Snafus Crystal-ized

Host makes the most of missing trophies

Oscar host Billy Crystal got so much mileage out of the snafus and nuttiness besetting the Academy in recent weeks that you almost had to wonder — was it all an inside job for comedy’s sake?

From his very arrival — carried onstage in the arms of someone in the getup of a Los Angeles motorcycle cop — Crystal dined out on the missing ballots and missing Oscars that gave the Academy headaches all month long. Dropped to the stage by the hulking cop, who was presumably preventing Crystal himself from being stolen, the comedian said he wanted the LAPD to “plant him” at the Oscarcast.

Crystal then jumped right in to a recitation of Oscar’s woes, pointing in the audience to Willie Fulgear, the salvage worker who last week found 52 of the 55 Oscars which went missing from a shipping company. Fulgear had won a $50,000 reward, which Crystal quipped was “not a lot of money when you consider Miramax and DreamWorks are spending millions just to get one” of the Oscar statues, referring to the expensive advertising campaigns for “The Cider House Rules” and best-pic winner “American Beauty.”

Only moments later, after razzing Jack Nicholson, Crystal quipped, “Jack has three Oscars. Which is no big deal — so does some guy in Bell.”

Bell is the LA suburb where 4,000 missing Oscar ballots finally turned up, and also the site of the initial disappearance of the Oscar statuettes — three of which are still unaccounted for.

Crystal added later, “someone in Bell is walking around with three Oscars. Police describe him as armed and pretentious.”

Crystal also latched onto the Tower of Pisa-style headgear wrap worn by presenter Erykah Badu to bring up the missing Oscars yet again. “They searched (Badu’s) hat and found one of the missing Oscars. One down and two to go.”

And more: Crystal later appeared with a sack of oranges — the sort one can buy by the roadside in LA from migrant workers — with two Oscars mixed in. “Somebody bought these coming off the Santa Monica freeway on an off-ramp for $3.99. This is a bargain.”

Dis-harmonic convergences like the Bell double-whammy meant that superstitious folk could be forgiven for tuning into the Oscarcast to see if there would be further wacky misfires.

Sure the show ran an hour over schedule, but in fact, after a month when the Oscars seemed hexed, the show technically ran remarkably smoothly, with few you-can’t-believe-they-did-that moments.

Some had predicted best actress nominee Annette Bening, due with her fourth child, might actually give birth at the show. But despite jokes from Crystal and fellow “American Beauty” star Kevin Spacey about Bening “going into production” she didn’t, and looked happy for it.

Even the fireworks predicted for the encounter between Robin Williams and the risque lyrics of “Blame Canada” in his performance of the nominated song didn’t produce anything for the record books.

Williams emerged with his mouth covered with black tape — alluding to the film’s battles with the Motion Picture Association ratings board and TV censors — then ripped the tape off and launched into the song. He was faithful to the lyrics with one exception, turning to his chorus with a shocked expression rather than actually voicing that dirtiest of dirty four-letter words.

The awardees were generally well-behaved, too.

Best supporting actress winner Angelina Jolie seemed headed into odd territory when she started her speech with “I’m in shock. I’m in love with my brother,” but she pulled it out with a touching thanks to her family.

Spanish helmer Pedro Almodovar, who won for best foreign pic, had to be practically dragged offstage by compatriot Antonio Banderas.

Perhaps the most unusual thank-you came from Alan Ball, who grabbed the Oscar for best original script for “American Beauty.” Referring to the image in the film which one of the characters describes as almost unbearably beautiful, Ball thanked “that plastic bag in front of the World Trade Center for being whatever it is that inspires us to do what we do.”

Probably the only real snafu was the misspelling of nominee M. Night Shyamalan’s name in the graphics for his best original script nom. His middle moniker was listed as “Knight.” But that was straightened out when his nom for direction went up.

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