Remember the Billy Crystal Oscars years? When the actor hosted the Academy Awards nine times from 1990 to 2012? Of course you do. You probably have stuck in your head right now one of his numerous song-parody medleys, in which he would famously run down the plots of every year’s Best Picture nominees to the tune of standards from the Great American Songbook. He’d bound onto the stage with an enormous grin and belt “Hooray for Howard’s End!” à la “Hooray for Hollywood.” It’s a format so stupid and so pure it can only be called brilliant.
Crystal, while technically young enough to have been part of the 1960s counterculture, is still more early-20th-century vaudevillian than anything else. (It’s no wonder Mr. Saturday Night, his 1992 directorial effort, is about a Borscht Belt comedian at the top of his game in 1956.) He began his Oscars hosting career not long after the premiere of 1989’s beloved When Harry Met Sally, emceeing the broadcasts in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998 (probably the zenith of the event), 2000, 2004, and (somewhat disastrously) in 2012. With five Best Picture nominees in eight of these years and nine in 2012, it all adds up to 49 shtick-heavy subroutines set to the music of Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Jimmy Van Heusen, and more.
And I’ve ranked them all, using a closely held secret formula. To be a true Crystal parody, the number has to make me simultaneously laugh and cringe; I need to be thinking, Man, this is ostensibly funny and Oh, sweet Jesus, turn this off, I just can’t take it anymore! When the two sensations harmonize, that’s when we know it’s uncut Crystal.
This year’s Academy Awards ceremony will have no host, but no one can take these four dozen–plus memories away:
49. The Help (2012)
“The Birth of The Help” to the tune of “The Birth of the Blues”
Fate saw to it that Crystal wasn’t hosting when, say, Schindler’s List or 12 Years a Slave was up for awards. Would he still have done a medley of song parodies? My guess is that somehow, yes, he would have, as he hadn’t any qualms about singing, “They mopped and swept / Barely slept / All the crap that they schlepped / Yes, the Southland gave birth to The Help.” Hoo-boy.
Featured cringe: Crystal ended his 2012 medley with this one. At the big finish, he’s completely flat, giving a Louis Armstrong–like laugh as the camera cuts to Tony Bennett, whose ears must have been bleeding. It’s an airball instead of a slam dunk.
48. The Crying Game (1993)
“(Surprise) It’s the Crying Game” to the tune of “(Love Is) The Tender Trap”
Otherwise, Crystal went easy on his typical dick jokes. But for The Crying Game? Sigh.
Featured cringe: Crystal opened this li’l number devoted to LGBTQ panic with a “This one’s for you, Jack” and pointed to Jack Nicholson.
47. Born on the Fourth of July (1990)
“Born on the Fourth of July” to the tune of “Born in the U.S.A.”
It’s just the one line. Crystal turns ass-out to the audience to re-create the iconic Bruce Springsteen album cover. It’s five seconds you will never scrub from your mind.
Featured cringe: Crystal doing Springsteen with a Bugs Bunny–esque Bronx accent is absolutely excruciating.
46. Moneyball (2012)
“The Show” to the tune of, um, “The Show”
This misstep is so baffling it’s almost good. It’s certainly important for the true masochists. First, what in the hell is Billy Crystal doing singing “The Show,” by Lenka? This is not Jerome Kern, this is not Jule Styne. Second, Crystal basically ignores the whole Moneyball plot, which goes against his nature because he loves baseball. Last, all he does is make fat jokes at the expense of Jonah Hill; he tells him he can go eat cupcakes after he loses. Hill is absolutely mortified (he tries to laugh it off, but he’s just had his pants pulled down on international television), and what’s worse is that he’s framed between objectively gorgeous Brad Pitt, who is laughing, and very famous Martin Scorsese, who is also laughing.
Most dated reference: Lenka’s “The Show.”
45. The Tree of Life (2012)
“Malick” to the tune of “Alfie”
The gag here is “What’s it all about?,” because I guess The Tree of Life is confusing to some people. What, not every rhapsodic childhood memoir features a dialogue-free 16-minute sequence depicting the birth of the universe and the meteor-instigated extinction of the dinosaurs?
