66 Oscar Monologues and Opening Numbers Ranked, From Worst to Best


“Writers. Directors. Actors.”

Steve Martin looked out at the crowd at the Kodak Theatre. The joke that followed could only work at the Oscars: “If we’re stuck here tonight and run out of food, that’s the order in which we eat them.”

We know one thing for sure about Sunday night’s 90th Academy Awards: Jimmy Kimmel will take the stage and, for eight or ten minutes, deliver a string of one-liners. He will prick Hollywood excess, genuflect to Meryl Streep, and deliver a few zingers pegged to the Best Picture nominees. Oscars preparations are a secret, but we know he’ll do this because, over most of the last 65 years, televised Oscars shows have just about always featured a host doing just that. (Well, okay — the Meryl Streep jokes date back only to the late ’70s.)

While no one was looking, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently dumped most of its Oscars footage onto YouTube — hundreds and hundreds of clips from the show, including virtually every opening monologue, a mind-blowing treasure trove you can have a lot of fun picking through.

What follows is a ranking of those opening segments, from worst to best, with a lot of great jokes along the way. A lot of the shows had a single host. Bob Hope was of course an early Oscars favorite, hosting 18 shows. (Here’s Billy Crystal’s tribute to him at his death, in 2004.) Johnny Carson hosted five, in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Once in a while there was no host, or a series of hosts, a big dance number, or even weirder stuff. For our purposes here, I stuck to whatever happened before the first award was handed out. The only things missing are a few of the celebrated Chuck Workman film collages, which aren’t on YouTube, I assume for rights reasons.

As we came close to the present, I discovered as well that some monologues were missing from the Academy’s YouTube channel (like Seth MacFarlane’s notorious opening) and some were expurgated, like Chris Rock’s remarks on The Passion of the Christ. (“Not that funny, really.”) That’s okay — all of the recent shows are readily available on the Pirate Bay.

So here we go! The envelope please:

66. 2013 (the 85th Oscars)
Host: Seth MacFarlane

This is one of the most depressing Oscars ever. There’s a terrible host, and great movies like Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, and Beasts of the Southern Wild are beaten out by Argo, a movie about a trivial sidelight to a geopolitical tragedy abetted by the United States for decades. (The actual story was so uninteresting that director Ben Affleck had to add a lot of spurious suspense, like the fictional oh-so-dramatic plane takeoff at the end.)

Anyway, we have the host from Maxim, Seth MacFarlane, whose stint left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.

This is for a few reasons. One is that most of his jokes sucked. Mentioning Daniel Day-Lewis’s Method acting as Lincoln, he asks, “If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the lot, would you try to free him?” Django Unchained, he says, “is about “a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” Why would Rihanna call it that? And this is the Oscars, not the Grammys. Even his Mel Gibson joke was off.

There is a dance break with Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum, during which MacFarlane croons “The Way You Look Tonight.” This Fred Astaire classic conjures up memories of the swellegant Astaire and Ginger Rogers that the galumphing Tatum and Theron quickly dispense with. And when Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe come on to join MacFarlane for another dance number, the trio’s raw magnetism rivals that of some of the early Academy president speeches.

Then there is MacFarlane’s song “I Saw Your Boobs,” which is presented on tape after a video chat with William Shatner as Captain Kirk, ostensibly beamed in from the future. The song, in case it isn’t clear, mentions a lot of actresses who have done nude scenes in movies.

There’s a big double standard when it comes to nude scenes in film; it would have been a great opportunity to riff on that and cinema’s exploitation of women generally. But MacFarlane is just sniggering. No subtext, just sniggering. Hey Seth: You saw Jodie Foster’s breasts in The Accused because her character was being gang-raped. Captain Kirk was right about one thing: You were the worst Oscars host in Academy Award history.

65. 2011 (the 83rd Oscars)
Hosts: James Franco and Anne Hathaway

Hathaway gets the better reviews — and I know, I know, she’s an angel — but let me tell you, neither is very good. Franco is simpering when he wasn’t distracted, and while Hathaway brings a bit of spirit, most of her lines are only half-funny. It is the longest four minutes in Oscars opening-monologue history.

Best Line: Hathaway introduces her mom, who tells Hathaway to stand up straight and push her chest out a bit. “Steven Spielberg is here!”

64. 1974 (the 46th Oscars)
Host: Burt Reynolds

In the 1970s, things occasionally got weird at the Oscars. Tonight, there is a fanfare of nominated songs. It’s an incredible year for movies, including The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, The Last Detail, Paper Moon, and, not least, Last Tango in Paris. Then, we get a seven(!)-minute dance by Liza Minnelli, climaxing in two vignettes. In the first, she relives her Best Actress loss for The Sterile Cuckoo … and in the second relives her Cabaret win! Minnelli’s a star, but it was rough going.

Then comes Burt Reynolds, the most ill-suited host before James Franco. The highlight here, really worth checking out, is a wonderful collage, coming in at about the 20-minute (!) mark, sort of an Oscars blooper reel. But the rest is just Burt Reynolds, known at the time for displaying Elvis Presley–level acting chops in a series of unaccountably popular movies with titles like Gator and Hooper. Reynolds seems to have the attention span of a hamster. Most of the routine is about how neither he nor the Academy know why he’s there.

Typical line: [Blows raspberry.] “If you want sophistication, talk to David Niven.”

Low point: “I love the title The Sting. It reminds me of old Army-training films.”

Politics: [After noting that Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, etc. weren’t at the ceremony.] “A lot of people just don’t want to take what’s comin’ to them. But enough about Richard Nixon …”

63. 1988 (the 60th Oscars)
Host: Chevy Chase

Chase is hosting solo, after co-hosting the previous year. He begins on the red carpet, but not saying much that is funny. Things improve only marginally once the show starts. It is the year of The Last Emperor — the ravishing Bertolucci epic that won all nine awards it was nominated for — Fatal Attraction, and Wall Street. There is a taped intro, with quick comic stylized skits showing all the different trades that go into making a film. The music starts sounding familiar and then you notice it is “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line, which has recently been made into a movie, and there is a big rousing dance number.

“Good evening, Hollywood phonies,” Chase says. There was a strike, so many of the jokes are about that: “My entire monologue was donated by five teamsters.”

Otherwise, the onetime SNL star is at his most sour: “Critics are a strange species. Imagine a parent saying, ‘When you grow up I want you to spend all your time going to the movies, and then I want you to make a living talking about what a terrible experience it’s been.’” As someone who saw many of Chase’s movies for professional reasons, I can say there were indeed times when I questioned my career choices.

Best joke (I Guess): “Glenn Close is here with her obstetrician in case anything out of the ordinary pops up.”

Beating-a-Dead-Horse Dept: “The Academy seriously considered giving out an award for best film critic. Unfortunately, we found there weren’t any.” [Applause.]

62. 1989 (the 61st Oscars)

This is the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Oscars openings, and I am happy to tell you that time has not dimmed its painful awfulness. We begin with Army Archerd, the longtime Variety columnist, outside the auditorium’s doors. He’s interviewing a young star with an unpleasant, squeaky voice. It’s Snow White. The idea is that she’s an actress trying to make it in Hollywood. Archerd ushers her in and she goes down the aisle trying to greet various stars, who do their best to ignore her. What comes next was the most outré event in Oscars history, an 11-minute song-and-dance number that can best be described as the trip you’d have after taking a tab of ecstasy and chasing it with a tall glass of denture water from the bedside table of an aging Hollywood icon.

The trouble comes from a number of bad decisions made by producer Allan Carr. The first is lifting ideas and some performers from a campy San Francisco-by-way-of-Vegas theater outfit, Beach Blanket Babylon, known for its breezily low-fi sensibility and enormous architectural headgear, which are amusing in a small venue. But these aspects of the presentation are immediately lost when presented on a worldwide stage. Carr also showcases a bunch of stars from waaay, way back (Dorothy Lamour, Roy Rogers) on a makeshift Coconut Grove nightclub set. These almost to a person come across as not only dragged in but, and I say this with kindness, dragged in from their respective nursing homes.

Then Merv Griffin appears to sing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” Even those who knew that Griffin got his start at the Grove (an L.A. nightclub) singing that song might have wondered what exactly this had to do with Snow White, not to mention cinema in any sense.

Beyond that, the Snow White conceit, fine in the absurdist confines of BBB, doesn’t really track at an actual movie event. Show White wasn’t an actor, she was a character; there’s a difference. And I haven’t even mentioned the dancing tables, Rob Lowe (then the ingénue star of St. Elmo’s Fire), or the White-Lowe duet to that classic movie tune “Proud Mary.”

It must be said the segment ends with a wowza display of the ultimate Babylon hat, but this landmark, too, is unclear to the audience. Lily Tomlin enters and apparently accidentally loses a shoe as she goes down the stairs, though I can’t tell if that was a shtick or not.

But there is another amazing thing about this opening. It actually gets worse.

Richard Kahn, a marketing exec who was then the president of the Academy, appears next, to mouth a succession of phonetic sounds we had heard at this point some 60 times before: “Honoring the outstanding achievements in motion picture for the year …” blah blah blah. He tells us that the show will be seen in 91 countries and, for the first time, in the USSR, many of whose viewers must have been staring at the screen in shock.

Kahn then introduces some star power. Hold onto your hats, it’s … Tom Selleck!

As it happened, Selleck was at the time something passingly like a hot commodity, coming off the hit Three Men and a Baby — the Snakes on a Plane of its day — with fellow thespians Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg. He appeared sporting an odd buzz haircut and a mustache the size of the Hollywood sign, and, if you can believe it, he was there to explain that he was actually not the host. He goes on and on explaining how people will come on, solo or in pairs, to give out awards. Thanks Tom, we didn’t know how these new-fangled Oscars shows work! And throughout — I’m not making this up — there is music playing in back of him that sounds like the exit music played to get long-winded awardees off the stage.

This became the Oscars-show opening that never went away. Repercussions reverberated for months; the Disney company launched a legal attack on the show. The position of the Academy’s lawyers was that Snow White was a figure in the public domain. (Yeah, but the whole point was that she was Snow White from the movie.)

Right about then, the Academy solons were probably wishing for something, anything, to distract attention from the Disney imbroglio. Their prayers were answered, after a fashion, a few months later when Rob Lowe’s sex tape hit the news. At this point the Academy was looking into the void, PR-wise, but for Lowe it was more of a good news/bad news situation: Sure, a tape got released of him having sex, and his movie career was derailed. On the other hand, he’d had the good fortune to make the tape in the enlightened state of Georgia, where it actually wasn’t against the law for movie stars passing through town to film themselves fucking local 16-year-olds.

61. 1958 (the 30th Oscars)

Wagon Train, Father Knows Best, and Kraft Theater will not be seen at their usual times tonight …

George Stevens (director of Swing Time, Shane, and Giant, and three-time Best Director recipient) was the president of the Academy. He told everyone there would be no commercial interruptions in the show — now that’s something they should bring back — and that, “to accommodate the reporters, photographers and newsreel men,” there was now a pavilion next to the stage to interview the winners after each award presentation. He introduced Jimmy Stewart, “one of the few stars who can fill a CinemaScope screen lying down” — which makes no sense if you think about it. There were half a dozen or more semiofficial hosts over the course of the evening, but no monologue.

60. 1963 (the 35th Oscars)
Host: Frank Sinatra

It is the notable year of Lawrence of Arabia, which gives David Lean his second Best Picture win; To Kill a Mockingbird; and The Manchurian Candidate. The orchestra kicks off with “Tonight,” from West Side Story, the previous year’s big winner. They wrap it up and we see that … Ol’ Blue Eyes is the host! What follows is one of the weirdest Oscars openings ever. Minutes go by as Sinatra riffs on the Mona Lisa (“The chick just sits there and smiles!”), da Vinci, and the personal vision that comes through in the best art. If da Vinci came to Hollywood, you see, a producer would demand things like, “a cocktail-party scene in the foreground! Give it some production values!”

We can all agree with him, of course. But it is also heavy-handed, long-winded, more than a bit self-satisfied, and boring. (Sinatra was sort of the Kanye West of his day.) No jokes until the adorable Shelley Winters comes on to give out the first award. “De gustibus,” she says. “That means ‘thank you,’ I think, in Latin.” (It’s possible Winters is improvising and twitting Sinatra’s blathering.) “I’ll check with my druggist,” Frank says and exits, pursued by a bear.

59. 2012 (the 84th Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

It is the year of The Artist, with Hugo, The Tree of Life, and Moneyball missing out. The Academy is making something clear. The King’s Speech, the previous year’s winner, made $140 million at the box office, not that much dough in the 2010s. The Artist, a black-and-white affair that would have been in French if there were any dialogue at all, is at $32 million the week of the awards, and will become be the second-lowest-grossing Best Picture winner of the modern era, coming in right after The Hurt Locker, from two years previous, and beating out Crash, from six years earlier. In the years since 2011, the grosses have gone even lower, and it is now only the fifth lowest-grossing Best Picture winner.

