They’ve tried everything. One host. Two hosts. Four hosts. 32 hosts. Comic hosts. Serious-thespian hosts. Hollywood-legend hosts. Young hosts. Old hosts. Hip hosts. Square hosts. Singing-and-dancing hosts. Every year, it seems, the Academy Awards goes back to the drawing board to figure out what sort of emcee will keep the show lively, attract viewers (especially younger viewers) and keep them from flipping channels during the slow parts. It’s a thankless gig; no wonder Billy Crystal, who’s done it eight times, decided to sit out for eight years before agreeing to return to host this year’s Academy Awards on Sunday night.

The job requires a difficult and rare set of skills: a host must entertain both the Hollywood big-shots in the auditorium and regular folks at home. They can poke fun at the huge egos in the room, but can’t deflate them with too much snark, and they can’t be too inside-baseball. They may also have to take focus away from outside events, from talent strikes to wars and assassinations, that threaten to darken the celebratory mood. Most of all, they have to think quickly on their feet, since there’s no telling what will happen during a live show broadcast to hundreds of millions around the world.

Crystal seems to possess all these qualities in spades; so did Bob Hope, who hosted a record 18 times. To a lesser extent, so did such hosts as Whoopi Goldberg, Johnny Carson, Steve Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Jon Stewart, all of whom hosted multiple times. Others (like last year’s unfortunate pair, James Franco and Anne Hathaway) did not. Below, we’ve rated from worst to best every host’s performance for the last six decades, since the 25th annual ceremony, the first time Academy Awards were first broadcast on television. Read on to see how your favorite (and least favorite) Oscar emcees stand up.

THE WORST
59. Nobody (1989) Yep, officially, at least, nobody is to blame for what’s generally regarded as the Worst. Oscar. Show. Ever. Since there was no host, if you have to blame someone, blame producer Allan Carr, whose sins against taste began with the notorious opening number, a duet between non-singer Rob Lowe and an actress playing Snow White (much to the ire of Disney’s lawyers). It only got worse from there. Strangely, this was one of the highest-rated Oscarcasts of the decade. Maybe people just couldn’t look away from the train wreck.

58. James Franco and Anne Hathaway (2011) Oscar’s youngest hosts served as a desperate reminder of how badly the Academy wanted to be seen as youthful, hip, and relevant. But he seemed bored to the point of catatonia (even though he was up for an Oscar himself, for “127 Hours”), while she compensated by being irritatingly manic. In the end, the show belonged to such oldtimers as Kirk Douglas, Billy Crystal, and the holographic ghost of Bob Hope. Crystal earned a minute-long ovation just for showing up; no wonder the Academy was so eager to have him back in charge in 2012.

57. Walter Matthau, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, and Richard Pryor (1983) Veteran Oscar show writer Buz Kohan called this quartet of hosts the worst ever. As he explained to Entertainment Weekly, “I had written the opening number, called ‘It All Comes Down to This.’ They were all scared stiff, but ordinarily if you’re scared, then you put in the time and rehearse. They took the opposite approach. So Liza was forced to carry the number, Walter was singing in his own zone somewhere, Dudley was just trying to walk down these steps without falling, and Richard Pryor well, I think they told him the next day that he was there.” Pryor and Moore made things worse by bickering throughout the show over who was the higher-paid star.

56. Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, and Frank Sinatra (1975) In a sign of changing times, the Rat Pack-y group of old guard hosts found themselves in political hot water when the Best Documentary prize went to the anti-Vietnam War polemic “Hearts and Minds.” After director Peter Davis and producer Bert Schneider’s fiery acceptance speeches, Hope and Sinatra drafted a disclaimer from the Academy denying responsibility for any political statements made during the ceremony. MacLaine objected, but Sinatra read the statement anyway. Ol’ Blue Eyes also made a point of praising those stars who still made movies “with your clothes on” and of disagreeing with young whippersnapper Dustin Hoffman, who had called the Oscars garish and embarrassing. If anything, Sinatra seemed to make Hoffman’s point for him.

