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In his ninth hosting appearance, Billy Crystal mixed a little bit of the old with a little bit of the... older. There was a lot of what fans of his wanted and expected: the movie-magic introductory montage, the ''Oscar, Oscar'' song and dance, his reading of the celebrity minds. He didn't veer too far off script, making only one joke that made anyone squirm — about the absence of an African-American to embrace in Beverly Hills after he watched The Help. But after last year's debacle, he was the comfort food many craved.
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Best Lip Lock
Oscar has a history of famous kisses — I'm looking at you Adrien Brody — but a lipper from George Clooney might go down as the most potent ever: It woke Billy Crystal from a coma! No, not really. But in Crystal's opening film montage, which featured his traditional comic adventures though the year's biggest films — Midnight in Paris with Justin Bieber, Ghost Protocol with Tom Cruise — the best moment was when Clooney's Descendants' character laid one on the host to wake him up.
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Best Being in the Moment
No one was surprised when Octavia Spencer's name was announced as Best Supporting Actress after she dominated the pre-Oscar awards. But she couldn't help ''freaking out,'' as she said once she saw the clock counting down. Her tears were genuine and her acceptance speech made all the more adorable because we were watching someone's life change right before our eyes.
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Most Serious Political Moment
In his acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation director Asghar Farhadi addressed the current tension between his country and the West over Iran's ambitions for a nuclear program. He embraced his homeland with words both provocative and conciliatory: ''I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations, and despise hostility and resentment.''
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Best in Show
Christopher Guest's hilarious mockumentary ensemble reunited for a 1939 focus group of The Wizard of Oz. Fred Willard loved — loved! — the flying monkeys, but everyone else seemed confused and chagrined. ''There are lots of elevator faces... hatchet faces,'' complained Jennifer Coolidge. Guest thought the film should've started in color and then gone to black and white in Oz. And Eugene Levy wanted them to cut the rainbow song. If we only had their brains! And heart!
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Most Felt Intro
Kermit and Miss Piggy got some Oscar camera time but their seats and assignment left something to be desired. Piggy complained bitterly about their distance from the stage, and the couple introduced Cirque du Soleil's acrobatic interpretation of what it's like to go to the movies. Oscars, you ask Fozzie to do this type of thing. Gonzo, maybe. But this is Kermit the Frog. This isn't in his standard Rich and Famous contract.
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Biggest Flight Risk
The Cirque du Soleil performance enjoyed the benefit of low expectations from some television audiences. But once their acrobats started soaring over the Oscar audience, everyone who'd ever read about the grisly accidents from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark suddenly became intrigued. In person, it must have been spectacular, and on a night where The Artist reigned, Cirque du Soleil seemed right at home.
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Biggest (Possibly) Veiled Shot at James Franco
When Robert Downey Jr. came out to present the Best Documentary Award with Iron Man costar Gwyneth Paltrow, he brought a camera crew with him. He said he was filming a documentary called The Presenter, which he planned to have on Netflix by midnight. ''What I'm doing is bleeding edge,'' he said, after Paltrow called him on his stunt. ''It's live documentary.'' Were the digs meant for Franco? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it was funny.
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Most Flexible Bridesmaid
Melissa McCarthy had already lost Best Supporting Actress, so she couldn't be accused of trying to influence the host when she cornered Crystal in his dressing room in a parody of her airplane bathroom scene in Bridemaids. ''How 'bout we make this dressing room an undressing room,'' she cooed. She threw up not one leg to block his escape path, but two. ''Limber,'' he gulped.
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Best Anne Hathaway Imitation
Emma Stone and Ben Stiller presented the award for Best Visual Effects, and the stunning redhead was so excited to be there that she just had to sing... about Real Steel and Hugo. ''I can just pull someone up from the audience and have them dance with me,'' she bubbled, while Stiller tried to keep things clean and simple. ''Get up here, Jonah,'' she called to her Superbad costar. ''Let's dance!'' This funny lady can hang with the big dogs.