Anyway, it is Billy Crystal’s ninth stint, back after a ten-year absence. The interim shows, with Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, etc., make his stuff seem even hokier. “Just call me ‘War Horse,’” he says, referring to the year’s Spielberg film. You can hear a pin drop. He is still irritatingly self-referential. He goes into his “Oscar! Oscar!” song but then stops to say, “You didn’t think I wasn’t going to do this, did you?”

All he has for The Artist is, “If he wins he’ll say, ‘Merci beaucoups.’ War Horse gets “a horse is a horse of course of course.” Of course.

Changing Times: “The movies have always been there for us. The movies are the place to go, to laugh to cry, to question, to text …”

Best Line: [In the song for the Clooney-starrer The Descendants] “Maybe Oscar will be laying George tonight!”

58. 1986 (the 58th Oscars)
Hosts: Jane Fonda and Alan Alda

Fonda was Hollywood royalty, with two Oscars of her own. Alda was mostly known for Neil Simon adaptations but was coming off one of the biggest TV shows of all time, the M*A*S*H finale. (Crimes and Misdemeanors was a few years hence.) It was the year of The Color Purple and Witness, Cocoon and Back to the Future. The big winner, Out of Africa, was forgettable and not particularly filmic; it was hard to point to any movie striking enough to merit the award.

The flatulence of the year is matched by the hosts and their routines. Fonda says that, given that 1 billion people are watching, they need Robin Williams to come out to deliver messages in various languages. Things go well until she gets to the Philippines, when Williams dons the character of a heavily accented guy hawking shoes for half off. Laff riot! Because Filipinos sell shoes! Alda laughs and laughs. Then the pair does a little routine about Oscars thank-yous. Then comes the pièce de résistance: They ask the nominees to stand up …

… and that’s the big excitement!

Academy president Robert Wise (he directed The Sound of Music and West Side Story) came on to blather about the Academy. And that was it.

57. 1976 (the 48th Oscars)
Hosts: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, George Segal, Goldie Hawn, and Gene Kelly

We’re in the heart of the 1970s now. The opening perp walk has a lot of surprises, with glimpses of Liz Taylor; Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland; Margaux Hemingway; O.J. Simpson, “actor and athlete nonpareil” (you don’t hear words like “nonpareil” on broadcast TV any more); and Audrey Hepburn, “gamin-like and just returned from Europe.” (You don’t hear words like “gamin” any more either.)

It is an incredible movie year: The Best Picture slate, pound for pound, is one of the most impressive ever: Cuckoo’s Nest, Jaws, Nashville, Barry Lyndon, and Dog Day Afternoon. (Shampoo and Tommy and The Man Who Would Be King are left out. Amazingly, the Los Angeles Times’ Charles Champlin would write before the ceremony, “It wasn’t just a bad year for movies, it was a terrible year.”) The Academy recognizes this hallucinatory and consequential collection by giving us … what may or may not be a taped segment with none other than Ray Bolger leading an ever-more-elaborate dance sequence outside the hall. Bolger, one of the last of the old hoofers, played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, nearly 40 years prior.

It is kind of an artless song, in which it takes Bolger a long time to tell us all about the awards, which are going to be given out … at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion … at the Music Center in Los Angeles — you get the idea. Lots of labored stuff about riding a buggy or a cart with all sorts of people dressed in costume running around him. Here’s the big climax of the song:

Just follow me
And you will see
How Hollywood
Honors its own!

All the dancers make their way inside eventually, with the elderly Bolger doing his best to gambol along with them. Then Academy president Walter Mirisch drones on for a while, concluding, “We honor our country as well as our films, for a great nation, like a great country, can stand the test of time and the glare of critical examination.” (That might have been a vague political reference. It was the run up to the 1976 election.)

He introduces Walter Matthau, who dispenses some witticisms, including a little bit o’ Shakespeare and the word “demurred,” and goes over the Academy voting rules.

56. 1966 (the 38th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

We’re in color — for the first time! There’s a great shot that changes the façade of the Santa Monica Civic from black-and-white to color. The arrivals pop, including Julie Christie; Lynda Bird Johnson escorted by, bizarrely, George Hamilton; the doomed Natalie Wood; Shirley MacLaine and her brother Warren Beatty. (Years later, when Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait gets him nominations in four categories but no wins, MacLaine, from the stage, says, “I want to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of my little brother — my dear, sweet, talented brother. Just imagine what you could accomplish if you tried celibacy.”)

Hope’s our host. It’s the most elaborate Oscars stage yet, complete with fountains. “It looks like Lloyd Bridges’s rumpus room.” (The water had to be turned off for the show because it was too noisy.) Hope warns those in attendance to be aware of the new cameras roaming the crowd. “If you’ve got an itch, forget it!” It’s not a very notable monologue, but Hope is his usual self, delivering his lines and then freezing his face and staring into middle space, his version of the slow burn: “[We have] the stars of today … and the senators of tomorrow.” (A forgotten song-and-dance man, George Murphy, had just been elected senator from California.) “As Spyros Skouras once said, there are no atheists on Academy Awards night. “

Best Joke (such as it is): “I can’t drink like Lee Marvin, I can’t grunt like Rod Steiger. I can’t enunciate like Olivier, and when it comes to Burton I’m really in trouble!”

Oops: “George Hamilton is here with a beautifully feathered friend. And if he plays his cards right he may be the second Hamilton in the White House.”

55. 1993 (the 65th Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

It’s the year of Unforgiven, The Crying Game, and A Few Good Men — all coming, ironically, in what was supposed to be Oscars’ “Year of the Woman.” Crystal comes out on a giant Oscar statue pulled by Jack Palance, a reference to the pair’s awful City Slickers the previous year. Palance does a few one-armed push-ups, as he’d done after he’d won a sentimental Best Supporting Actor at the previous ceremony. Crystal does his car-lock remote joke.

A lot of the monologue is about The Crying Game. Crystal gets to make a lot of gay jokes, and act all impish about whether he’s going to reveal the film’s “secret.” (It turns out Stephen Rea’s involved with a man not a woman, and the reveal comes via the full monty, you might say, right up there on the screen. It’s not in the same league as the calf-birthing scene in City Slickers, of course.)

Crystal shows off some joke studio swag for the movies, Gallagher-level stuff. There’s something with a bloody knife for Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives. (Because, you know, wives and husbands are always trying to stab each other.)

He does his routine about how he’s not going to do the “Oscar! Oscar!” song, but no one seems to care. It’s pretty dumb, as usual (“Hurray for Howards End” etc.) and ends with his obsession with the cock at the center of The Crying Game, basically giving away the twist.

And the thing ends with Crystal plugging his own miserable film, Mr. Saturday Night. It’s a pretty hacky moment.

Best Joke: “Ironically, 1992 has been a very poor year for women’s parts. Some of the most talked about women’s parts were Sharon Stone’s in Basic Instinct.”

Also: “[J. Edgar] Hoover was a master of disguise; for seven years he was on The Andy Griffith Show in the role of Aunt Bee.”

54. 1981 (the 53rd Oscars)
Host: Johnny Carson

It’s a sensational night. The Academy Awards have been put off a day after a shocking news event. This hadn’t happened since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The mind boggles at the logistical entanglements the delay has caused. (“The caterers! The designers! My god, the florists!”) The red carpet bursts with classic sights, with new stars like Sigourney Weaver, Timothy Hutton, and Michael Jackson, who sweeps in with Diana Ross, his co-star in The Wiz, rubbing shoulders with Alan Arkin and Loretta Lynn (the subject of Coal Miner’s Daughter).

It’s the year of Ordinary People, Raging Bull, The Elephant Man, The Empire Strikes Back, and, um, Private Benjamin.

After the arrivals, the announcer intones the names of some of the presenters; it goes on for more than a full minute. At the end, the announcer, incredibly, manages to mess up the host’s name! “And master of ceremonies, John Carson!”

You had one job …

“The news today is very good, as you know,” Carson tells the crowd. “The president is in excellent condition and he’s been conducting business.” There’s extended applause. It’s the day after Reagan was nearly assassinated.

I love the idea of the Academy folks calling Reagan’s hospital, trying to figure out whether they could get away with putting the show on the next night. (“What do you think the chances are he makes it to midnight?”)

We then see a greeting from the president he had recorded a few weeks prior.

The opening concludes with a passable bit with the Academy rules in song, but the Academy apparently felt like that was enough levity after the near-tragedy of the day before, so Carson never delivers a monologue proper.

53. 1960 (the 32nd Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

This is Ben Hur’s year, with Some Like It Hot and Anatomy of a Murder in the mix. (The 400 Blows and Wild Strawberries are both nominated for Best Screenplay.) Academy membership stands at 2,200. The show opens with a run of tunes by multiple-Oscar-winner Harold Arlen. (He wrote “Over the Rainbow.”) Then comes a highly unexciting B.B. Kahan, president of the Academy. Hope appears to deliver a nothing-special monologue including some pointed lines amid the hard feelings about a strike that has roiled the industry. To my ears they sound a little union-unfriendly. Like: “It’s a wonderful country. Where else can a man walk off his job and refuse to get out of his swimming pool until they improve working conditions?” Though there is a slight dig at Reagan: “Never thought I’d see the day when Ronald Reagan was the only actor working.”

Best Joke: “We have a wonderful audience here tonight. Minks, furs, jewels … Looks like the basement of a Chicago police station.”

Sign of the Times: “Pretty soon there will be nothing but offbeat, psychological adult Westerns. Tomorrow, when the hero gets shot by the villain he says, ‘I wonder what he meant by that?’”

52. 1964 (the 36th Oscars)
Host: Jack Lemmon

We’re at the Santa Monica Civic. There are a lot more cameras running tonight — lots of angles on the orchestra and the crowd. Rock Hudson does a goofy “man in the aisle” talk, letting us know that people are late to the Oscars because women have to find their gloves in the car.

It’s the year of Cleopatra and Tom Jones (the big winner) and Lilies of the Field. (Sidney Poitier will be the first African-American to cop an acting Oscar since Hattie McDaniel, for Gone With the Wind.) Interestingly, Last Year at Marienbad gets a screenplay nod, one of the most outré Oscars nominations ever.

Another fanfare tribute to Arthur Freed and Ignacio Herb Brown (the Singin’ in the Rain guys) seems excessive. Our host is Jack Lemmon. The Freed suck-up is so glaring (he’s the president of the Academy, remember) that Lemmon riffs more than once on the “curious coincidence.” (Did you know that Shirley Temple, in her autobiography, said that Freed exposed himself to her when she was a child?)

Lemmon’s big bit is about how the movies are beginning to stop having characters smoke all the time. Along the way he gives an ostensible quote from Shakespeare with the words “lucky strike,” but I think he’s just making it all up. I’m not sure what the joke is.

51. 1956 (the 28th Oscars)
Host: Jerry Lewis

Acad prez George Seaton comes out to tell us that all five Best Picture nominees were shot overseas. The drama tonight is about the host, Jerry Lewis, at the time something of a live wire and out of keeping with Academy tradition. Seaton goes out of his way to introduce him as “a young comedian I have always enjoyed. In the last 24 hours, I have learned to respect him.”

Lewis, while his inimitable self, seems to be out of his depth. His jokes are for the most part corny and by about 15 seconds in he’s riffing on the fact he’s not getting across.  “Bob Hope travels quite a bit,” Lewis says. “The stickers on his bag read ‘anywhere.’” Dead silence. He’s reduces to explaining to the audience about “straight lines” and “gags.” Next come a few jokes about those newfangled freeways they have in L.A.

There’s a nod to his partner, Dean Martin, with whom he’s doing shows in Vegas: “Last night at the roulette wheel he arranged that we will be in Las Vegas for the next five years.”

He says he likes the foreign movies with the subtitles. But, “When you’re looking at Gina Lollobrigida, who can read? [Tepid response.] See, that’s a gag about a girl …”

Things perk up when Lewis introduces Claudette Colbert, broadcast from New York City, who’s there with the great Joseph Mankiewicz (the director of All About Eve), who says he’s amazed Lewis is doing so well. Lewis has a great response: “‘Amazed,’ Mr. Mankiewicz? The character with which I have been identified, that of the raucous buffoon, is merely a studied portrayal. In actual life I am quite the antithesis.”

Best Line: “The last gag I ever buy from a trumpet player.”