55. Ellen DeGeneres (2007) DeGeneres had shone as the host of other awards shows (particularly the 2001 Emmys, postponed twice after 9/11). But she was out of her depth here. “Since the Oscars have decided to go green,” she said, “I’ve been told to recycle some of my old jokes.” She seemed to have taken that literally, as her performance was a pale, lackluster retread of her previous awards gigs.

54. Chevy Chase (1988) Back at the Shrine Auditorium for the first time in 40 years, the show suffered from a lack of well-written material, thanks to a writer’s strike that had begun a month earlier. Not that that kept the show from dragging out to three and a half hours. Chase began with an object lesson in how not to play to the room by saying, “Good evening, Hollywood phonies.” He was never invited back.

53. Whoopi Goldberg (1999) This was Goldberg’s third time emceeing, so she knew the drill, yet she seemed to have thought she was hosting a Friar’s Club roast instead of the Academy Awards. Her patter was filled with off-color remarks (after removing her Queen Elizabeth I makeup, she said, “Who knew it was this hard to get a virgin off your face?”). After one of many blue jokes, she said, “You know, I might not be doing this show again, so let’s just go right to the edge and go over. Whaddya say?” Surprisingly, she did get invited back, though not for another three years.

52. Jon Stewart (2006) The show began with a montage of previous hosts turning down the thankless gig, making Stewart look like the last guy standing after a game of musical chairs. He had some clever bits, including a “Daily Show”-like segment with Stephen Colbert featuring mock political negative Oscar campaign ads. Such fare went over well in the auditorium but seemed to get crickets from viewers at home.

51. Chris Rock (2005) Rock proved a little too edgy for the room, particularly his digs at Jude Law for his ubiquity and at second-choice actors (including himself). A textbook lesson on how, if it doesn’t play to the insiders in the auditorium, it won’t play to the folks at home watching the comedian die onstage.

50. David Letterman (1995) Not as horrible as you remember. Still, Dave’s ironic, goofy, New York sensibility didn’t play well among the serious-minded Hollywood folk in the auditorium, and their stony silence did not make for good TV. That Uma-Oprah joke was pretty lame, but it’s still one of the most memorable Oscar gags of the last 20 years.

49. Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, and Paul Hogan (1987) Aussie Hogan, who was also a nominee for his “Crocodile Dundee” screenplay, had groused about having traveled 13,000 miles in hope of winning. (He did not.) The ABC telecast had the misfortune of competing against the NCAA Basketball finals on CBS. (“Is the game over yet?” Chase joked.) This would be the last time the Academy would hire multiple hosts until Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in 2010.

48. Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, and Robin Williams (1986) Replacing the likes of Johnny Carson and Jack Lemmon with the hipper, zippier Williams didn’t help stop the Oscar show’s ratings slide. New producer Stanley Donen, director of many classic MGM musicals, added a bunch of song and dance numbers that — along with Cher’s notorious midriff-baring punk-priestess gown, stole most of the thunder from the three underwhelming hosts.

47. Jack Lemmon (1985) With the previous year’s show having run nearly four hours, host Jack Lemmon gamely tried to keep things moving, but the telecast still ran ten minutes over three hours. This was one of the lowest-rated Oscar shows of the decade, though everyone seems to remember it now for Best Actress winner Sally Field’s “You like me!” speech.

46. Whoopi Goldberg (2002) During the first Oscar show broadcast from the Kodak Theatre, Goldberg presided over a historic night for black stars, with Halle Berry becoming the first African-American Best Actress winner, a Best Actor win for Denzel Washington, and an honorary Oscar for Sidney Poitier. It was also the first Oscars after 9/11, so the whole evening had a somber tone. For all her wit and apparent pride in the achievements of her fellow black actors, Goldberg could not enliven the deadly pace. Clocking in at four hours and 23 minutes, this was the longest Oscar ceremony ever.

45. Billy Crystal (1993) In a nod to the most memorable moments of the previous year’s ceremony, Crystal was pulled onto the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion astride a giant Oscar, tugged by Jack Palance. That may have been the last really good joke of the evening. Crystal had been reluctant to do the gig for a fourth straight year, and his reluctance showed in his performance.

