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Billy Crystal was back Sunday night to host his ninth Academy Awards and first since 2004. The comedian, who stepped in to replace Eddie Murphy after he dropped out in November, opened the show with one of his signature parodies of the year's nominated films -- a pre-taped video in which he amusingly inserted himself into key scenes from the best picture contestants. That bit -- which he first introduced (to raves) at the 1997 Oscars -- set the tone for the evening, as familiar and comfortable as a favorite old sweatshirt.
And while some might call that unoriginal, we like to call it refreshingly old-school -- a welcome return to form after the let's-go-after-the-younger-demo debacle that was last year's show (hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway).
What Crystal lacked in cutting-edge material, he made up for in reliability. And he was always good with a quick, off-the-cuff one-liner to get the audience laughing. (Our favorite: introducing presenters Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz as "a recurring dream of mine.")
And Crystal's performance wasn't completely without fresh new bits (that, let's face it, he might repurpose if he gets the nod for a tenth stint as emcee). He brought the house down with a segment where he panned through the star-studded audience and pretended to read the celebs' minds -- including that of The Artist's cute canine star Uggie ("I'd lick 'em if I had 'em! I'd lick 'em if I had 'em!"). Watch that clip below!
But despite the cameo performance by Justin Bieber in the opening number, there was a noticeable generation gap between viewers familiar with the host and teenagers/twenty-somethings who posted variations of "Who is Billy Crystal?" on Twitter again and again.
So while Crystal may have rescued the Oscars from the dismal memory of last year's disastrous experiment to lure younger viewers with cohosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, it wasn't as much a timeless hosting gig as a sigh of relief that someone familiar with the job wouldn't muck it up.
Now that he's donned the title of Oscar host nine times, who's likely to pick up the baton for the 85th Academy Awards in 2013? After his humorous presenting bit, maybe 2005 Oscar emcee Chris Rock is ready for another turn.