50. 1969 (the 41st Oscars)
Host: “Friends of Oscar”

A funny opening: Ron Moody and Jack Wild — Fagin and the Artful Dodger of Oliver!, in character — plotting on how they’re going to pickpocket an Oscar if they don’t get one. (Neither won, but Oliver! was the big winner that night, including a honorary award for its spectacular dance sequences. It’s also the year of 2001, Funny Girl, and Rosemary’s Baby.)

It’s one of those nights when Oscar tries to show off its stars — dubbed “The Friends of Oscar” — and we see a slew of them, with Ingrid Bergman introducing Sidney Poitier, who introduces Jane Fonda, etc.

When Jane Russell complains that she hadn’t been in a movie with Burt Lancaster, he says, “You could have been in From Here to Eternity,” and looks at her suggestively. The Academy displays the classic shot of Lancaster and Deborah Kerr locking lips in the surf. Russell flounces off.

Sinatra is trotted out to sing an Oscars song, to the tune to “The Lady Is a Tramp”:

If she thumbs her nose at that well-known movie czar
Chances are, the lady is a star!

49. 1983 (the 55th Oscars)
Hosts: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, Richard Pryor, and Walter Matthau

It’s the year of Gandhi and Diner, E.T. and Victor/Victoria. Blade Runner is nominated only for two technical awards; with Do the Right Thing, it’s one of the two big oversights of the directors’ branch in the modern era. Movies are big all around the world, the announcer tells us — “Flicker palaces [?] in Sydney, Australia,” etc. We’re still at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at L.A.’s Music Center.

And tonight our host is … sheer insanity. We get Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau en masse. But don’t worry, it’s not like they’re going to do a song-and-dance number.

Oh, wait …

It’s about how “the moment of truth is here!” Minnelli brings it, of course, but Pryor, particularly, sounds like he’s singing it in from a bar across the street, and that’s leaving aside the fact he can’t even read the cue cards.

Then comes the adorable Fay Kanin, president of the Academy, who reminds us that the first Oscars ceremony had lasted less than five minutes. Anne Frank, she says meaningfully, had pictures of movie stars in her attic. Not sure what the connection is.

Liza comes back — she notes that her co-hosts were still rehearsing — to invite someone on to recite the Academy’s rules. (In the early TV era, FCC rules said the Academy had to spell out how their prizes were determined.) This turns out to be a “fast-talking” guy from TV commercials at the time, who does it all at a blistering rate. Lotsa laughs — and that’s it.

48. 1954 (the 26th Oscars)
Hosts: Donald O’Connor and Fredric March

The intoned opening is something out of Mulholland Drive: From “the city called Hollywood, dedicated to the manufacture of dreams.” Then we get the orchestra offering “Lullaby of Broadway,” conducted by André Previn, the future Mr. Mia Farrow. Then a blast to NYC, and a glimpse of the star-studded crowd there. Academy President Charles Brackett’s back to tell us the industry is in a year of “rebirth” after the threat from TV; the audience “has surged back.” (This was the heyday of CinemaScope and 3-D.)

He introduces Donald O’Connor (who sang “Make ‘Em Laugh” in Singin’ in the Rain), who reads his jokes off a piece of paper in front of him. It feels like he wrote them himself. (These were innocent times.) “It was a big year for movies,” he says, “At least, it was a wide year.” And: “NASA scientists are working on putting movies on the moon. Russian scientists are working on taking them out of Russia. [Silence. Taps microphone.] These things on?”

The broadcast — this is the second year the show was televised — is getting fancy quickly; there’s a split screen with a host in New York, Fredric March. Some toothless badinage. When O’Connor says he has a dachshund, March says, “I suggest you keep him. I hear Zanuck wants to remake the Rin Tin Tin movies in CinemaScope,” har dee har har.

Then O’Connor introduces what is apparently a film clip … but turns out to be an Oldsmobile commercial, with the actor Paul Douglas at the wheel. He gets out and starts getting all starry-eyed about Oldsmobile, only to say he needs help from … “a bright new happy television star on NBC.” It’s Betty White! I looked it up — White was 31 at the time and had already had an amazing career. The commercial goes on interminably — two and a half minutes plus. For the first time, Price Waterhouse rep Bill Miller is introduced, to attest to the probity of the accounting process.

After that you can see a 22-year-old Liz Taylor and Michael Wilding, the second of her seven husbands, give the award for best doc.

47. 2000 (the 72nd Oscars )
Host: Billy Crystal

American Beauty, a film with a surprising homosexual ex machina ending, took home the top prize, though Topsy-Turvy was the year’s best movie. It’s also the year of The Matrix, The Sixth Sense and The Cider House Rules. The show starts with a Billy Crystal opening film, his most complex yet, though the theme is the same, with recycled jokes (Al Gore is robotic etc., etc.) and all about whether he should host again. Lots of stuff about Kevin Spacey masturbating in the shower (a scene in American Beauty), with plenty of gay overtones. (Esquire had recently had Spacey on its cover hinting — if that’s the word — about his sexuality.)

Billy Crystal is carried out by a cop. “I had the LAPD plant me here!”

“Welcome to the Oscars,” he says, “or as ABC likes to call it, Regis’s night off.” This was the era when the insanely popular Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? took over most of the network’s prime-time schedule, which was a great programming idea until everyone stopped watching it.

He goes right into the “Oscar! Oscar!” song. Imagine if you’re a young Matrix fan tuning in, and you’re confronted with Crystal doing “Green Acres” for The Green Mile. Sigh. But it gets a bit better, through The Sixth Sense and The Insider, and then a sequence making fun of Michael Caine for making so many movies, the subtext being that a lot of them are bad.

The Celluloid Closet: “Laura Schlessinger couldn’t be here tonight. She couldn’t get anyone in town to do her hair or makeup.” (Schlessinger is a gay-baiting radio host.)

46. 1985 (the 57th Oscars)
Host: Jack Lemmon

Cute opening with Jack Lemmon, on tape, brandishing a couple of Oscars tickets and asking viewers to follow him inside. Turns out that was about the highlight. It’s the year of Splash and Beverly Hills Cop, well-meaning bits of high-minded ‘80s-iana like The Killing Fields and A Passage to India, and the big winner, Amadeus.

Lemmon’s the affable, inoffensive host for the evening. He gives a short talk, stuff about how we all “love those moving shadows up there.” The awards are for “people whose work is considered better than the work done by those people who thought their own work was pretty good to begin with.”

Prez Gene Allen says that China, Poland, and Denmark are now seeing the show; he claims that that it’s “estimated” that the show will be seen by 1 billion people. This probably isn’t true, but the stars all seem delighted.

The opening ends with Lemmon introducing his co-hosts, “some of Hollywood’s best new talent”: Candice Bergen, Jeff Bridges, Glenn Close, Gregory Hines, Amy Irving, etc.

Best line: Lemmon talks about the proliferation of awards shows. “It is now possible — it has happened — that an awards show can win an award for being the best awards show from another awards show!”

45. 1987 (the 59th Oscars)
Hosts: Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, and Paul Hogan

David Lynch gets a director nomination for Blue Velvet, quite a testimony to him from the director’s branch, given how shocking the movie was at the time. Otherwise, we have Aliens, Children of a Lesser God, and My Beautiful Laundrette; Platoon wins Best Picture and Best Director.

Our host is Chevy Chase; he’s actually sharing duties with Paul Hogan (the evanescently super-famous star of Crocodile Dundee) and Goldie Hawn, but he gets to do the monologue. He starts out riffing on Jim and Tammy Bakker and asking for donations so that god won’t call him home. “It’s only 15 grand — and you’re all rich.” Also: “I want to thank Paul Hogan for flying all the way to be here. When we say, ‘Throw another shrimp on the barbie,’ it means we’re getting rid of one of our agents.” He pokes at the major nominees with hit-and-mostly-miss humor: “Children of a Lesser God — how to make love in a swimming pool without waking the neighbors.”

Best line: “One giant firm now manufactures both television shows and garbage disposals … and sometimes gets the two confused.”

Politics: “The most important secrets in Hollywood are held by two men whose complete silence can be depended upon: Poindexter and North.”

44. 1998 (the 70th Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

Hard to see how a movie without a screenplay nomination could win Best Picture over L.A. Confidential, but this was still the 1990s, and Titanic walked away with a bunch of awards after leaving Hollywood in awe of its grosses. (Hype aside, adjusted for inflation, it was actually only the sixth or seventh highest-grossing picture of all time; rereleases have pushed it to fifth now, according to Box Office Mojo.) The other major films are Good Will Hunting and As Good As It Gets.

Crystal does an opening film, again all about him perhaps not doing the show and getting roughed up by the cops in L.A. Confidential, auditioning for The Full Monty etc., etc. The best part is him posing nude for Leo DiCaprio to sketch. Crystal comes in on a big ship prow, and launches into the “Oscar! Oscar!” song without ado. Using the “Gilligan’s Island” theme for Titanic just about sums up his approach to it all. About L.A. Confidential he gets off the line, “You could be the iceberg tonight!” but we now know it couldn’t happen.

Best Joke: [To the tune of “Night and Day”]

Matt and Ben
You are the ones
Your script is tight
And — dammit — so are your buns.

43. 1972 (the 44th Oscars)
Hosts: Helen Hayes, Alan King, Sammy Davis Jr., and Jack Lemmon

Every decade or so, the Academy hires a new producer who says, “You know what we should do? We should have a big production number at the beginning — a tribute to, to … the Magic of Hollywood!

Here we go again, this time with doughty Joel Grey (who will win an Oscar the following year for a much different role, in Cabaret) telling us how glamorous Hollywood is. I don’t mind a good production number, but I think in the end these things undercut the Academy and Hollywood in general. If it’s so great, why aren’t they just out there being glamorous and boffing each other instead of putting on production numbers about how glamorous they are? And this one is a slog. Silent movies, Valentino, Busby Berkeley, blah, blah, blah. It’s not without humor but I think it certainly would have been better if it had gone deeper into some of the edgier new cinema of the time.

Daniel Taradash comes out to salute Charlie Chaplin, to “welcome him home. He will receive our only honorary award.” (Chaplin, back from exile, will come out to accept the award and say, “You lovely people, thank you.” It’s a highly charged, emotional, and famous Oscars moment. About Chaplin it must be said that, aside from being a supreme artist of the 20th century, he was chased out of the country not just for fairly bogus charges of communist sympathizing but also fairly substantive charges of seducing underage girls, not that a lot of studio execs weren’t engaging in the same behavior.)

It all concludes with Helen Hayes, one of the great living grande dames of stage and screen of the time, coming out to say, “As George C. Scott didn’t get around to saying last year, thank you.”

42. 1999 (the 71st Oscars)
Host: Whoopi Goldberg

It’s the crazy year when Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan and Roberto Benigni walked down to the stage on the backs of the seats to collect his Best Foreign Language Film award for the now-forgotten Life Is Beautiful. Goldberg is the host and pulls off one of the great Oscars entrances of all time, coming on as Queen Elizabeth in whiteface. (Judi Dench will win Best Supporting Actress for her eight minutes on screen playing Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love.) “Good evening loyal subjects,” Goldberg says, “I am the African Queen.”

But it only lasts three minutes. She comes back after a break in regular attire and does a poetry-slam-ish riff on the Lewinsky affair, which is okay except for the fact that it seems a bit blandly unconcerned about the predatory behavior of a powerful male toward one of his female underlings. Otherwise, this is another example of a Goldberg monologue that’s too self-referential and not funny enough. For example: She makes a passing reference to the “Mike Ovitz /CAA thing.” Then she says, “That about limits my time in Hollywood!” But she didn’t actually make a joke about it, much less say anything naughty. She just mentioned it. Do the Academy Awards writers give her lines like that? Or do she or her own writers supply them, and no one has the guts to tell her they aren’t funny?

Politics: “Last time I was here, the most controversial thing you could put on a dress was a ribbon.”

Best Industry Joke (such as it is): “The Oscar campaigns mounted by DreamWorks and Miramax, honey. Those boys fought World War III over World War II!”

41. 2007 (the 79th Oscars)
Host: Ellen DeGeneres

“I’ve always wanted to host the Academy Awards. It’s a dream come true,” Ellen DeGeneres says. It’s her first time hosting. The whole thing is just DeGeneres doing her ruminating, low-key, slightly passive-aggressive jokes.

The Departed is going to win, a long-delayed sop to Martin Scorsese, even though it’s pretty far down on his list of good films. Babel and Little Miss Sunshine are in the mix too.

DeGeneres isn’t bad, she’s just barely there. Even sharp lines don’t really hit: “It’s not that we don’t have time for long speeches, it’s that we don’t have time for boring speeches.”