44. Johnny Carson (1984) After the 1983 debacle, the reliable Carson was brought back for a fifth time. Nonetheless, not even he could keep the show from dragging on for an interminable three hours and 42 minutes. “This is the Academy Awards,” Carson told home viewers. “Warning: contents may cause drowsiness; do not drive or operate heavy machinery.” Best Actress winner Shirley MacLaine landed a better joke during her acceptance speech, saying, “I’m going to cry, because this show has been as long as my career.”

43. 32 “Friends of Oscar,” including Merle Oberon, Steve McQueen, Jeanne Moreau, Bob Hope, Maggie Smith, Walter Matthau, Joan Blondell, and Janet Gaynor (1971) By now, the “Friends of Oscar” gimmick was getting out of hand. Still, it was a treat to see some golden-age stars taking the podium, including Oberon and Gaynor, the winner of the first-ever Best Actress Oscar.

42. Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, and Richard Pryor (1977) Producer William Friedkin seemed to have picked this quartet of countercultural firebrands to thumb his nose at the Bob Hope generation of Academy members. Pryor lived up to his billing by joking that there were no black people watching the show and only a couple among the Academy voters, so African-Americans might just as well opt out of the Oscars altogether. “You’ll have to listen to Lawrence Welk,” he quipped. Burstyn wore a man’s tuxedo.

41. Goldie Hawn, Gene Kelly, Walter Matthau, George Segal, and Robert Shaw (1976) This was the year of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”‘s historic sweep of the top five awards, a night whose poignant highlight was Best Actress winner Louise Fletcher’s sign-language speech, in honor of her deaf parents. Given that, who remembers anything said or done by any of these hosts?

40. Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson (1973) Heston was a few minutes late to the show, thanks to a flat tire, and Clint Eastwood was pressed into service as an emergency alternate. That mishap was all but forgotten by the end of the ceremony, remembered today for Marlon Brando’s rejection of his “Godfather” Oscar and his sending Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to read his protest statement about Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. After that left the audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a stunned silence, there was really nothing the hosts could do to restore a celebratory mood.

39. Jack Lemmon (1964) As in the previous year, a sponsor conflict kept Bob Hope sidelined, leaving Lemmon as an able host — though he wasn’t as funny as presenter Sammy Davis Jr. Handed the wrong envelope, Davis cracked, “Wait until the NAACP hears about this!”

38. Frank Sinatra (1963) First, a sponsor conflict kept Bob Hope from his usual emcee duties, then a parking dispute (over a forgotten security sticker) almost kept new host Sinatra (who was driving his own car) from the site of the show.

37. Bob Hope (1967) Hope found himself upstaged by dancers, particularly Mitzi Gaynor (doing an energetic rendition of the nominated theme from “Georgy Girl”) and presenters Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who took advantage of their momentary reunion to ad lib a few steps.

36. Bob Hope (1966). Hope had to compete with the lavish set design created for the first color telecast of an Oscar show, including 42 onstage fountains. He also registered surprise when presented with a medal from the Academy governors for his years of service.

35. 17 “Friends of Oscar” — Bob Hope, John Wayne, Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Jon Voight, Myrna Loy, Clint Eastwood, Raquel Welch, Candice Bergen, James Earl Jones, Katharine Ross, Cliff Robertson, Ali MacGraw, Barbara McNair, Elliot Gould, Claudia Cardinale, and Elizabeth Taylor (1970) In an expansion of the previous year’s “Friends of Oscar” gimmick, there was no single emcee, but rather, a rotation of 17 hosts. Taylor probably got the most attention of all of them, as she was sporting a $ 1.5 million diamond.

34. Donald O’Connor and Fredric March (1954) O’Connor effectively managed a show where presenters were literally phoning it in from far-flung locations (Shirley Booth in Philadelphia, Gary Cooper in Mexico). It was up to the “Singin’ in the Rain” star, however, to read the winners’ names when the remote presenters had finished. March continued the tradition of having someone more distinguished than funny host the New York portion of the show.

33. “The Friends of Oscar” – Ingrid Bergman, Diahann Carroll, Tony Curtis, Jane Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Walter Matthau, Sidney Poitier, Rosalind Russell, Frank Sinatra, and Natalie Wood (1969) In a year of big changes, including a new venue (the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion), there were 10 hosts, not one of whom was named Hope (though ol’ Bob did make a brief appearance, earning a standing ovation in the process). Carroll and Poitier became the first two black performers to host an Academy Awards ceremony.

