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Five things Billy Crystal did right at the Oscars

Oscar host Billy Crystal sings at the beginning of the 84th Academy Awards.

GARY HERSHORN/Gary Hershorn/Reuters

Forget The Artist or Meryl Streep. The real Oscar winner is… Billy Crystal.

The most glowing Monday-morning accolades from last night's 84th Academy Awards will be heaped upon the puckish Crystal, who returned to host the annual movie-industry fete following an eight-year absence.

Over a three-plus hour show consumed by cinema sentimentalism and hooray-for-Hollywood proselytizing, Crystal kept the show grounded with his wisecracks and comedy routines. On his ninth turn as Oscar host, Crystal probably ensured that he'll be hosting the show for years to come.

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And perhaps more impressively, he made it look easy. How did Crystal reclaim his mantle as Oscar's most reliable modern-day host? Here are five things he did right.

He recycled

If you didn't know any better, you'd swear Crystal was hosting the 1994 Oscars again.

As in the past, he dug out the time-honoured schtick of kicking off the show with a pre-filmed montage in which he drops into clips from the Best Picture nominees. It's remarkable how effective the old green-screen technique still is.

The crowd oohed when George Clooney leaned in to plant a kiss on Crystal in a supposed moment from The Descendants. Tom Cruise burst in through the wall (even though Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol wasn't really up for much Oscar consideration) and then suddenly Crystal was an animated Tintin, flying breakneck over rooftops with his dog Snowy.

The audience loved it more when Justin Bieber turned up in a rewritten scene from Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, to "help out with the 18 to 24 demographic." Bieber and Crystal shared an awkward silent moment. "So how long do you want me to sit here for?" queried the pop star. Then Bieber had to leave. "Good luck, Bob," he told Crystal.

He kept it real

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Unlike the stars rhapsodizing about movies in the pre-taped segments, Crystal did not get misty-eyed about the magic of movies, or pretend that most of the world is not currently in economic freefall. Instead, he had fun with it.

Following the movie montage, Crystal claimed this year's Oscar broadcast was coming from "the Chapter 11 Theatre" and the "Your-Name-Here-Theatre," referencing the much-publicized woes of the Eastman Kodak company, which recently pulled out from a sponsorship deal with the theatre for financial reasons.

But the movies, asserted Crystal, are still America's favourite form of escape, "the place to go to laugh, to cry, to text."

Crystal's most apt summation on the movie world's biggest night: "Nothing can take the sting out of the world's economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues."

He kept out of the way

Aside from his splashy opening number, Crystal kept a respectful distance and appeared only to introduce the presenters, make a few wisecracks, and keep the show moving.

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Crystal was also generous in sharing the comedy spotlight. He introduced a pre-taped skit about "very rare footage" unearthed of a focus group for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, which starred such comedy veterans as Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Bob Balaban and Catherine O'Hara. It was probably the funniest bit on the show, and from the look on his face you could tell that Crystal would have loved to take part, but instead he shared the spotlight.

He took a few shots

To his credit, Crystal took a few well-placed digs at a few Hollywood sacred cows (and at least one Hollywood pig), when those opportunities arose.

Following bizarre, overlong stage turns by the Cirque du Soleil and Muppet characters Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, Crystal cracked, "We've got puppets, acrobats…we're a pony away from a bar mitzvah."

Midway through the broadcast, following an especially wooden speech by Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak, Crystal brought down the house with, "Thank you, Tom…and thank you for whipping the crowd into a frenzy."

He was in charge

At 63, Crystal is an old-school showbiz pro and knows that every good show needs a ringleader.

Right from the opening monologue, Crystal assumed full control of hosting the Oscar broadcast, which was seemingly signaled by the resurrection of his semi-theme song, It's a Wonderful Night for Oscar.

This was naturally followed by the traditional singing rundown of each of the nominated movies (which took a little longer this year with nine nominees), which gets cornier and more obvious each time he does it (this time, he chided Martin Scorsese for not featuring violence in Hugo), but the crowd still loves it.

When not onstage, Crystal helmed the show from the side of the stage or from the audience. When the entire cast and crew of The Artist were milling onstage, apparently unsure of where to exit following their Best Picture win, Crystal briskly emerged from the wings to point them in the right direction, and then to sign off the show.

Because that's what a good Oscar host does.

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