Best Joke: “Jennifer Hudson was on American Idol. America didn’t vote for her and yet she’s here with an Oscar nomination. That’s amazing. And then Al Gore is here. America did vote for him and then …” This gets a huge hand.

40. 1991 (the 63rd Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

It’s Crystal’s second year; he comes out on a horse. (He’s trying to call attention to his new film, City Slickers.) He debuts his car-remote joke. “I was having lunch with Julia Phillips,” he says. (Phillips, producer of The Sting, wrote a memoir called You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.)

It’s the year Kevin Costner runs the table with Dances With Wolves, with The Godfather III, Awakenings, Ghost, and Goodfellas in the mix. (Let’s pause just a moment and ponder how Dances With Wolves won over Goodfellas, but let’s also reflect that it could have been much, much worse.)

“We have Jeremy Irons,” Crystal says, “star of Reversal of Fortune, the Donald Trump story.” The rest of the opening is the first edition of his “Oscar! Oscar!” song, with pretty silly jokes about the main nominees redone to the tune of old songs. Pretty innocuous stuff.

Best Industry Joke: He refers to the infamous scene in Misery, where Kathy Bates hobbles writer James Caan. “It’s on page eight of the Katzenberg memo.” Then-Disney-chief Jeffrey Katzenberg had roiled the industry with a lengthy critique of its practices, saying studios were paying too much money to stars, among other things.

39. 1973 (the 45th Oscars)
Hosts: Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson

It’s another gigantic production number about movie-making. Our star is Angela Lansbury, a doll.

This was the sensational year of The Godfather and Cabaret, Lady Sings the Blues and Deliverance. (While The Godfather took Best Picture, people tend to forget that Bob Fosse’s Cabaret won eight of its ten nominations.) And Best Actor Marlon Brando would create a legendary Oscars moment when he sent a woman in Native American garb up to decline his statue.

The show begins with, “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC.”

Lansbury’s number is an extended one, detailing the demanding life of an actress, from makeup to rehearsals to her entrances. It goes on forever, but it’s a big production, just like the one the previous year with Joel Grey. Then we get to the Academy president, who says, “The denim generation is into movies!”

Then comes a forgotten bit of craziness — an insane sequence in which Clint Eastwood, a picture of ‘72s hip bouffant and sideburns, emerges to read the Academy rules, except they are in mock biblical text — “Thou shalt have full disclosure” and so forth. Eastwood’s not happy. “C’mon, flip the card, man, this isn’t my bag, I’ll tell you,” he says to the guy holding the cue cards.

Then, incredibly, Charlton Heston runs onstage, literally tamping down his hair. Turns out the biblical stuff was for him to read in a Moses voice. (The official story is that he had had a flat tire on the freeway.)

38. 1990 (the 62nd Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

It’s the first year of Billy Crystal’s Oscars reign. Driving Miss Daisy will win the big prize; only Steel Magnolias would have been a more embarrassing result. It’s also the year of My Left Foot, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Batman.

Most stars try to keep themselves young; Crystal seems to position himself as an old-timey guy. He will have some moments in his first run of four consecutive shows, but boy it sure seems like he gets old fast. Way too many of his jokes are racially based stuff out of a (bad) Borscht Belt act. Crystal says an Italian guy has bought MGM; the MGM lion, he says, would now be taking the Fifth. All Italians are mafia guys. Get it? (The joke actually prompts some boos.) And Sony Pictures, he notes, was bought by the Japanese. He’d gone to pitch a movie to them, Crystal says, and one of the execs stood up and said [barking Japanese voice], “And then Godzilla come up and eat them?!?”

Just to be clear: Japan is the country of Ozu and Kurosawa. Billy Crystal was getting ready to make City Slickers.

There’s more: He mentions Marlon Brando’s Godfather Best Actor win. “That was 18 moons ago.” (For the record, moons represent months, not years; the joke is that Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American Brando sent up to accept his award, had won a “Miss American Vampire” pageant two years previous.)

Crystal’s weirdest joke comes after he introduces Spike Lee and notes that Lee’s acclaimed Do the Right Thing got a Best Screenplay nomination. As the applause dies down Crystal says, “… based on an idea of Art Buchwald’s.” This is a reference to a lawsuit, famous at the time, from columnist Buchwald, who’d pitched an idea to Eddie Murphy and Paramount. They passed — and two years later made Coming to America, which was apparently the same story Buchwald had pitched them. Indeed, Buchwald won; the suit was famous in Hollywood circles regarding a tangential issue, namely laying bare the industry accounting practices that kept even wildly successful films from ever making a profit on paper. The court called this “unconscionable,” but Paramount settled before things went too far.

Anyway, I go into such detail because it’s hard to parse the joke. Crystal could be making fun of Buchwald, the implication being that he was suing any black movie he could. But Buchwald had won the suit. So it comes across more that “here’s another movie made by a black guy who’d stolen a script.” That’s way off too, because he’s comparing a star like Murphy with a serious artist, Spike Lee. It really just feels like his brain is stuck on “a black guy who made a movie.”

Then it gets weirder. Crystal says, “… or Andy Rooney.” Rooney was an elderly columnist, too, latterly in the news for saying the sorts of things a decaying old coot would say. But then that makes it seem that Buchwald was being racist, when in fact a court determined that Paramount and Eddie Murphy stole his idea.

Best Joke: [Entering to applause.] “Is it just me or are you just glad I’m not Snow White?”

Best Industry Joke: “Jack Nicholson is so rich Morgan Freeman drove him here tonight.”

37. 2002 (the 74th Oscars)
Host: Whoopi Goldberg

“This show is going to be long,” Whoopi Goldberg says. “But not as long as it took to explain Mulholland Drive.”

Brian Grazer and Ron Howard always felt they’d been screwed out of an Oscar when Apollo 13 lost to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Tonight, their A Beautiful Mind comes out on top, but that’s overshadowed a bit when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry take home the top two acting prizes.

Indeed, those stunning moments overshadow all the chaos of these awards — the longest Oscars show ever (four and a half hours); the post-9/11 show; the first show in the Academy’s new theater in Hollywood, which would come to be called the Kodak Theatre (and which caught on fire a few times during the preparations for the show); and the first Academy Awards appearance by Woody Allen.

It’s also the year of the first Lord of the Rings film and Memento. It’s crazy that Baz Luhrmann’s phantasmagorical Moulin Rouge! doesn’t win Best Picture, but Mulholland Drive does get David Lynch his second Best Director nomination. (Mulholland was recently voted the best picture of the 21st century in an international poll of film critics by the BBC.)

Tom Cruise comes out first, to tell us it’s okay for the Academy to give each other awards after the 2001 attacks. (His talk was written by Cameron Crowe; in it Cruise claims he was blown away by 2001: A Space Odyssey — when he was 6. Uh-huh.) Allen appears later, to introduce a Nora Ephron paean to New York City in the wake of the attacks.

Then Whoopi Goldberg’s back for a short monologue. She comes down from the ceiling in a getup like Nicole Kidman’s in Moulin Rouge!, except wilder. “I am the original Sexy Beast,” she says, waggling her ribbons. It’s a short opening, but there’s room for her self-congratulation. (“I’m just cracking you up, aren’t I?”)

She gets off a few jokes:

“So much mud has been thrown this year, all the nominees are black.”

“Oscar is the only 74-year-old man in Hollywood who doesn’t need Viagra to last three hours.”

“Security here is tighter than some of the faces.”

36. 1997 (the 69th Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

I think this was the first year Crystal did an opening film. As would become routine, it’s all about whether he should come back to host the Oscars, with assists from Yoda, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, and the like. The funniest part has him trying out jokes on Marge Gunderson in the snow, from Fargo, and she responds, “I think I’m gonna barf!” It ends with a cameo from Letterman.

“Welcome to the Shrine Auditorium,” Billy Crystal says, “the only theater in America not showing one of the Star Wars movies.” (The “special edition” reissues would collectively gross $250 million in 1997.)

Nevertheless, in Oscarland, it’s “Sundance by the Sea,” Crystal says. The majors released 163 pictures in 1996, and only one has been nominated for Best Picture. That’s Jerry Maguire. All of the other celebrated films of the year — Fargo, Secrets & Lies, Sling Blade etc., etc. — came from the so-called “indies” that would shake the industry up over the next decade or so. (Though a lot of the indies were either created by or bought up by the majors, giving them their freedom until the studios decided not to anymore.) In the end, The English Patient takes the top awards. It’s the third Best Picture win for producer Saul Zaentz.

Crystal marvels at the “new faces” — the Coen Brothers, Billy Bob Thornton, etc.

The big set piece is the guys from Sling Blade and Shine doing a cop movie together. Then we get the Oscars-song medley, all pretty pallid, though the one for Shine is creative.

Best joke: [After mentioning the 163 studio releases.] “164 if you count Michael Ovitz.”

Shtick: “I’ve been digitally enhanced myself. Shortly after I was born there was a, uh, rough edit. I had them restore the missing … footage. [Hoots and laughter.] Hey, the rabbi had final cut! What do you want from me?”

Politics: “The only person guaranteed to be waking up with a statue is Tipper Gore.”

35. 1971 (the 43rd Oscars)
Host: Various

One of those crazy movie years: The Best Picture nominees are Airport, MASH, Five Easy Pieces, Patton, and Love Story. And Fellini is nominated for Best Director for Satyricon.

President Daniel Taradash, who wrote From Here to Eternity, starts talking. He’s boring until the 4:30 mark, when something cool happens: He explains how the camera and rehearsal setups work so that, as the nominees are announced, the camera operators can capture the stars’ reactions — and how when the winner is announced, conductor Quincy Jones can have the orchestra play the appropriate theme song. It’s all awesome.

Then we get another long, some would say highly tedious, introduction of stars: Sally Kellerman, Vera Miles, Jim Brown, Glen Campbell, Merle Oberon, Jeanne Moreau, and on and on.

Harry Belafonte reads the rules. “Got all that? Okay.”

The first award is given by Shirley Jones, the remarkable Broadway star who would go down in history as the mom in The Partridge Family, and John Marley, who was Ali MacGraw’s dad in Love Story but would go down in history as the guy who gets the horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather.

And that’s it.

34. 1978 (The 50th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

Oscar’s 50th birthday coincides with the release of Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever and Annie Hall. Big stars in the arrivals, including Kim Novak, Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, and a newish star, Meryl Streep — it’s the year of her first nomination. (She’s now up to 21, having been nominated basically every other year since then.)

Who knows if Chase and Pryor from the year before had gone over well; at any rate, after a nice photo collage, we’re back to the old-school hoofer doing a production number. It’s Debbie Reynolds, Princess Leia’s mother, who comes out to sing a crummy song to Oscar: “Look how far / look how far / look how far we’ve come!” It’s definitely a step back from the terpsichorean tone poem Ann-Margret had proffered the previous year.

I understand the impulse the Academy is following — “We need to play to our strengths! We’re Hollywood! We’ve got the stars!” — but these openings are beginning to feel like compensation. The payoff is dozens of big-name past winners coming down the steps — Cukor and Capra and … Chakiris?!? (George Chakiris, leader of the Sharks in West Side Story, won a supporting actor award in 1961.)

The Academy rules are done by Peck and a delightful Bette Davis, 70 at the time, who marvels that Academy results are now “front-page news.” The pair claim 300 million people are watching the show.

Hope appears, 12-plus minutes in. “Welcome to the real Star Wars,” he says. We see a glimpse of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. His jokes go on for a while but you have to note that Hope seems a bit tired. Audience-reaction shots were still a new art, and a lot of time the camera cuts to audience members not even smiling. Hope is plainly reading the jokes and often stumbling. He was nearly 75 at the time, and would live to 100. This was his last show.

He still has a smile, but he seems to be a little sex-obsessed this year: “Fifty years ago, the boy got the girl. Today it’s anybody — her mother, father, brother, or cocker spaniel.” And: “There’s quite a difference between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing ‘The Continental’, and Marlon Brando doing the tango.”

Best Line: “Liz Taylor’s back at her farm in Virginia, still trying to milk a chicken.”

The Celluloid Closet: “If Wings were made today, Buddy Rogers and Dick Arlen would be walking into the sunset holding hands.”

33. 1957 (the 29th Oscars)
Host: Jerry Lewis

Oldsmobile’s sponsoring again; the clumsy opening sees an Olds station wagon pull up to a stop in front of the Pantages and then more than a few words from the sponsor. It’s pretty embarrassing. Our host for the second time is Jerry Lewis — and this year, for the first time, there’s a big luscious set, rather than just some sort of onstage drawing room.

George Seaton, the Academy president, natters on about the 50th birthday of film, and the worldwide context of the current films, a tacit dig at TV.