32. Bob Hope (1965) Back in the saddle after a three-year absence, Hope was a welcome sight as he presided over the last black-and-white Oscar show.

31. Bob Hope (1968) If Hope was rattled by the assassination of Martin Luther King a week earlier (which forced the postponement of the Oscarcast by a few days), he didn’t show it. This was his 14th time hosting, and it was a smooth, star-studded affair (thanks largely to Academy president Gregory Peck, who cajoled 18 of the 20 acting nominees to show up).

30. Steve Martin (2003) With the Iraq War having started days earlier, no one felt much like celebrating (except for Best Actor Adrien Brody, planting his now-famous smooch on surprised presenter Halle Berry). Martin helped lighten the mood by poking fun at doctrinaire Hollywood’s political correctness. Most memorably, after Michael Moore’s strident “Shame on you, Mr. Bush!” speech, Martin got in a quick save, quipping, “It was so sweet backstage, you should have seen it. The Teamsters were helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.”

29. Hugh Jackman (2009) The Aussie song-and-dance-man/mutant superhero was game and energetic, making up in charm and razzle-dazzle what the show lacked in humor or glitz (as in the deliberately low-rent opening medley). But the declawed Wolverine could do little to slash and trim the lugubriously paced show.

28. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin (2010) Having young, energetic Neil Patrick Harris do the opening number probably wasn’t the smartest idea; it only served to make viewers wonder why he wasn’t emceeing instead of the two old fogeys. Still, the rival “Saturday Night Live” guest hosts played off each other well (displaying a carefully crafted mock friction), and both proved masters of sharp, deadpan comic delivery.

27. Whoopi Goldberg (1994) With Billy Crystal refusing to host a fifth straight show, recent Oscar-winner Goldberg was an inspired choice, the first woman and the first African-American to host the show solo. Her humor was sharper-edged than Crystal’s, but she added a needed edge of unpredictability to a night (dominated by “Schindler’s List” and “The Piano”) of predictable prize-giving.

26. Steve Martin (2001) Martin introduced his off-kilter humor to the Academy Awards with such quips as “Hosting is like making love to a beautiful woman. It’s something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town.” Despite the popularity of some of the nominated movies (including the blockbuster “Gladiator,” which won Best Picture), Martin couldn’t drum up enough interest in the show to beat CBS’ then-new reality hit “Survivor,” a situation Martin made light of with a joke that one of the Oscar show stars was to be voted out of show business.

25. Johnny Carson (1981) “Welcome to Hollywood’s version of ‘Ordinary People,'” said Carson, who spent the night deftly skewering celebrities without leaving a mark. “Marlon Brando starred in ‘The Formula,'” Carson observed, “a searing indictment of the greed of the oil companies. For this Brando was paid a million dollars for three days work.” Carson did a fine job of keeping things light, given that the ceremony had been postponed because of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

24. Johnny Carson (1980) Referring to both the ever-expanding length of the ceremony and the Iranian hostage crisis, Carson joked that President Jimmy Carter was negotiating for the audience’s release from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Bonus points for managing to banter with Miss Piggy, miffed for not being nominated for “The Muppet Movie.”

23. Bob Hope (1961)It was another evening of firsts: the first time the telecast was carried by ABC instead of NBC, and the first time the show was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (it had outgrown the Pantages Theater in Hollywood). Hope, however, seemed unfazed by the changes and was his usual, wisecracking self.

22. Bob Hope (1962) Hope proved unflappable when a gatecrasher managed to make it past 125 uniformed policemen and race all the way to the stage, where he presented a handmade Oscar to the bemused host. Quipped Hope, “Who needs Price Waterhouse? What we need is a doorman.”

21. Bob Hope and Thelma Ritter (1955) This was a rushed, abrupt show; in an experimental move, the nominees’ names were scrolled at the beginning of the telecast instead of being read by the presenter before each award. Nonetheless, Hope was up to his usual high standards; a memorable bit had him fighting over an Oscar trophy with Marlon Brando. Wisecracking Ritter, emceeing in New York, had the dubious pleasure of presenting an Honorary Oscar to no-show Greta Garbo; stage actress Nancy Kelly accepted it on the reclusive screen icon’s behalf.