Featured cringe: The Tree of Life is one of the most gorgeous works of art to ever get nominated for an Academy Award, and Billy Crystal called it “odd.”
44. Dead Poets Society (1990)
“Dead Poets Society” to the tune of “Mutual Admiration Society”
This one, blessedly, lasts only eight seconds. One must assume that in 1990 more people were familiar with Harold Arlen’s tune from the show Happy Hunting than they are today.
Featured cringe: A little added “Walt Whitman and me” isn’t a joke!
43. Midnight in Paris (2012)
“I Love Midnight in Paris” to the tune of “The Last Time I Saw Paris”
A quick Charles Boyer–esque observation that Owen Wilson is a little goyische as the Woody Allen proxy in Midnight in Paris.
Featured cringe: Not so much a cringe, but Crystal had an opportunity to lay in with some quality Woody Allen jokes and he left them all on the table.
42. Mystic River (2004)
“Mystic River” to the tune of “Ol’ Man River”
Oh no. Billy, don’t do the voice. Please. Don’t do the — he’s doing the voice. The year 2004 was recent enough for him to know not to do the voice. As Crystal enters the audience to serenade Clint Eastwood, he brings the house down rhyming “You’ve made hits / You don’t make schlock / You’ve performed with monkeys and with Sondra Locke.”
Most dated reference: “There’s a shooting / And there’s a beating / It’s like a Disney and Eisner meeting.” If your subscription to Premiere has lapsed, that zing may be lost on you.
41. The Artist (2012)
“He Won’t Talk” to the tune of “I Won’t Dance”
Crystal’s gag for The Artist lasts all of 11 seconds. The joke is “he won’t talk” because it’s a silent film. I get it.
Deep cut: Wait, what? The Artist won Best Picture? I forgot about that.
40. War Horse (2012)
“Mr. Joey” to the tune of “Theme From Mr. Ed”
No surprise that he went to Mr. Ed while lampooning War Horse, and while rhyming horse, course, and Spielbergian tour de force is impressive, this is one of the more embarrassing Crystal exercises. Take it out back and shoot it.
Featured cringe: You think it’s going to end with “famous Mr. Ed,” but the music drops out and Crystal slows his cadence to land on “Mr. … Joey!” A trumpet in the orchestra mimics a neigh, but the whole thing is in fact one big … hell, neigh.
39. Fargo (1997)
“My Kind of Town (Fargo Is)” to the tune of “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)”
The goal posts were wide for this one, but it is an uncharacteristic whiff. For example, Crystal goes all in miming what he thinks a lactating sheriff looks like.
Featured cringe: In the middle of the bit, he slips into his old Sammy Davis Jr. voice.
38. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2012)
“Hanks Is a Memory” to the tune of “Thanks for the Memories”
Okay, so how do you write a song parody about a 9/11 film? You throw it away. This entry is one line, lasts six seconds, and gets almost no laughs.
Deep cut: Cards on the table, I didn’t even get this until I counted up all the entries for this list and saw I was one short. This micro-gag comes right after War Horse, and I originally thought it was a lame joke about Spielberg not casting his buddy Tom Hanks in his latest.
37. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2004)
“Come Sail With Me” to the tune of “Come Fly With Me”
Director Peter Weir looks like he wants to jump overboard as Crystal makes dopey naval cracks about his brilliant film. Russell Crowe did not ever look through a spyglass and shout “Thar she blows!”
Featured cringe: Crystal ends the film-specific part of the number with a very out-of-character gay joke (“Next port, San Francisco!,” he squeals), then segues into some “Let’s start the show” business. He makes a crack about not mispronouncing Djimon Hounsou’s or Shohreh Aghdashloo’s name, but I’m pretty sure he mispronounces them while doing so.
36. Secrets & Lies (1997)
“Secrets & Lies” to the tune of “Theme From The Brady Bunch”
Crystal tries to summarize the complex relationship between all the characters in Mike Leigh’s powerhouse acting showpiece but relies on superimposing video screens for a visual gag.