Lewis riffs on this too. “War and Peace cost $9 million,” he says, “That’s more than the real war cost.” Pictures are getting long, too, he notes. Recently, he “didn’t see all the picture because the kid in front of me grew up.”

The show cuts to NYC, with Celeste Holm; we see them both on a split screen, and they even try to kiss, with mixed results. Then Lewis goes into a lengthy Ed Sullivan impersonation.

Best joke: “I went to see Giant. It cost me $300 to see Giant. Three dollars admission — and $297 for the babysitter!”

32. 1992 (the 64th Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

Crystal makes a celebrated entrance as Hannibal Lecter with a face mask on, wheeled in on a dolly. Otherwise, he looks the same, but his routine gets more ancient each year. The movies, he tells us, are “the only places in the word you can get real imitation butter.” And, “A quadriplex is, You see one movie but you hear four.” Yuks! But he gets some momentum as he goes on. Oliver Stone’s next movie, he says, is The Men Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

He does his “Oscar! Oscar!” song for the second time, pegged as usual to old chestnuts: “Bugsy” done as “Toot Toot Tootsie,” etc. The last film he gets to is Prince of Tides, with the punch line, “Seven nominations on the shelf / Did this film direct itself?” (Streisand didn’t get a Best Director nomination.)

Politics: [Referring to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.] “Tonight we have the first cartoon ever nominated; not counting Dan Quayle.”

Shtick: [Referring to Ben Kingsley roles.] “Gandhi and Lansky: Two men with a vision, and neither ate pork.”

31. 1955 (the 27th Oscars)
Hosts: Bob Hope and Thelma Ritter

The opening of the third televised awards sees the camera pan over the Pantages with lists of the nominees in each category — all of the nominees — burned onto the screen. It’s pretty tedious, but we can see this is the year of Sabrina, Rear Window, and the eventual big winner, On the Waterfront. Charles Brackett — a major industry mofo whose collaborations with Billy Wilder on films like Sunset Boulevard are only part of his career — is the president and comes out to drone on whimsically, reading from a piece of paper. He introduces the returning Hope, who is his genial, fluty self. Movies are back “after the TV scare.” More technological showing-off: The show cuts to New York, where Thelma Ritter is emceeing. Her image is projected on a stage above Hope.

Meanest Joke: “Is Marilyn Monroe there?” Hope asks. “Yes, she just came in with the Brothers Karamazov,” Ritter replies. (Monroe had said she wanted to star in an upcoming film adaptation.)

Best Industry Joke: “The studios are really fighting for storied properties. Sam Goldwyn got Guys and Dolls. Leland Hayward snatched up The Old Man and the Sea. And Howard Hughes bought the Yalta Papers. The only question is which of the three parts Jane Russell will play.”

30. 1994 (the 66th Oscars)
Host: Whoopi Goldberg

While Richard Pryor had been a co-host a couple of times, this is the first time an African-American has hosted the awards solo, so it’s an amazing moment. The big movies of the year are Schindler’s List, The Piano, and The Fugitive.

Goldberg is true to herself on the show, which is to say it’s all about how daring Goldberg is, which she really isn’t. “So they gave me a live microphone for three hours. There haven’t been so many movie executives sweating over one woman since Heidi Fleiss, honey!” Yawn. And am I the only person who think she just doesn’t deliver the lines well? She swallows jokes and has odd rhythms, and too much of the monologue is all about how outrageous she’s going to be, which again she never is.

Best Joke: “The movies this year covered oppression, abuse, revolution, people fleeing for their lives… and that was just What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

Worst joke: “Lorena Bobbitt, please meet Bob Dole.” Is sexual mutilation of an elderly wounded vet, however much a dunce, really that funny?

29. 2004 (the 76th Oscars)
Host: Billy Crystal

It’s the year when Lord of the Rings will finally take the top awards, with The Return of the King. Master and Commander, Lost in Translation, and Finding Nemo are along for the ride.

Crystal’s hilarious opening film starts with him illicitly videotaping in a movie theater. He finds a ring in a box of Cracker Jack and is transported into a LOTR film, with nods along the way to Terminator, Seabiscuit, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many other movies. The Sméagol part is funny; in full Gollum makeup, talking to his reflection about hosting another Oscars, he says:

“I mustn’t gooo! I haven’t been since they were taken over by the evil wizards!”
“You mean the orcs?”
“No, the Weinsteins!”
[Coughs up hairball.]

Jack Nicholson eventually gives him guidance and Crystal hits the stage wearing Nicholson’s sunglasses and launches back into his “Oscar! Oscar!’ song. In one of the riffs, Crystal does a tribute to the director of Mystic River, to the tune of “Ol’ Man River,” with an Al Jolson voice rather than Paul Robeson — that is to say, in the voice of a guy who sang in blackface rather than the black guy who was known for singing it. It’s weird. In any case, the song went, “Clint Eastwood / You just keep rolling along.” Amazingly, Eastwood was about 75 then, 16 years ago — and he’s been nominated for Best Director three more times, five in total.

The rest is Crystal’s usual hacky stuff, including a gay San Francisco joke, though some cleverness went into the hyperverbiage in the LOTR one, done to the tune of “My Favorite Things,” which ends with the lines: “I loved every frame of The Lord of the Rings / So I downloaded it last night!”

28. 2014 (the 86th Oscars)
Host: Ellen DeGeneres

“Possibility number one,” Ellen DeGeneres is saying: “12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”

This is one of the most cracklingly weird slates of Best Picture nominees ever, including 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and of course Gravity, which takes the Best Directing award for Alfonso Cuarón.

It’s DeGeneres’s second time hosting; this one’s better. She’s still her deceptively bland self, dispensing little bits of acid and absurdism from a friendly demeanor.

Like: “Between the nominees here tonight you’ve made 1,400 films. [Pause.] And you’ve done a total of six years of college.”

And: “For those of you watching around the world it has been a tough couple of days for us here. It’s been raining. We’re fine.”

She notes Barkhad Abdi, who played a pirate in Captain Phillips. “He is from Somalia. He’s a sommelier!”

Meanest Line: “One of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have ever seen in my entire life. Good job, sir.”

Best Line: “Jonah Hill, nominated for The Wolf of Wall Street. You showed us something in that film I have not seen for a very, very long time.” (Hill takes his dick out in the film.)

27. 1967 (the 39th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

It’s the year of The Man for All Seasons, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Alfie.

First we get Academy president Arthur Freed. Then we get Bob Hope in the middle of his ‘60s hosting ride: “Welcome to the on-again off-again, in-again out-again, 39th annual Academy Awards.” He’s talking about yet another strike. “What a month. I not only didn’t get nominated, I got a splinter from a picket sign.” He gets off a lot of lines, but not too many of them are inspired.

Industry Joke I Didn’t Get: “I was really caught in the middle, being both a star of movies and a star of television. [Chuckle.] So at dinner tonight I just smoked a banana.” This could be a marijuana joke, I guess.

TV Watch: “This is the biggest night of the year for the movie industry. It must be; it says so in TV Guide.”

Politics: “Pretty soon we’re going to need another category: Best Performance by a Governor.”

Shtick: “When Robert Wise was casting The Sand Pebbles he looked over the list of Chinese actors and said he’d take ten from column A and six from column B.”

Best Line: “Let’s get on with this farcical charade of vulgar egotism and pomposity.”

26. 2010 (the 82nd Oscars)
Hosts: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin

It’s the year of Avatar, the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee ever — and Avatar’s nemesis The Hurt Locker, the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever. (It made about one percent of what Avatar did, and it was directed by James Cameron’s ex wife, too. The academy is making it plain it’s done with blockbusters.) Precious, Inglourious Basterds, and Up in the Air are in the mix.

This is the one where they make all the stars come out and pose as the show starts. It’s kinda pointless, but one of the things you gotta love about the Oscars is that it’s about the one thing in the universe that can force a big-name star to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. Then … they just get walked to their seat!

Then there’s a song by Neil Patrick Harris, which is tepid, and that’s before you get to the prison-rape joke. (It’s funny, ‘cause when he bends over to pick up the soap, someone runs up behind him and fucks him!)

Then, disconcertingly, we lurch over to our co-hosts for the evening, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, a so-so one-off pairing. The routine is that Martin’s his oh-so-sophisticated self, and Baldwin is the butt of the jokes. But it’s all about the usual suspects, George Clooney — whom the pair glare at repeatedly — and Streep. “Meryl Streep holds the record for most nominations as an actress [actually, as an actor], or as I like to think of it, the most losses,” Martin says. At times Martin’s play-goofiness is funny. “There’s that damn Helen Mirren!” “That’s Dame Helen Mirren,” Baldwin says.

Best Industry joke: Baldwin says, “In Precious, Gabourey Sidibe is told she’s worthless, that nobody likes her, and she has no future. Hey, I’m with CAA too!”… and then Martin says, “Gabourey and I have something in common; in our first movies, we were both born a poor black child.”

Shtick: Martin: “In Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz plays a Nazi obsessed with tracking down Jews. Well, Christoph!” [Extends arms and gestures to the audience.]

25. 1968 (the 40th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

Academy president Gregory Peck comes out, handsome as you can imagine. But he has a serious mien; Martin Luther King Jr. was shot a week before, and the ceremony had been postponed until after the civil-rights leader’s funeral. The Academy’s Governors Ball was cancelled, and Hope’s monologue was carefully vetted. Peck notes that two of the Best Picture nominees deal with race; he’s referring to In the Heat of the Night, the eventual winner, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?; but then he goes right into talking about new developments in technology and then an introduction of the host, “that amiable national treasure who pricks pomposity …”

“I will not seek, nor will I accept, an Oscar,” Hope says. That gets a big laugh because that’s what Lyndon Johnson had said to announce he would not run for president in 1968. But Hope’s just setting up an elegant line, perhaps his single best hosting joke over his 18 turns at the podium: “I’ve been telling the Academy for decades we need to sit down and talk. They’ve always given me the same answer. They’ll negotiate if I stop bombing.”

1968 was of course a transformational year in film; among the Best {icture nominees are Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. (We forget today that The Graduate among other things was one of the highest-grossing films of all time, earning the equivalent of three-quarters of a billion dollars in today’s money.) Hope’s joke are funny, but they don’t come close to capturing the drama of the time. “The films this year are so sexy Price Waterhouse is handing out the names in a plain brown envelope.” The Graduate, he says, is “the story of a college student who didn’t go out for sports until he graduated.”

Darkest Oscar joke: “Many an ugly face turns beautiful and many a beautiful face turns ugly.”

From the Recycle Bin: “Mink, ermine, and diamonds. It looks like the Palm Springs unemployment office.”

24. 1951 (the 23rd Oscars)
Host: Fred Astaire

The Oscars were first televised in 1953, for the 1952 awards. This is a film I found on YouTube from 1951, for the 1950 awards, so don’t expect much in the way of showmanship. But there are hints, here, of a substance that might have been unusual on TV at the time, and is certainly unthinkable today. There are two talks. The first is by Charles Brackett, who spoke about the place of movies in the world, and he spoke for some time without cliché or vapidity:

“Did Americans ever watch the passing of a year with such a sense of relief? The year of Korea. The year of [Russian foreign minister] Malick, the year when the Russian land grab [i.e, the invasion of Czechoslovakia] became a fact the most obtuse could not ignore. The year when young American blood had been spilled out terribly, in what seemed like defeat. The year in which household bomb shelters became an item advertised in local newspapers. Already the value and importance of that year has become obvious. Violent as shock treatment, it performed the same function of clarification the pattern of our American proposition emerges clear from the barbs of abuse and mistrust …”

Jesus. I don’t know what he was talking about, but I couldn’t stop listening.

He delivers a fulsome encomium to Fred Astaire, our host, who, when he takes the stage, demurs, modestly describing himself as “a hoofer with a spare set of tails.” Running his fingers over the page as he reads his talk, he salutes the “divine flippancies” in the way movies affect real life.

Best industry joke: “A woman in Florida went to movies, came out of the show, beat up a cop, and shot a drugstore clerk. In jail she explained the whole incident by saying, ‘I always get a kick out of Walter Pidgeon.’”

TV Watch: “A small dark cloud: A new medium of entertainment began to grow and experts said it was keeping more and more people at home. I refer of course to canasta.”

23. 2001 (the 73rd Oscars)
Host: Steve Martin

It’s the year of Gladiator, but Ridley Scott is denied a Best Director Oscar; it goes to Steven Soderbergh, for Traffic, who wins over both Ang Lee, for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and himself, for Erin Brockovich.

We open with the astronauts in the International Space Station, who conclude by displaying a cardboard cutout of … Steve Martin, which they eject from the spaceship. Cut to Martin walking on stage at the Shrine for its last year hosting. Martin makes a striking number of bad movies — more than Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg combined — and sequels to bad movies as well. He’s fine tonight though. “There are 800 million people watching around the world, and they all have the exact same thought,” he tells the crowd. “That we’re all gay.”