20. Bob Hope and Conrad Nagel (1953) For the first televised Oscars, Hope not only emceed but also stood outside in the rain (along with pal Ronald Reagan) to greet the arrivals. Having already embraced the new medium of TV (and having been shunned by Hollywood for having done so), Hope proved a natural. Former Academy president Nagel, who (like Hope), had hosted the Oscars several times himself in the days before TV, brought some gravitas to the New York segment of the bicoastal show, a mini-ceremony that had long been held as a courtesy to nominated performers who were busy on Broadway. But the main attraction was the stars, many of them making their TV debuts, and more of them than had ever been seen on a single broadcast. The show drew 34 million viewers, the largest audience the new medium had yet seen.

19. Jon Stewart (2008) Despite his 2006 flop sweat, Stewart was invited back, and this time, his edginess fit the tone of the material up for honors (grim, indie-style movies like “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood”). “Does this town need a hug?” he mused. Classiness points to Stewart for calling back Best Original Song co-composer Marketa Irglova (“Once”) to give the acceptance speech that the orchestra had cut short.

18. Billy Crystal (2004) Crystal’s eighth and final at-bat (until this year) enlivened an extremely predictable show, marked by a sweep for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” He simply turned the show’s foregone conclusion into a running gag about the Kiwi production’s endless series of trophy moments. Sample joke: “Do you know that people are now moving to New Zealand just to be thanked?”

17. Sammy Davis Jr., Helen Hayes, Alan King, and Jack Lemmon (1972) After the previous year’s horde of hosts (32 of them!), four seemed a more manageable number. Lemmon got the best task: handing out an honorary Oscar to 82-year-old Charlie Chaplin, newly returned to America after 20 years of exile. The silent comic’s award presentation was one of the emotional highlights of all of Oscar history.

16. Jerry Lewis and Celeste Holm (1957) Holm hosted the New York portion of the show, but most of the heavy lifting fell to Lewis, from bantering with 10-year-old “Bad Seed” star Patty McCormack (then the youngest Oscar presenter to date) to easing America into the idea of accepting Dorothy Dandridge (the first African-American woman to perform a musical number on an Oscarcast) in place of absent Doris Day.

15. Bob Hope (1960) For the first time in the TV era, Hope got to host all by himself, and he also picked up the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award the same night. It was also the last Oscar telecast to run commercial-free. The evening was fairly tame, perhaps due to producer Jerry Wald’s edict against excessive cleavage; citing viewer complaints from the previous year, he stashed a seamstress backstage “with enough lace to make a mummy.” Still, it was a miracle that the show went on, given that the Screen Actors Guild (under its president, Ronald Reagan), had recently gone on strike. Hope quipped that he never imagined a day when the only working actor would be Ronald Reagan.

14. John Huston, David Niven, Burt Reynolds, and Diana Ross (1974) Niven turned a potential embarrassment into one of the most memorable moments in Oscar history after a streaker crashed the stage. Niven’s instant response: “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off his clothes and showing his shortcomings.”

13. Jerry Lewis, Claudette Colbert, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1956) A new sponsor (Oldsmobile) meant a new host (sorry, Chrysler spokesman Bob Hope), and Lewis fit the bill, with snappy timing and quick wit that would have done Hope proud. In New York, movie goddess Colbert and “All About Eve” screenwriter/director Mankiewicz didn’t have to do much besides introduce Eddie Fisher, who sang the nominated theme from “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” while accompanied by an orchestra performing in Los Angeles.

12. Johnny Carson (1982) “This is the night that Hollywood puts aside its petty jealousies,” said Carson, “and brings out its major jealousies.” It was mostly, however, a night to honor Hollywood’s old guard, with nominations and victories for such AARP-eligible stars as Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, John Gielgud, Maureen Stapleton, Burt Lancaster, and Paul Newman. Even oldtimer Loretta Young showed up and chastised modern Hollywood for its “shocking themes” and “gutter language” before presenting Best Picture to the squeaky-clean British movie “Chariots of Fire.” Joked Carson, “Who would have thought that, in 1982, Burt Lancaster would be voted Best Newcomer?”