Most dated reference: “Dennis Rodman’s tattooed thighs” rhymes with Secrets & Lies, sure, but that’s the best you could do?
35. Hugo (2012)
“Well, That’s Hugo” to the tune of “That’s Amore”
Crystal goes the easy route here, making mob jokes that border on anti-Italian-American racism. “But in truth I’d prefer for the sequel you don’t be so arty / Have the kid crack a head / Shoot Ben Kingsley in bed / ’Cause you’re Marty!” Little Francesca Scorsese looks perplexed by her father’s side.
Featured cringe: Hugo isn’t arty. It’s a kids’ picture. What kind of non-cinema are you watching, Crystal?
34. The English Patient (1997)
“Ralph, the English Patient” to the tune of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”
Crystal sits down for a quickie here, describing in weirdly gross detail the burn wounds Ralph Fiennes’s character suffers in The English Patient. “He’s in pain, and he’s out of luck / He’s as crispy as Peking duck.”
Featured cringe: A lot of trilled R’s on this one. I like the idea of Crystal pitching this as “Hey, I’ll sing it like a real Englishman!”
33. GoodFellas (1991)
“GoodFellas” to the tune of “Goody Goody”
Was Crystal’s little medley the previous year a onetime goof? Absolutely not. The bit came back, doubled in length, and opened with this peppy number. “So you whacked someone and stuffed him into your trunk / GoodFellas!” There are trace elements of Crystal’s old Sammy Davis Jr. impression here, and he’s having a really great time.
Best dance move: Finger guns for all the whackings. And there are many whackings.
32. My Left Foot (1990)
“Me and My Left Foot” to the tune of “Me and My Shadow”
I have some love for this one, I suppose, as it was the first Oscars parody routine Crystal ever put out into the world. After a little preamble (which includes some straight-up racist jokes about Columbia Pictures’ then-recent purchase by Japan’s Sony Corporation), Crystal jokes that “you won’t get a medley that usually begins —” then takes a deep breath and sings, “It’s a wonderful night for Oscar! Oscar, Oscar!,” and changes popular culture forever.
Best dance move: Crystal makes sure to shake only his left foot during this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one-line zinger that goes straight into the much funnier Field of Dreams parody.
31. Ghost (1991)
“G-H-O-S-T” to the tune of “L-O-V-E”
If anyone ever wants to parody Crystal’s song parodies, this seems like an ideal choice. Rhyming Oscar with prosper is the cherry on top.
Best dance move: It’s a weird bit of improv, but Crystal dips down the stairs to bury his head in Al Pacino’s lap at the beginning of this one. Pacino’s then-girlfriend, Jan Tarrant, seems amused, but then again, she is an acting coach.
30. Beauty and the Beast (1992)
“Paintings” to the tune of “Cousins” (theme from The Patty Duke Show)
Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture and consequently received many a Crystal barb. (“Feivel took an eraser to his wrists,” he joked about a jealous cartoon contemporary.) With this parody, Crystal accuses the film of merely being “Paaaaaintings / Just movable paintings from Disney’s mob.”
Most dated reference: “Us aaaaactors / Are out of a job,” Crystal kvetches, unable to foresee that big names like himself have decades of easy checks ahead of them, while professional voice-over artists are the ones with a gloomy future.
29. A Few Good Men (1993)
“Nom-inations!” to the tune of “Sound Off!” (a.k.a. the Duckworth Chant)
This is dead center in Crystal’s fourth musical medley and represents the point at which he, as they say, got high on his own supply. Until then, there was always a “Hell, I know this is corny” vibe from him, even when it’s clear he’s loving it. But with this, in which he swings his hips around, comes dangerously close to doing a blaccent, and makes a big stink about his pal Rob Reiner not getting nominated for Best Director, it’s clear Crystal thinks, Yeah, I’m hot stuff. And that’s terrifying.
Deep cut: Rewatching this musical number reminded me that Demi Moore is in A Few Good Men. I have zero recollection of this. In fact, other than “I want the truth!,” this movie is completely gone from my memory, sorry.