The centerpiece of Martin’s opening is a long sardonic tale about dinner at this house with “Mel, Julia, Tom, and Gwyneth,” all exchanging banalities about each others’ films: “And I thought, this is what I’ve always dreamed about. Dinner at home with friends where we discuss the arts.”

There are touches of his old spark: “Maybe movies are too violent. I took a 9-year-old kid to Gladiator and he cried throughout the entire film. Now, maybe it’s because he didn’t know who I was.”

He ends the monologue with this elegant construction: “Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman. It’s something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town.”

Best Line: “It’s not easy to keep a marriage together in Hollywood because, well, we sleep with so many different people.”

The Celluloid Closet:Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sounds like something Siegfried and Roy do on vacation.”

Ouch: “Ellen Burstyn did something not many actresses would do. She made herself look 30 pounds heavier and 20 years older. And Russell Crowe still hit on her. “

22. 1961 (the 33rd Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

It’s the transformative year of The Apartment, Psycho and Butterfield 8 — and mega epics like Exodus, The Alamo, and Spartacus, the beginning of a full decade in which the Academy would continue to fret about TV, and changing mores. The awards are now “the most important single event of the international entertainment year,” or so the announcer tells us. It’s the first ceremony at the new Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. André Previn conducts the orchestra in a medley of the works of Arthur Freed and Ignacio Herb Brown, who wrote the score to Singin’ in the Rain, among other shows. And it’s the first ceremony broadcast on ABC.

Hope is back, and I think it’s also the first time the host does riffs on the major releases: “There’s Exodus, about the Republicans … The Apartment, Sinatra’s life story … Sons and Lovers, about Bing’s family.” (This last is a very cold shot; Crosby’s son had recently married one of Crosby’s former girlfriends.)

Best Joke: “I didn’t realize there was any campaigning going on until I saw my maid wearing a Chill Wills button.”

Changing Times: I missed Never on Sunday; my teenage son said I wasn’t ready for it.”

Obligatory Joke on the Fancy Clothes and Jewelry: “It looks like the Palm Springs unemployment office.” (Hope would recycle this joke in future broadcasts.)

TV Watch: “Movies are your best entertainment. Ask anybody who watches TV.”

Politics: “The show will be available on tape for later viewing for any Russians who are out of this world [referring to Soyuz 1] … They are sure getting even with Disneyland, aren’t they? … The Russians will be first in space but we have cigarettes with a hint of mint … It doesn’t matter who’s first, and if President Kennedy can convince you of that he should be here tonight.”

Best Industry joke: “Motion-picture stocks are at an all-time high, movies are doing better than ever. So what are we doing in Santa Monica with six sponsors?”

Shtick: “And Sal Mineo [is nominated] for Exodus. I didn’t know he was bar mitzvahed!”

21. 1959 (the 31st Oscars)
Hosts: Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Mort Sahl, Tony Randall, Bob Hope, David Niven, and Laurence Olivier

A show of force: John Wayne and William Holden appear to give a bonhomous introduction; Holden, with a straight face, offers what I think is the first claim of “nearly a billion people” watching the show. Ha! It’s the year of I Want to Live!, The Defiant Ones, and Gigi, the big winner. The orchestra then plays a while, conducted by Lionel Newman, Randy’s uncle. Next comes an Oscars highlight, a goofy song by Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, two of the ruggedyest of all the ruggedy leading men of the day. The song is “It’s All Right With Us.” Who doesn’t think these guys are swell? (You can see it at about the 1:30 mark in the clip above.)

News reports say that they’d performed it “at the show” but it’s hard to tell if it’s live or just on tape. (The pair had actually performed a similar tune the previous year, apparently just before the Best Actor award was given out. You can see it here.)

Then Bob Hope is back. “For some, there will be tears and heartbreak. But enough about me. I’ve become known as the Pagliacci of the teleprompter.” We see some tentative riffage on the actual movies. “What realism! I’m surprised to see Susan Hayward here tonight.” (She was sent to the gas chamber in I Want to Live!)

“I’m here against doctor’s orders,” Hope says. “He wanted my tickets.”

The show would end, incidentally, with another famous Oscars moment: The awards were given out with 20 minutes left to broadcast, leaving the Academy to wing it.

Best Joke: “I’ve lined up a job as a wardrobe man on a Brigitte Bardot picture. The pay isn’t much but the fringe benefits are terrific.” (If I recall correctly, Woody Allen tweaks this in What’s New Pussycat?: “I got a job dressing the girls at the Moulin Rouge, for three francs a week.” Peter O’Toole: “That isn’t much!” Allen: “It’s all I can afford.”)

Changing Times: Hope riffs extensively on “The Late Show,” meaning the new medium’s habit of running old movies late at night, and takes an early shot at TV’s tendency to senselessly cut films to fit time slot: “They way they cut those pictures, I saw an old [Hope and Bing Crosby] Road picture last night — and Bing and I weren’t in it! It was The Road to Morocco starring Dr. Scholl’s Foot pads, Vic Tanny, and a supporting cast of 45 products.”

20. 1975 (the 47th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

One of those crazy 1970s Best Picture lineups — The Godfather Part II and The Conversation (both directed by Mr. Francis Ford Coppola), Chinatown, Lenny and, uh, The Towering Inferno. In the 1990s, The Towering Inferno might have won, but today the academy will not, of course, embarrass itself. A Godfather film wins for the second time, and Coppola finally gets his Best Director statuette.

In the preshow, we get the first mention of a designer — in this case someone whose name I can’t catch draped on Gena Rowlands. We begin with a nice look back to 1928, but then a stately, highly tedious run-through of each of the Best Picture winners since then, each with a shot of its poster. Then, after a montage of his previous appearances, Bob Hope is back, after a few years of big production numbers to open the show, and thank god.

Hope is fine tonight but if you need any evidence at all about how bland a performer he at heart was, note that there’s not a mention of Richard Nixon, who had finally resigned the previous August. (Indeed, later that evening, Hope would fly into a rage after the winners of Best Documentary for the Vietnam War doc Hearts and Minds denounced the U.S. involvement. He wouldn’t be back for years.)

On the montage: “I get the funny feeling I have a son I’ve never met.”

Shtick: “Chinatown got 11 nominations: Six from column A and five from column B.”

Best Joke: “How can you give out an award for achievement in sound and ignore the camping scene in Blazing Saddles?”

Politics: “We’ve seen the end of some highly publicized relationships. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Sonny and Cher … Henry Kissinger and Anwar Sadat.”

And: “It’s obvious many of the ladies spent the afternoon with their hairdressers. Some had their hair done.” (Shampoo had just been released.)

19. 2003 (the 75th Oscars)
Host: Steve Martin

Steve Martin is hosting for the second time. It’s clear that Martin is a class above Crystal or Goldberg. He seems to genuinely not like certain things, and his jokes, one after another, are more ruthless.

The war in Iraq was looming. “I’m glad we cut down on all the glitz,” he says blandly, standing amidst a glittering set. “By the way, the proceeds from tonight’s Oscar telecast — and I think this is so great — will be divvied up among large corporations.”

He mentions the first Oscars, 75 years previous. “Of course, Joan Rivers was outside.”

Chicago will win Best Picture, but Roman Polanski, still a fugitive, will win Best Director, for The Pianist. “Roman Polanski’s here,” Martin says in the monologue. “Get him!” See, that’s funny because Polanski, after isolating, drugging, raping, and then anally raping, a 13-year-old girl, had to flee to Europe and hadn’t been back in the States since.

He reflects on the older stars present. “At one time, Mickey Rooney was the biggest star in all the 38 states.” He finds Rooney in the audience, way in the back. “Mickey, I’m sorry we couldn’t get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here.”

Reflecting on layoffs in the movie industry, he says, “You should do what Tom Cruise does. At the end of each week, he takes a million dollars, and just puts it away. And then at the end of the year, you’ve got a little cushion.”

“Miramax stopped at nothing to make sure Chicago was nominated,” Martin says. “Here’s what they did and you tell me if you think this is fair. [Disgusted voice] They made a really good movie that everybody liked.”

Best joke: “Writers. Directors. Actors. [pause] If we’re stuck here tonight and run out of food, that’s the order in which we eat them.”

And: “It was a big year for Jack [Nicholson]. He got in a hot tub with Kathy Bates [in About Schmidt]. But hey, who hasn’t?”

The Celluloid Closet 2: “Some people in Hollywood were insulted by the term ‘gay mafia.’ I say to them, Hey fellas, Don’t get your thongs in a knot.”

18. 1996 (the 68th Oscars)
Host: Whoopi Goldberg

Oprah’s hosting the red carpet. We’re still in the slough of despond that was the Oscars in the 1990s. Again, the worst of the Picture nominees, this time Braveheart, wins and most of the rest are just entertainments. It’s also the year of Leaving Las Vegas, Casino, and The Usual Suspects.

Whoopi Goldberg, back for the second time, begins with a funny riff on fending off all the political-ribbon requests: “You can’t ask a black woman to buy an expensive dress and then cover it with ribbons!”

She says, “Alec Baldwin — bravo baby!” apparently in support of his having punched a photographer, probably not the encouragement Baldwin needs.

“Women’s stories were interesting this year. Elisabeth Shue played a hooker. Mira Sorvino played a hooker. Sharon Stone played a hooker. How many times did Charlie Sheen get to vote?”

Politics: “We have Pat Buchanan, the original Boy in the Hood.”

Best Joke: [On Showgirls] “I haven’t seen so many poles mistreated since World War II!”

17. 2008 (the 80th Oscars)
Host: Jon Stewart

For Oscar’s 80th birthday, the Academy commissions a cool opening sequence, lifting a century’s worth of movie characters and stitching them into the Los Angeles landscape as a panel truck races through town. We see everything from King Kong to a Transformer to the guys from Easy Rider; Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Costner in Dances with Wolves, even Peter O’Toole, I think from Goodbye Mr. Chips. It’s a tour de force of technology — and rights permissions. At the end we see the panel truck is driven by Schwarzenegger, and carries a precious load of Oscars.

Out host is Jon Stewart, for the first time. There’d been an extended writers’ strike but it was settled before the shows. “Welcome to the makeup sex,” Stewart says.

And: “Before we spend the next four to five hours giving each other golden statues, let’s take a moment to congratulate ourselves.”

He notes the Democratic primary fight between Clinton and Obama. “Generally, when you see a woman or a black president, it means an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.”

Shtick: On Atonement: “Finally, a story that captures the passion, and raw sexuality, of Yom Kippur. [Scattered laughs. With a Woody Allen grimace.] I can see where the Jews are in the audience.”

Best Joke: “Even Norbit got a nomination. Too often, the Academy ignores movies … that aren’t good.”

Politics: On Away From Her: “It’s about a woman who forgets her own husband. Hillary Clinton called it ‘the feel-good movie of the year.’”

16. 1982 (the 54th Oscars)
Host: Johnny Carson

We’re told it’s 9 p.m. in New York — that means folks are going to be up until nearly 1 a.m. Reds is the front-runner, but Chariots of Fire will take Best Picture and Warren Beatty will take home just Best Director. It used to be highly unusual for the two top honors to be split; it happened basically once a decade. These days it’s different: The awards have been split four of the last five years!

It’s also the year of On Golden Pond, Atlantic City, and Raiders. We see a bunch of arrivals, including Jaws from the James Bond films; then we get Bill Conti revving up the place with a series of quick bits from well-known scores, culminating in his own Oscar-winning rave-up for Rocky. Academy president Fay Kanin tells us that 350 million people will watch the show, including this year folks in Australia. While she’s going on about “how dazzling our communications systems have become” there’s a stray audio feed disrupting her.

Then we get Carson —  at his height. Noting the rain outside, he advises everyone that squeegees will be passed out. “There are $40,000 in hairdos sliding down the street outside.”

“Next year,” Carson says, “we can look forward to a fresh crop of new and original films: Superman 3, Death Wish 3, Rocky 4, Herpes 2 …”

He notes the proliferation of awards shows. “This is the 54th year of this awards show; coincidentally, it’s also the 54th awards show of this year. After the popcorn manufacturers’ ‘Golden Bucket Award,’ maybe we should cool it for the year.”

Best Industry Joke: “Critics have said Hollywood is losing some of its glamor; as you know there’s stiff competition among the studios as to how many nominations each one got. Gulf and Western got 35 nominations, Coca-Cola got 6, Atari had 8, and Kinney Shoes had 3.”

Poor Hollywood: “Critics say they are not hiring minorities in film. These days any actor in this town that’s working is a minority.”