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Most Overdue Standing Ovation
At the age of 82, Christopher Plummer became the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar. ''I have a confession to make, when I first emerged from my mother's womb, I was already rehearsing my Academy thank-you speech. But it was so long ago, mercifully for you I've forgotten it.'' His great patrician dignity brought the house to its feet, and his playful speech littered with hints of mischief provided evidence that an Oscar won't change him in the slightest.
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Best Dueling Tuxedos since Dumb and Dumber
''Serious musicians'' Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis — forgive me, Zaj Gabasaphanapis — presented the award for Best Original Song, with the pair wielding dueling cymbals on stage after pounding them repeatedly in Brad Pitt's face. There may have been more rim shots than actual jokes, but the white-on-white tuxedos made up for any shortage of additional instruments, like cow bells.
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Best No Show
If Woody Allen had shown up to accept his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, we still would've had the pleasure of seeing Angelina Jolie, whose high-cut black dress didn't go unnoticed by an admiring audience. I'm sure Allen's speech would have been cute, but no one's complaining about Jolie's extra screen time, I assure you. Awwwwooooooo-gggga!
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Best Make Good
After Alexander Payne thanked the usual suspects, he took a moment to dedicate his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar to his mother, who was in attendance. ''She made me promise that if I ever won another Oscar, I had to dedicate it to her just like Javier Bardem did to his mother,'' said the writer-director, who'd won previously for penning Sideways. ''Thanks for letting me skip nursery school so we could go to the movies.'' Of course, that was after co-winners Jim Rash (Community) and Nat Faxon paid presenter Angelina Jolie what Rash would later call ''a loving tribute,'' by copying her sexy leg-out stance.
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Best Drinking Game
The Bridesmaids ladies had a ball at the SAG Awards when they built a drinking game around mention of the word ''Scorsese.'' You knew someone was going to try to keep it going, and they came prepared, smuggling little bottles of booze on to the stage. Granted, they weren't big bottles — they weren't long or hefty — but I'm pretty sure the girls' toes curled nonetheless.
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Best Roberto Benigni Impression
Hollywood is enamored with auteurs with accents, and The Artist director Michel Hazanvicius nearly channeled the ebullient Italian when he accepted his award for Best Director. He didn't say that he wanted to make love to the world, like Benigni famously did after his Best Actor win in 1999, but he thanked everyone, including Uggie the dog, and then expressed sentiments pulled right from Life Is Beautiful. ''Life is full of grace and brings us joy and happiness. Sometimes life is wonderful and today is one of those days.''
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Most French Moment
Jean Dujardin beat out a field including George Clooney and Brad Pitt for Best Actor, and the debonair actor could barely contain his glee. ''I love your country,'' he said, and I almost expected him to follow up with, ''I steal your Oscar, George,'' like the ladies-man Henri on Cheers. After recognizing Douglas Fairbanks, the inspiration for his character and the host of the first Oscars ceremony, he capped his speech with some exclamations that would've made the French Cuba Gooding proud.
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The Moment You'll Most Remember
When Meryl Streep won her third Oscar, you knew her speech was going to be funny, and touching, and totally off the cuff. She didn't disappoint. ''When they called my name, I had this feeling that I could hear half of America going, Ohhh, no, not her'' she said. ''But you know, whatever.'' She predicted she'd never be up there again, and if she's correct, she left us with a beautiful memory. ''I look out here and I see my life before my eyes, my old friends, my new friends,'' she said. ''Thank you, all of you, departed and here.''
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Deepest Buried Lead
The Artist's Best Picture victory was practically a fait accompli long before Tom Cruise opened the envelope, giving the French film a total of five Oscars for the night. Producer Thomas Langmann paid tribute to Oscar-winning filmmaker Claude Berri, who passed away in 2009, but never mentioned that Berri was his father.