28. JFK (1992)
“Three Shots in the Plaza” to the tune of “Three Coins in the Fountain”
The shtick here is suggesting that “everyone’s in JFK,” so we get lines like “Connie Chung or Connie Francis?”
Best dance move: At the conclusion of this particularly wretched bit, Crystal does what I guess you could call a little vogueing, striking a pose in profile. But he’s got the palm of his hand to his forehead, as if he’s almost ashamed of what he’s done.
27. Scent of a Woman (1993)
“Scent of a Woman” to the tune of “I’m a Woman”
“He’s drunk, he’s blind, and yet he drives / So how the hell is he still alive?”: Crystal’s summation of Al Pacino’s character from the Martin Brest picture that won Pacino that year’s Best Actor Academy Award. “It is the Oscar you can’t refuse!,” Crystal sings, pointing to the actor with a forced smile on his face.
Featured cringe: To a borderline-funky bass riff, Crystal throws in a few “Hoo-aaah!”s.
26. Titanic (1998)
“Oscar’s Big Night” to the tune of “Theme From Gilligan’s Island”
Crystal begins the 1998 show with an all-out corniness assault. He zings James Cameron for his over-budget script and three-hour film but descends into pure embarrassment when he swaps “Here on Gilligan’s Iiiiiiiisle” with “Here on Oscar’s big niiiiiiight,” grinning like a sociopath.
Deep cut: This song parody is the first and only time in human history that Cameron’s Titanic and Michael Lehmann’s My Giant have been mentioned in the same breath.
25. The Descendants (2012)
“A Wacky Summary of The Descendants” to the tune of “Hawaiian War Chant”
A good tongue-twisting effort from Crystal at the center of his worst year. It ends with a Hawaiian lei joke, and sure, go for it, you’ve earned the right.
Featured cringe: I guess technically The Descendants is an independent film, but it’s not like it was funded on Kickstarter and shot with a phone.
24. American Beauty (2000)
“This Beauty Is a Champ” to the tune of “The Lady Is a Tramp”
The enormous shit-eating grin seen on Kevin Spacey’s face as we cut to reaction shots is considerably eerie now, but this is undeniably a winner from Crystal’s 2000 routine. “He just turned 40 / But he digs a teen / Loves to shower / But never gets clean.”
Best dance move: Crystal knew he had a hit here so truly goes the extra mile. He’s mimes “smoking reefer,” then flicks it away while the horns go crazy. He shadowboxes. He flings invisible plates. When the number segues to the outro (“It’s time for Oscar / To take center stage!”) he even galumphs across the stage with a mimed walker because it’s the 70th Academy Awards. Showbiz, thy name is Crystal!
23. The Green Mile (2000)
“Green Mile” to the tune of “Theme From Green Acres”
“Bright lights! / Last rights! / Sponge dry? / You fry!” See, you can write funny to the inhumanity of capital punishment.
Best dance move: Crystal concludes his “Green Mile” by reverting to two of his old reliables. The first is the old-school translated-from-Yiddish phrasing of a question (“Three hours, tell me why?”), and the second is making the Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face as he did a decade earlier in one of his bigger please-the-audience moments.
22. Shine (1997)
“A Shticky Summary of the Movie Shine” to the tune of “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”
It could not have been easy for Crystal to memorize all these words. The guy’s a true professional.
Deep cut: But he doesn’t quite nail it. It’s 98 percent of the way there, but he trips over the lyrics on two occasions. Perhaps this is actually meta-commentary about Shine’s lessons on imperfection? Hard to say.
21. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004)
“The Lord of the Rings” to the tune of “My Favorite Things”
Julie Andrews is in the crowd, so Crystal apologizes to her before breaking into the dopey words put to her Sound of Music classic. Let it be known that I resent the implication that “Frodo and Sam [are] on some mystical planet.” What part of Middle-EARTH do you not understand, Billy Crystal?
Most dated reference: “Hobbits with feet big and hairy and smelly / More epic battles than Gest and Minnelli.” Eh, maybe it’s not that dated.