Best Joke: “The days of innocence are long gone. 1981 was the year that Superman lost his virginity, Zorro went gay, and Mary Poppins went topless. In one memorable scene in S.O.B., Julie Andrews showed us that the hills are still alive.”

Politics: “The pairing of Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in one of the year’s most popular films moved everyone but Interior Secretary James Watt, who today approved offshore drilling on Golden Pond.”

15. 1965 (the 37th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

The red-carpet section of the awards gets a little more elaborate each year. (I assume it took a lot of work back then to capture the footage and have it processed, edited, and ready with the voice-over to accompany the broadcast an hour or two later.) I think this is the first appearance of Army Archerd, the Variety writer who would become famous for his pre-ceremony chats with stars on the red carpet. Is it me or is he a little handsy? You can see Jane Fonda, just returned from her respite in France, with director Roger Vadim, to resume her Hollywood career. (Barbarella is a few years off.) The opening number is “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady, which will win Best Picture, and we get a lot of shots of stars Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. It’s also the year of Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night, and Mary Poppins.

As president Arthur Freed speaks, you can also see more sophistication in the broadcast; when he speaks about “stars from previous years,” the camera is on Buster Keaton, shortly before his death.

“This splendid gentleman,” Bob Hope, is on his 12th hosting. It’s “Santa Monica on the Thames,” he said. “Tonight, Hollywood is handing out the foreign aid.” (A lot of the acting nominees are British.)

Best Joke:My Fair Lady was good, if you like foreign-language pictures.”

Changing Times: “They made a picture called Fanny HilI; they thought it was about mountain climbing … Marriage Italian Style is sort of a Peyton Place with marinara sauce.”

Politics: “By the way, later on tonight we’re going to take up a collection to help President Johnson pay his taxes.”

14. 2005 (the 77th Oscars)
Host: Chris Rock

The Oscars move into the modern era with this show, honoring Ray, Sideways, and Million Dollar Baby. Billy Crystal has been back only once in the years since. Our host: Chris Rock. This was one of the most criticized opening monologues ever; unsurprisingly, the version the Academy posted on YouTube has been edited severely.

After so many years of Crystal and Goldberg, Rock’s riffs were refreshing, though there’s probably something to the argument that they were overly mean. If you’re sitting in a bar with friends, it’s funny to say, “Is Jude Law in every fucking movie made these days?” It’s different when you’re emceeing an awards show for actors.

His big theme was real stars versus mere popular people. “Clint Eastwood is a star,” he says. “Tobey Maguire is just boy in tights, okay?”

And then:

“If you want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law, wait. Who is Jude Law? Why is he in every movie I have seen the last four years? He’s in everything. Even the movies he’s not acting in, you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something. He’s in everything. “

Then Rock goes after Bush; he’s a genius, he says, winning reelection. “When Bush got into the office, they had a surplus of money. Now there’s a $70 trillion deficit.”

“Now, just imagine you work at the Gap. You close out your register, and it’s $70 trillion short. The average person would get into trouble for something like that. Not Bush!” The riff goes on to imagine the Gap attacking Banana Republic over some nonexistent “toxic tank tops.”

And the equal-opportunity offender goes after African-American actors too, ridiculing Cuba Gooding Jr. and lashing out at black movies:

“Black movies don’t have real names. You get names like Barbershop. That’s not a name, that’s just a location! Barbershop, Cookout, Car Wash … They’ve been making the same movies for 40 years! You know Laundromat is coming soon. And after that, Check Cashing Place.”

The Jude Law remarks, for some reason, offended many. Later in the show, Sean Penn sniffed, “Jude Law is one of our finest actors.” It was more than ten years before Rock was asked back.

13. 1962 (the 34th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

It’s the year of Judgment at Nuremberg and West Side Story and George C. Scott doing the unthinkable — publicly rejecting his first Oscar nomination. (For a supporting role in The Hustler.) Everyone stands for “The Star-Spangled Banner” from soprano Mary Costa, who has quite a set of lungs and likes to really trill her r’s. The fanfare is billed as “Oscar Fantasy Overture Number One,” a jokey name for a medley of past Oscar winners, climaxing with a bombastic rendition of the Exodus theme. Academy president Wendell Corey tells everyone, somewhat ominously, “While we hope you will enjoy yourselves, this is a primarily a news event” — front-page news the next day, he noted. He introduces Hope as “the nicest guy in town.”

“Welcome to Judgment at Santa Monica,” Hope says. “The big moment for Hollywood movies comes to you … from Santa Monica … on television.” The industry was still very wary of TV. Lots of jokes about movies being made overseas. “We’re all delighted Grace Kelly is coming back from Monte Carlo. Imagine, a princess making a picture. Proves once and for all how democratic money really is.”

He’s still complaining about not getting an Oscar nomination: “Not only that, I just heard that they put a manhole cover over my star on Hollywood Boulevard!”

Best joke: “Everyone’s here except George Scott. He’s at home with his back to the set.”

Slightly Obscure Shakespeare-Industry Joke: “Spyros Skouras stood at the forum and shouted, ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend me.’” Skouras, the head of 20th Century Fox, was running the studio nearly aground pouring money into Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra.

12. 2017 (the 89th Oscars)
Host: Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel, who will be hosting the show again this year (that’s Sunday, March 4, on your local ABC station), made his debut last year, which of course concluded with the greatest screwup in the history of awards ceremonies and perhaps the history of the world itself. I was sitting home alone with my laptop, and I swear I thought it was going to burst into flames as Twitter responded to the events on screen.

If you recall, La La Land had won six awards, including Best Director. At Best Picture time, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were the presenters. Beatty opened the envelope, but then spent a few seconds looking around quizzically before passing it off to Dunaway, who glanced at the card and said “La La Land.” After two minutes of confusion, it turned out they had been given the wrong envelope and the real winner was Moonlight. To everyone’s credit, the Academy and all present handled correcting the mistake professionally. I go into such detail to mention something that didn’t get said enough, which is that the whole thing was Warren Beatty’s fault. He had the envelope and saw something was wrong. He was about to turn 80, but still: He’s a 50-something-year vet of the awards and is supposed to be one of the smartest people in Hollywood. He should have made sure everything was okay before just passing the envelope on to Dunaway.

Anyway, Kimmel does well just playing himself, knocking a few soft ones out of the park and occasionally showing contempt where contempt is deserved. Talking about how divided the country is, he says, “There’s only one Braveheart in this room and he’s not going to unite us either. Mel, you look great. I think the Scientology is working.”

This is to set up his fake feud with Matt Damon, during which he makes a passing reference to Damon’s “Chinese ponytail movie” The Great Wall, a weird period monster movie, and a flop.

A lot of his jokes are about how no one has seen a lot of the nominees: “A lot of sad movies this year. The only happy ending of all the nominees was the one in the middle of Moonlight. [Uncertain laughter.] You didn’t watch it, did you?”

Politics: Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”

Best line: “We are very welcoming to outsiders here in Hollywood. We don’t discriminate against people based on what country they come from. We discriminate on the basis of age and weight.”

11. 2009 (the 81st Oscars)
Host: Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman says that because of the recession, there’s not enough money for a real opening number, so he put one together on his own. He runs through the nominees — Slumdog, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and Benjamin Button — with brilliance and a whole bunch of cardboard props. Kneeling before Kate Winslet during the Slumdog part, he warbles, “I would swim a sea of human excrement …”

Jackman is a fine wet spring of a man. He sings, he dances … and he’s smart enough to hire better comedy writers than Billy Crystal. Anne Hathaway has a great cameo, too.

Best Line:
I went to see The Reader but there was a line
Of people seeing Iron Man for the second time

10. 1953 (the 25th Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

This was the first televised Academy Awards; to start there’s a great panning shot down Hollywood Boulevard; look close and you can see the rather unprepossessing front of Schwab’s Drugstore before the camera gets to the Pantages. Charles Brackett is the Academy president; after a blissfully few words Hope enters, fully aware of the import of the event. “All over America wives are saying to their husbands, ‘Put on your shirt. Joan Crawford is coming over.’”

Talk of TV dominates the monologue. Hope says that, at 25, it was time Oscar got married. “While it’s true that he has a child bride it’s a comfort to note the kid is loaded,” he says. So would begin the Academy’s dependence and marriage to TV. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the show would run up extremely high ratings. The awards broadcast viewership today, due to a number of factors, is much less.

Hope talks so much about TV there’s hardly mention of the actual nominees; there’s no hint that this is the year Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth — routinely cited as the worst Best Picture winner of all time — would win over High Noon and Singin’ in the Rain. But we also see the beginnings of all the Hope Tropes that would recur in his appearances over the next years: His own inability to be nominated, much less win, a statue (“It’s just a bookend with a sneer”); the expensive clothes worn by the celebrities (“It looks like a PTA meeting in Texas”); the jealousy of the losers.

TV Watch: “Movies will always be your best entertainment; if you don’t think so, ask Joe DiMaggio. You don’t see him going out with Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.” (The Yankee slugger had just caused a sensation by marrying Marilyn Monroe.)

9. 1995 (the 67th Oscars)
Host: David Letterman

This is the nadir of the Academy Awards as an awards show qua awards show, the year Forrest Gump won out over Pulp Fiction. The other big movies are The Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Kieslowski’s Red. Pulp Fiction would win Best Screenplay, but in this case even that consolation prize felt inappropriate because Pulp Fiction’s power comes came from its movieness, not from its script. (Four Weddings, which has a perfect script, should have won that category.) And our host is David Letterman, who delivers an unusual but occasionally sharp monologue.

He was ridiculed for many years for his “Uma … Oprah!” riff and, well, he certainly deserved it, because it was stupid. But he still has fangs out — spending several minutes ridiculing DreamWorks SKG; this was a new venture, incredibly ballyhooed at the time, by Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, for which Spielberg would somehow always forget to produce his most profitable movies and which as a consequence would periodically go through a funding crisis. “DreamWorks SKG,” Letterman says. “Not to be confused with DreamWorks ETC — that’s a place in the Valley where you can buy waterbeds … I think this is really, really good for Hollywood. Now, instead of hoping that they are not successful individually, it’s really a time-saver; now, you can hope they are not successful as a group.”

All in all, one of the more unpredictable monologues of its time, particularly after the gassy stuff we’d been seeing from Crystal and Goldberg. Still, Letterman’s absurdist humor isn’t quite right for the show, and it’s understandable he never came back.

Best Joke: “If [Academy president] Mr. Hiller is still here there are some guys in the parking lot who’d like to talk to him about Hoop Dreams.” (The scandalous omission of the celebrated documentary eventually forced a revision of the Academy’s documentary-nomination procedures.)

Also: “There’s Best Foreign Film nominee, Eat Drink Man Woman. Coincidentally, that’s how Arnold Schwarzenegger invited Maria Shriver out on their first date.”

8. 1979 (the 51st Oscars)
Host: Johnny Carson

It’s 1978, year of The Deer Hunter and, to my mind, the end of the Academy’s recognition of the great new cinema. The next decades, with a few exceptions along the way, would see the Academy both nominate and award wholesome stuff, stuffiness, and schlock, from Kramer vs. Kramer to Driving Miss Daisy, from Gandhi to Braveheart.

For the opening, we see Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch, Gary Busey (looking deranged even then), and Jon Voight (before he went crazy).

The stage set is ginormous — the orchestra is way up on spinning towers. We of course get the opening fanfare of Star Wars, already iconic. The show’s metabolism is still slow — eight minutes go by before we get to Howard Koch, president of the Academy and, finally, hosting for the first time, Johnny Carson, who in subtle ways takes some names, and in the process brings the Academy into the late 20th century, though of course he has no feel for film qua film. (Not that Hope did.)

He starts with a snark at political speeches, with a litany of all the things he’s for: “I’m in favor of using more Native Americans, against whacking baby seals, and I’m for saving the whales,” etc. (Whoopi Goldberg would do the same shtick decades later.)

He promises “two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show.” He notes, “I see a lot of new faces. Particularly on the new faces.”

He bring on a Chinese guy to talk for a bit. “That means nothing to you but right now Deng Xiaoping is hysterical,” Carson says.

Politics: “I wonder if Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt are watching from the Kenya Holiday Inn?” (The pair, traveling in Africa at the time, would be on the cover of Newsweek that month.)

Best Industry Joke: Airport 1980, he says, will be “a harrowing epic, in which passengers in a 747 are held hostage for two weeks, while a madman keeps rerunning the in-flight movie Moment by Moment.” (This was a famously bad Lily Tomlin–John Travolta romance, the Gigli of its day.)

And: “This program is also being broadcast to South America. That way some of the former accountants and studio executives can catch part of the show.”

