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2012 Oscars: An Illustrated, Annotated Tour, from Billy Crystal to... Chewbacca?
February 27, 2012  | By David Bianculli

ABC's Academy Awards telecast Sunday night had too much filler, fell far too flat, and had too few special moments -- though it did have a few. A few presenters scored, Billy Crystal was solid though not quippily quotable, the fashion scene-stealers of the night were Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie, and Cirque du Soleil soared, literally.

What follows is a fast guided illustrated tour of the highlights and other lights -- ending with a bonus image from Jimmy Kimmel's high-octane post-Oscars live show...


The most anticipated part of The 84th Annual Academy Awards was the opening, with the return of Billy Crystal, after a long absence, for his ninth time as host. It opened with a nod to The Artist, with Crystal being tortured, in a silent movie, into hosting the show again. It showed a smart bit of prescience, honing in immediately on the movie which, at the end of the night, would walk away with Best Picture.

Crystal's "Oscar Oscar" song, with nine Best Picture nominees to cover, was more disjointed and less impressive than in previous years -- though saluting War Horse by rewriting the lyrics to TV's Mr. Ed did make me laugh. But Crystal kept things moving, and his opening filmed piece was loaded with celebrity cameos. Not as many as Jimmy Kimmel's Movie: The Movie mini-spoof four hours later, but we'll get to that.

From start to finish, here's my annotated rundown of this year's Oscar telecast:


The Clooney kiss: In the opening film piece, George Clooney reprises his role in The Descendants by visiting a hospital bed to say goodbye -- this time to Billy Crystal. And Clooney's kiss not only revives Billy, but leads to an instant request: "Do the Batman voice." My first laugh of the night, before I realized how few there would be.


Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, front view: The Internet went Internuts, trying to figure out if Lopez had committed an accidental, or premeditated, wardrobe malfunction. My opinion: No. But if I had a nipple for everyone who Twittered that they saw something titillating, I'd retire.


Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, back view: Think of how far we've come as a pop-culture nation. A decade ago, Jennifer Lopez's posterior was the most-discussed part of her anatomy. Sunday night, even though she and Diaz had a good time handing out one award by turning their backs to the audience and the camera, not even bringing sexyback could distract from Lopez's distraction. Leave it to cleavage...


Wizard of Oz focus group: Christopher Guest and his usual gang of impish improvisers, including Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy and Fred Willard, ate up a few minutes of Oscar time with a filmed piece about a clueless Wizard of Oz "focus group." It was cute, and clever -- but played like, "We interrupt these Oscars to bring you this segment from Second City TV." Why then? Why at all?


Cirque du Soleil: The acrobatic troupe's salute to cinema got a standing ovation from the black-tie crowd, and absolutely deserved it. They did some amazing stunts -- and not every performer stuck his landing, which made the live TV event even more thrilling. From what they did on stage to what they did dangerously high above the crowd, Cirque du Soleil nailed it.


Watching Cirque du Soleil: Somehow, I'm positive, that if a camera had captured me watching Cirque du Soleil Sunday night, I'd look a little less glamorous than this candid reaction shot of George Clooney and Stacy Keibler doing the same thing. However, I suspect that might be true of almost anyone else watching on the entire planet.


Robert Downey, Jr. brings a new perspective: When Downey and Iron Man co-star Gwyneth Paltrow were teamed as presenters, Downey brought his own camera crew with him, to document a new "reality" project called "The Presenter." It was funny and lively -- something you could say of only a few other Oscar presenters.


Emma Stone KOs Ben Stiller -- And Me, Too: Another funny pair of presenters showed up when Emma Stone presented to be uber-excited, presenting an Oscar for her first time, then laid into Stiller when he tried to calm her down. Very funny bit, with Stiller playing straight man for once.


Unexpected Sex Cymbals: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, dressed in white tuxes, came onstage with cymbals. And when Galifianakis came to his punch line, Ferrell punctuated it with a clash of the cymbals. I've often wondered why a standup comic doesn't try this... providing his or her own musical rim shot after each joke. Again, this made me laugh.


Another place to look with this year's fashions: Another attention-getting fashion statement by one of this year's Oscar presenters was Angelina Jolie, whose split-gown stance showed off her right leg so prominently, and intentionally, it might have qualified for its own honorary Oscar.


Hold the applause, please: For once, the black-tie audience in the theater did not applaud when their favorite deceased celebrities showed up on the "In Memoriam" tribute reel. I've always been a little creeped out by that -- as though it's the ultimate popularity contest, with some people bring applauded more than others one final time. But some, like Elizabeth Taylor, were give separate tiny sound bites, which almost amounts to the same thing.


Best speech of the night: Early winner Octavia Spencer, for her Supporting Actress Oscar for The Help, was an early and strong standout. But at the very end, Meryl Streep, with an honest and seemingly spontaneous thank-you that was both funny and tender, walked away with top honors as Best Speech -- as well as Best Actress, for The Iron Lady.


After the Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel scores -- and so does Chewbacca: Jimmy Kimmel's live post-Oscars show included a lengthy (nine-minute!) movie spoof that was better, and far more star-studded, than Billy Crystal's piece that opened the Oscars.

Lots of highlights abounded, including Matt Damon dressed as a bunch of purple grapes, and Tom Hanks as a killer robot. But my favorite moment, because it was so unexpected, was a post-coital sequence with Kate Beckinsale and Chewbacca. What a way to end Oscar night...

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