20. Lost in Translation (2004)
“Sofia” to the tune of “Maria”
Sofia Coppola looks like she deeply regrets getting into the family business as Crystal prances around making gags about her touching, character-driven film that somehow ended up at the Oscars.
Featured cringe: Crystal thanks Coppola for the opening shot of Scarlett Johansson’s rear. Billy, she’s 19; you are 56. Extra ugh for the squeeze-the-Charmin move that accompanies this gag.
19. The Silence of the Lambs (1992)
“The Silence of the Lambs” to the tune of “The Shadow of Your Smile”
Crystal maintains an upbeat bossa nova beat for this one but, more so than most of his song parodies, it makes very little sense. Yet “a bouillabaisse of cheeks and necks and arms” is very catchy!
Featured cringe: To hear a suggestion that Anthony Hopkins looks like Chef Boyardee, then to cut to him as he gives Crystal a pity laugh is as grueling as a Michael Haneke film.
18. Field of Dreams (1990)
“Field of Dreams” to the tune of “Tangerine” (by Jimmy Dorsey, not Led Zeppelin)
Crystal’s surrealist lyrics suggest that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Christy Brown, from the song parody that preceded this one, was “tapping down the Field of Dreams.” Our host’s stickball roots come out as he mimes pitching a fastball and knocking a line drive to left field.
Most dated reference: “When you see Shoeless Joe swingin’ right / It’s a lockout–Faye Vincent–arbitration kinda night.” Vincent, if you don’t know, was the commissioner of baseball at the time. Team owners had locked out players in February 1990, but an agreement was signed a mere seven days after Crystal’s zing. Coincidence?
17. Awakenings (1991)
“Awakening” to the tune of “All the Way”
Not just anyone can rhyme coma with L-dopa, but that’s why Billy Crystal makes the big bucks.
Featured cringe: This was the last tune of 1991, so it segued into “Gilly, get the limo, we’re going home,” making an insider Sinatra reference.
16. Driving Miss Daisy (1990)
“Driving Miss Daisy Back Home” to the tune of “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”
Chronologically speaking, this was the first routine that clued us in to the fact that Crystal had something special with these song parodies. The audience burst into applause upon recognizing the gag. “Gee, it’s great in a segregated state!,” Crystal crooned, miming a grip on a steering wheel.
Deep cut: “Make sure there’s fuel / To get me to shul!,” Crystal sings in falsetto.
15. Jerry Maguire (1997)
“Let’s Give a Cheer to Jerry Maguire” to the tune of the University of Notre Dame’s “Victory March”
In 1997, Jerry Maguire was the only Best Picture nominee released by one of the major studios, meaning, “It better win, or else there’s trouble.” Crystal tells Tom Cruise not to worry, though, because even if he loses, he still gets to “go home with Nicole.” Cruise finds this deeply funny. Nicole Kidman, maybe a little less.
Deep cut: Honestly, the deep cut here was learning this was Notre Dame’s “Victory March.” I guess if I watched fewer awards shows and more sports like my father always wanted …
14. As Good As It Gets (1998)
“This Is As Good As It Gets” to the tune of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”
After a shout-out to Gloria Stuart and a vamp about James L. Brooks’s directing snub, Crystal tiptoes through this tongue-twisting tune summarizing the characters from As Good As It Gets. He stumbles at one point but saves it simply by embracing Jack Nicholson and shouting, “Oh man, I love this guy!” Class act!
Most dated reference: “Sit back and relax / Forget about Mars Attacks!,” Crystal sings to Nicholson.
13. Dances With Wolves (1991)
“Dances With Wolves” to the tune of “Dancing in the Dark” (the Arthur Schwartz standard, not the Bruce Springsteen song)
With the camera on Kevin Costner, Crystal croons, “He produced, directed, and starred in this moooooooovie / So if he wants to dance widda wolf, chances are he’s gonna dance widda wolf!,” with a near–Mel Brooks–ian inflection.