Politics: “‘Ready to Take a Chance Again’ has been selected as the theme song to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

7. 1980 (the 52nd Oscars)
Host: Johnny Carson

It’s the year of Kramer vs. Kramer and Norma Rae and 10; the opening fanfare ends with a bit o’ Bolero. Johnny Carson’s back. One dumb bit has him asking the crowd which of two swatches of wallpaper they approve of; his wife can’t make up her mind. “I know it seems silly but a marriage is worth saving in this town.”

But he’s hot tonight. He recites some headlines, including one about Elvis Presley working as a dental hygienist in Billings, Montana. They are from the National Enquirer, he says — “the Pinto of newspapers.” (The Pinto was a Ford that tended to blow up when rear-ended. This was during Carol Burnett’s ongoing libel suit against the paper, which against the odds she eventually won.)

There’s a lot of friendly fire: 8-year old Justin Henry, nominated for his role as the kid in Kramer vs. Kramer, “has the distinction of being the only actor in Hollywood not mentioned in Britt Ekland’s memoirs.”

Best Line: On the dramatic operation scene in Fosse’s autobiographical All That Jazz: “They discover that his ego has spread through his entire body.”

And: The show will be seen “in the Arab states of Syria, Lebanon, and Beverly Hills.”

Politics: “The show is being watched right now in some secluded isolated areas where people have lost all human contact. And President Carter I hope you enjoy the show, too.”

The Celluloid Closet: “It says something about our times that the only lasting relationship was in La Cage Aux Folles. Who says they aren’t writing good feminine roles any more?”

Dumbest joke: Dolly Parton, he says, will soon be filming Mammary vs. Mammary.

Best Industry Joke: “Nowadays you see a motion picture, the opening credits say, ‘Warner Communications, in association with the National Kinney Corporation, a subsidiary of ITT, presents a Gulf and Western film.’ And what’s the movie about? Jane Fonda attacking big business!”

6. 1970 (the 42nd Oscars)
Host: Bob Hope

Bob Hope’s finest night. “Marcus Welby M.D. and The Dick Cavett Show will not be seen tonight …” the announcer says. Then we get a great collage of shots of scores of stars at the Oscars — Stanwyck and Cooper and Raft and Brando and ….

And then an odd announcement about how, “regardless of the ratings of the motion pictures referred to tonight, all excerpts have been edited for presentation on this program.” Hmm? Oh yes — it’s 1969, the year of Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture. (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Z, Butch Cassidy, and Easy Rider are also in the mix.)

Gregory Peck, the Academy’s president, comes out to tell us 250 million would watch the show in 40 countries. The Oscars were now “a major news event.” (Probably to warn people that this wasn’t an in-club any more.) He says there are 3,172 Academy members.

Hope is in his element from the first moment, riffing on the new blue cinema. “This is the night that separates the men from The Boys in the Band.” (That was the most in-your-face gay film yet from establishment Hollywood, which had just hit theaters.) And: “Did you ever think you’d see Richard Burton play both a king and a queen?” (I had to look that one up: Burton had been in a now-forgotten film called Staircase, in which he played Christopher Plummer’s lover.) And: “This will go down in history as the cinema season that showed us crime doesn’t pay, but you can make a fortune with adultery, incest, and homosexuality.”

Odd moment: Hope is introduced by John Wayne and comes out, hilariously, with an eye patch, an homage to Wayne’s role in True Grit, for which he would win the Best Actor Oscar that year. But then Hope hands him the patch, seeming to call him “Moishe” and suggesting he “go out and sell a few shirts.” It might be a yarmulke joke.

Hope en Fuego: “Remember when action movies meant Westerns? And movie scores referred to the music?” … “Today High Noon would be about lunch hour in a junior high school” … “Then there’s The Sterile Cuckoo; up until a few months ago I thought that was the life of Tiny Tim!” … “It’s such a novelty, seeing so many actors and actresses with their clothes on.”

Best joke: “One theater owner told me he’d been popping corn for six months and still hadn’t plugged the machine in.”

5. 1977 (the 49th Oscars)
Hosts: Richard Pryor, Ellen Burstyn, Chevy Chase, Jane Fonda, and Warren Beatty

This one will give you whiplash. After the hokey show last year, the Academy this time at least tries to capture the Zen of the movie year. The Best Picture lineup is again incredible: Taxi Driver, Bound for Glory, Network, and All the President’s Men. Rocky, inferior to at least three of these, will be the winner, though. We start with an opening solo dance number by Ann-Margret, who (a) was in Viva Las Vegas with Elvis Presley, (b) had been nominated for Best Actress for an all-in performance in Ken Russell’s Tommy the year before, and (c) still had legs that went all the way to the ground. The song is called “Magic Circle (It All Started in Someone’s Head),” which speaks for itself. It’s all very modern dance-y complete with an electric-guitar solo.

Then we get the first modern attack on the institution, courtesy of Richard Pryor, who comes out using his dumb-guy voice, halting and mispronouncing words, to smack the Academy upside its head:

“I’m here tonight to explain
No black people will ever
be nominated
for anything.

We are going to stop entertaining. That will show you.

There are only two black people in the Academy
Sydney Poh-tee-er and Harry Belafont-i-man.”

Then comes Chevy Chase; I think he’s the first postmodern comic to hit Oscars stage. He pulls an envelope from his pocket and announces, “The winner in the category of Strangest Film Remake in 1976… To Sir With Like. Strange name, not very funny though. I’m just trying to get as much camera time as I can.”

It’s not brilliant, but the Academy had certainly never tried anything like it before. Chase reads the Academy rules, and uses some creative props.

4. 2006 (78th Oscars)
Host: Jon Stewart

The taped intro is hilarious. We see a succession of previous hosts turn the role down for this year, among them Billy Crystal, who is in a Brokeback Mountain–style tent with Chris Rock. We finally come to … Jon Stewart, in bed first with Halle Berry and then George Clooney. Stewart’s monologue is brisk and nails Hollywood, and himself, again and again. “Tonight we celebrate film … with me, the fourth male lead in Death to Smoochy.”

Lots of good lines. “There are women here tonight [fake sob] … who can barely afford enough gown to cover their breasts.” He notes that Clooney was nominated several times for Good Night and Good Luck, “which is not just Edward R. Murrow’s sign-off, it’s also how Mr. Clooney ends all of his dates.” And Stewart even tweaks Saint Steven Spielberg, noting Schindler’s List and the nominated Munich. “I’m sure I speak for all Jews when I say, I can’t wait to see what happens to us next!”

Stewart also gets serious: “I’ve been out here a week and a half and had a great time. A lot of people say this town is too liberal, out of touch with modern-day America, an atheistic pleasure dome, a modern-day beachfront Sodom and Gomorrah, a moral black hole where innocence is obliterated in an endless orgy of sex, gratification, and greed.”

The house is quiet, awaiting the punch line.

“I don’t really have a joke here,” Stewart says. “I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that.”

Changing times: “Ladies, Gentlemen … Felicity.” (Huffman played a transgendered woman in Transamerica.)

Also: “Capote shows America that not all gay people are virile cowboys.”

Biggest laugh: “Bjork couldn’t be here tonight. She was trying on her Oscars dress when Dick Cheney shot her.”

3. 1984 (the 56th Oscars)
Host: Johnny Carson

We are definitely in the ‘80s, now: Jennifer Beals is on the red carpet, along with Christie Brinkley and Matthew Broderick. We also see Amy Irving, who was nominated for Yentl, on the arm of soon-to-be husband Steven Spielberg. According to La Streisand, Spielberg said Yentl was “the best film I’ve seen since Citizen Kane,” a double bank shot of preposterous bullshit. Our Karma Desk reports that the Irving divorce supposedly cost Spielberg $100 million, after a prenup written on a napkin wasn’t accepted by the court. But I digress. It’s the year of Flashdance, WarGames, The Return of the Jedi, The Big Chill, and the big winner this year, Terms of Endearment.

Quincy Jones is conducting and Carson, thankfully, is back after the unfortunate unproduced production number the year before with Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Walter Matthau, and Richard Pryor. Academy president Gene Allen asserts that he’s “just been told” that 500 million people would be watching, and continues with one of the all-time most boring Academy president speeches. Allen’s delivery is basically that of a stoned guy standing in a Taco Bell drive-through lane trying to decide what to order.

Finally Carson comes on, hunting for bear. “You don’t realize what a thrill it is for me to appear someplace without being subpoenaed.” Carson went through a number of marriages and divorces during his extended celebrity, and a running joke was how much his divorces had cost him.

It’s all worth it for this joke: His latest marriage, he reflects, was a lot like the current year in movies. “It started off with Terms of Endearment. I thought I had the Right Stuff. It cost a lot to Dresser but then came The Big Chill and now I’m begging for Tender Mercies.”

The voting results, he says, “are known only to Price, and Waterhouse, and a 13-year-old whiz kid in Omaha who patched into their computer last Thursday.”

Old School: “A year ago, who would have thought you could sell a full-figured bra to Mariel Hemingway?” (This is apparently a crack about how Hemingway’s body looked in Personal Best and then Star 80, when she played Dorothy Stratten.)

Showing How It’s Done: “The big dramatic moment in Silkwood, when Kurt Russell turns over in bed to Meryl Streep and says, ‘Honey will you turn out the night light?’ and she says, ‘We don’t have one.’”

And: “James Bond is getting a little old. In case he’s captured by the enemy he now carries a cyanide suppository.”

Best Joke: All of L.A. has Oscars fever, Carson says. “The ladies of the night on Sunset Boulevard have been carrying signs saying ‘For Your Consideration.’”

2. 2016 (the 88th Oscars)
Host: Chris Rock

Standing resplendent in a white tux in front of what is unquestionably the most breathtaking Oscars set ever, Chris Rock takes names, delivering a scorching, no-holds-barred script at a crucial confusing time, the height of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. These attacks are somewhat misdirected: Hollywood hiring practices are the issue, not the Oscars, which since the turn of the century have been increasingly representative.

Rock played into this a bit — “Welcome to the White People’s Choice Awards,” he says. “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job.” (Actually, the Oscars had been hosted by an African-American 25 percent of the time in the previous two decades.) Some people, he notes, had said, “‘Chris, you should quit!’ How come it’s only unemployed people who tell you to quit something?”

But as you’d expect, he quickly zeroes in on the real issue, which is how Hollywood as an industry related to black people. Rock fires on everyone. He noted that the concern about black nominees was of recent vintage. In the 1960s, things were different. “We had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about best cinematographer. “

Best joke: “This year the ‘In Memoriam’ section is just going to be black folks who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies.”

Meanest Oscar joke ever? “Jada [Pinkett-Smith] boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. [Gasps from audience.] I wasn’t invited!”

Piling On: “I know it’s not fair Will Smith wasn’t nominated for Concussion. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West.

Best Industry Joke: “There’s no reason for there to be a man and a woman category in acting. It’s not track and field! Robert De Niro never said, ‘I better slow this actin’ down so Meryl Streep can catch up!’”

1. 2015 (the 87th Oscars)
Host: Neil Patrick Harris

There’s a good reason for the academy to let people who’ve been on the show before do something new. They might have been intimidated the first time, but can learn from their mistakes and raise the bar the second. Case in point: Neil Patrick Harris, who tonight proffers his second dance number and takes on full hosting duties for the first time. He is basically perfect.

Unlike Crystal and Goldberg and Martin, he doesn’t feel he has to remind us how many times he’s been there before. So confident is he that he delivers exactly one lancing joke before launching into a big song: “Welcome to the 86th Oscars,” he says, beaming. “Tonight, we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.”

Then comes the song, and it’s everything an Oscar opening number should be but never has been before. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who started off producing the Seth McFarlane Oscars but soon righted the ship, hired the pair that brought us Frozen’s “Let It Go,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. They crafted a light parody of Broadway excess a la Spamalot—but that turns out to be cover for a highly melodic, genuinely dramatic, hemi-demi-semi-serious tribute to the movies that nails every emotional beat and every absurdist deflation. (The set, with all the hanging Oscars, provides an elegant macabre touch, too.)

Two guest stars along the way take the number into unexpected directions and put the magic of movies into contemporary context.

Hard not to like passages like:

And Bardot and Brando
As Billy Dee as Lando
And when Sharon went commando


This industry’s in flux.
Run by mucky-mucks
Pitching tents for tentpoles
And chasing Chinese bucks

… all set against an evocative, understated film collage and, for the finale, a highly amusing dance corps.

The only version on You Tube is distorted, but still packs a punch. It’s worth watching a few more minutes to see J.K. Simmons accept the best supporting actor award and deliver perhaps the wisest and most useful of all Oscar thank-you speeches.

66 Oscar Opening Numbers Ranked, From Worst to Best