night, up from the 37.9 million viewers during the much-panned 2011 show where the much younger James Franco and Anne Hathaway shared hosting duties.

Much has been made of the retro feel that characterized the two most-honored films: Best picture-winner "The Artist," a black-and-white, mostly silent paean to old Hollywood (it also took best director and actor), and "Hugo," an equally loving evocation of the early days of cinema, which took a fistful of technical awards.

But one could argue they were honored not because of a sudden wave of nostalgia, but because the craft involved in making them was fresh and creative. "If they weren't enormously inventive," says film historian Leonard Maltin, "nothing else would have mattered." Nobody, he reasons, had been crying out for a resurrection of the silent film or a movie that honors film pioneer Georges Melies.

But it was no coincidence that the Oscars brought back Crystal, who swooped in to save the day after Eddie Murphy pulled out. (Murphy had stepped down in solidarity with Brett Ratner, who resigned as producer of the show after making a gay slur.)

The choice of host also inevitably seemed like a reaction to the "young and hip" fiasco of last year's show, which tried to lure younger viewers with its attractive young hosts, only to falter, especially because Franco so relentlessly laid-back, it seemed like he wanted to be backstage partying. Meanwhile, when Crystal came on for a cameo, he received a standing ovation from the joke-starved crowd before he even spoke.

Some of Crystal's routines Sunday won praise: The montage where he inserts himself into films was typically clever, and included a kiss on the lips from George Clooney — never a bad thing.

The host's best jokes were those that poked fun at the Oscars themselves: "Nothing takes the sting out of these tough economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to each other," he quipped.

But a few others fell flat, including what some felt was an ill-advised moment in blackface for Crystal when he reprised his old "Saturday Night Live" impersonation of Sammy Davis Jr.

Maltin, a veteran watcher of Oscar telecasts, pronounced Crystal a success.

"It wasn't just his opening montage or song parody — we've seen that before," he said. "It was the way he kept the ceremony lively and punctuated it with zingers and laugh lines. Not too many people can do that."

Comedian Andy Borowitz, who always keeps up a vigorous Oscar-night Twitter feed, had a different perspective.

"At 82, Christopher Plummer is 18 years younger than this Oscar show's jokes," he tweeted.

At another point, he wrote "This shtick feels old," then attributed the quote to his grandparents. At another point: "I never thought I'd say this, but I miss ... James Franco."

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