Best dance move: Crystal makes what Jewish grandmothers might call a “feh!” motion at the thought of dancing with a wolf.
12. The Insider (2000)
“The 60 Minutes Waltz” to the tune of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”
“I don’t care if they all say that I’m a wacko / Watch this wacko bring down Big Tobaccooooooooooo!”: I love, love, love that Michael Mann had to sit through this.
Deep cut: In the middle of this lightning-speed tongue twister, Crystal name-drops Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt, and Andy Rooney. And honestly, dayenu. But Crystal slips in a gag about Morley Safer, too, and that right there shows why he’s the best there ever was.
11. Bugsy (1991)
“Bug, Bug, Bugsy (Goo’ Bye)” to the tune of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye)”
Crystal sweating through an Al Jolson routine is like being trapped in a Friars Club steam room on some dark acid.
Featured cringe: Mugging like a lunatic, exaggerating a lisp, and rhyming “Bug, Bug, Bugsy, don’t cryyyyyy” with “Ten nominations, the hiiiiigh,” Crystal freezes and holds for laughs. The response is muted, and we cut to Warren Beatty, who is mortified, then chuckles, clearly thinking, What a bozo. Visual poetry.
10. Howards End (1993)
“Hooray for Howards End” to the tune of “Hooray for Hollywood”
Ismail Merchant and James Ivory shrugged the whole way through this shtick, but Ruth Prawer Jhabvala said, “Don’t worry, darlings, I’ll explain it after.”
Best dance move: Somehow Crystal worked in a Psycho gag and mimed stabbing Janet Leigh in the shower. Don’t ask why, just accept it.
9. The Cider House Rules (2000)
“Caine” to the tune of “Mame”
The closest Billy Crystal ever came to being a successful insult comic was during this little soft-shoe. Holding a cane, he serenades “Mike” Caine, up for Best Supporting Actor in The Cider House Rules, and proceeds to diss him for taking any damn job that comes his way. “He’s made a lot of movies / First Alfie, then he kept on makin’ more / He won for Woody Allen / But why’d ya have to go and make Jaws 4?” Excuse me, Mr. Crystal, but the correct title is Jaws: The Revenge.
Featured cringe: Crystal keeps cuing the audience to sing “Caaaaaiiiiine” along with him. Wisely, they demur.
8. L.A. Confidential (1998)
“L.A. Confidential” to the tune of “Fascinating Rhythm”
Props to Crystal for handling the weird time signature on this one. He even slips in asides like “It’s Base-inger / Not Bass-inger” without missing a beat. Despite (or maybe because of) the weird syncopation, some phrases come out extra Yiddish, like rhyming “but it’s confusing” with “my mind I’m losing!”
Featured cringe: “Although it’s dark / Its future seems briiiiiiight / L.A. Confidential / You could be the iceberg toniiiiiiight!” Oh, 1998.
7. Unforgiven (1993)
“Unforgiven” to the tune of “Unforgettable”
A disco ball descends as Crystal trots down the stairs to serenade Clint Eastwood up close. “C’mere, you big mayor, you,” he coos, then sits in his lap. “You directed and produced with ease / Long way from singin’ ‘I Talk to the Trees.’” It’s a solid zing (he’ll make another Paint Your Wagon gag years later for Mystic River), and Eastwood’s chuckle seems sincere. Maybe he likes this prancin’ little fella after all.
Deep cut: Shout-out to musical director Bill Conti for lightly sprinkling a jazzed-up version of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly riff under Crystal’s crooning.
6. Good Will Hunting (1998)
“Matt and Ben” to the tune of “Night and Day”
With director Gus Van Sant sitting right there, Crystal sticks with the narrative that Good Will Hunting was un film de Matt Damon et Ben Affleck. “Matt and Ben / You are the ones / Your script was tight, and dammit / So are your buns.” The childhood friends (who look like babies here) are tickled but a little embarrassed. Minnie Driver, however, looks positively mortified.
Featured cringe: “Ben and Matt / They’re off to the Gov’ners Ball / While I call to get the results / Of my test for cholesterol.” See, the joke here is that Affleck and Damon were young. Just making sure you got that.
5. The Sixth Sense (2000)
“People” (with different lyrics) to the tune of “People”
No one held a gun to your head and made you read this article, so you have no one to blame but yourself for what’s coming. Okay, here goes: “People / Kids who see dead people / Are the spoooookiest people / In the wooooooooorld.” It’s in your head now. And it shall never leave. Added bonus to this bit: Crystal dedicates it to Haley Joel Osment, age 11 (“I’ve had movies in development longer than that”), and concludes with a suggestion that he might go home and hook up with Cher.
Most dated reference: Prior to launching this bit, Crystal gave a few shout-outs to people in the audience, including Willie Fulgear and his top hat. If you recall, there was a heist of the Oscar trophies that year, and the self-described junk scavenger Fulgear was the one who alerted the LAPD to their eventual whereabouts; he found the statuettes in a dumpster behind a supermarket in Koreatown. For his efforts, he got a modest reward and a ticket to the big show.
4. Seabiscuit (2004)
“Seabiscuit” to the tune of “Goldfinger”
“Seeeeeea-biscuit! / He’s a horse / A horse Oscar may go toooooooo / Or else he’s gluuuuuuue!”
Most dated reference: After suggesting Seabiscuit would make “a nice brisket,” Billy gets into a whole bit about horse racing, gambling, and Pete Rose. (Rhymes with “by a nose,” you see.) The song goes completely off the rails there, as the lyrics focus on Rose instead of Seabiscuit until the big high note at the end.
3. The Prince of Tides (1992)
“The Prince of Tides” to the tune of “Don’t Rain on My Parade”
A bit of a conceptual masterpiece as Crystal sings from Barbra Streisand’s point of view while doing one of her trademark numbers. He sings about her decision to adapt Pat Conroy’s novel, directing Nick Nolte, and shooting close-ups of her own fingernails. Most important, he asks, “Did this film direct itself?”
Featured cringe: After making his good point about Streisand’s snub (and pausing to let the crowd roar as the camera cuts to a tickled Babs), he cranks it up a thousand degrees by swapping “Hey, Mister Arnstein” with “Hey, Mister Osssssscar!” So embarrassing. But that’s what he does. Like no one else.
2. The Full Monty (1998)
“The Full Monty” to the tune of “Hello, Dolly!”
Crystal saved this one for last in ’98, and a look of unadulterated glee appears on his face once he clocks that the audience can tell what’s coming. We’re confronted with the thought of Billy Crystal stripping with a barrage of erection jokes. And then he brings it on home, singing about Oscar’s big night while longtime Crystal pal Robin Williams leads the cheers. Even Samuel L. Jackson applauds and nods, surely admitting, “Yeah, yeah, I’m having a good time. This is quality entertainment.”
Most dated reference: “Droppin’ your pants is lots o’ fun / Just like they do in Washingtonnn!” Back in 1998, you see, there was a guy in the news by the name of Bill Clinton …
1. The Godfather Part III (1991)
“Godfather III” to the tune of “Speak Softly, Love” (theme from The Godfather)
I have to get a little personal here and admit that, to my great dissatisfaction, this has been on a consistent loop in my head since March 25, 1991. If there were some sort of pill I could take to remove it, I’d be on it, never mind the co-pay. Billy Crystal, on his knees, mugging to the ends of the earth, the camera cutting to a delighted Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino — this is a mainline injection of pure, uncut shtick. It’s embarrassing and perfect at the same time. Here are the lyrics in full, which I can type from memory: “This is the story ’bout a man called Corleone / This man killed everyone, so now he’s Home Alone / Not a very nice guy / Shot Moe Greene in the eye / So tell me why his hair is seven inches high? / Godfather III / Let there be more / And put Duvall / In Godfather IV.”
Featured cringe: It’s all cringe; that’s why it’s brilliant. But the [hold for applause] moment when Crystal mimes Macaulay Culkin on the Home Alone line makes me want to hide in my bed under three weighted blankets. And watch it again.
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