11: Billy Crystal (2000) By now, seven-time host Crystal had it down to a science. His usual Best Picture medley included a lyric parodying Barbra Streisand’s “People” in order to spoof “The Sixth Sense”: “People/Kids who see dead people/Are the spookiest people in the world.” He even managed not to get lost in the forest of 40-foot-tall video screen towers, part of one of the most technically ambitious Oscar productions ever. Still, not even Crystal’s rapid-fire wit could keep the show from passing the four-hour mark.

10. Bob Hope (1978) For the 50th Oscar ceremony, who else but Hope should host? For the 18th (and what turned out to be the last) time, Hope presided over a star-studded evening that (aside from Vanessa Redgrave’s poorly received “Zionist hoodlums” speech) ran smoothly and attracted the Academy Awards’ largest viewing audience yet.

9. Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, David Niven, Rosalind Russell, James Stewart, and Donald Duck (1958) Yep, Donald Duck, who co-hosted the 30th Oscar ceremony via the magic of pre-taped animation. Despite having six hosts, the show managed to keep to a strict timetable, which was good, since it was the first Oscar show ever telecast live. It was also the first Oscarcast to drop the East Coast portion of the show and air exclusively from Hollywood. And it was the first to run without commercials (the Academy sponsored the broadcast by itself), so there was no time for anyone onstage to take a breather.

8. Johnny Carson (1979) A natural heir to Bob Hope (whose 18th and final Oscar emcee gig was the year before), the “Tonight Show” host knew exactly how to play to the crowd, with a mix of flattery, snark (his best-remembered quip was: “I see a lot of new faces…especially on the old faces”), and self-deprecation (jokes about his own failed movie career became his running gag, a la Hope’s jokes about his repeated failure to win a competitive Oscar). No wonder the Academy let him have the gig for four straight years.

7. Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Tony Randall, and Mort Sahl (1959) Lewis was the MVP in this bizarre event, the shortest Oscar ceremony ever televised. Producer Jerry Wald had so rushed the presentations that, when the Best Picture prize was handed out to “Gigi,” there were still 20 minutes of airtime left, and Lewis and the other stars had to vamp to fill it. Eventually NBC cut away to a sports broadcast about target shooting.

6. Billy Crystal (1997) Here, Crystal introduced the lasting innovation of the opening film montage, in which he spliced himself into footage of the nominated movies, a la then-recent Best Picture winner “Forrest Gump.” (Bonus points for including a David Letterman cameo.) It’s easy to forget now what a hilarious shock this seemed at the time.

5. Billy Crystal (1998) It was the most-watched Academy Awards show of all time, thanks to viewer rooting interest in the biggest movie of all time, “Titanic.” It was also the 70th Oscars, and the show celebrated by bringing together seven decades worth of Oscar-winning actors for a group portrait. Crystal was as snappy and witty as ever (“Matt Damon is so young, the results in his category were tabulated by Fisher-Price Waterhouse”), but he also went out of his way to show reverence to the legendary performers present, even going so far as to pay homage to 1933 “King Kong” star Fay Wray, seated in the audience, making sure she got an ovation, too. Classy.

4. Billy Crystal (1991) In his second year hosting, Crystal entered on horseback — a cheerfully shameless plug for his movie “City Slickers,” but also the beginning of what would become a tradition of elaborately theatrical entrances. He was rewarded with two Emmys: one for writing and one for his performance as emcee.

3. Billy Crystal (1990) “Are you happy to see me or are you just glad I’m not Snow White?” With that quip, Crystal began his reign as the contemporary era’s favorite Oscar host. He started with the parody medley of songs celebrating the five Best Picture nominees, which has since become his trademark. The “Around the World in 3 ½ Hours” gimmick, involving live-via-satellite segments of tired-looking stars opening the envelopes in various world capitals, was a time-waster, but no one held that against the genial host, who would be asked back eight more times.

2. Whoopi Goldberg (1996) After the 1995 Letterman debacle, the ’96 show looked to be an even bigger disaster, with Rev. Jesse Jackson leading protests on the grounds that Hollywood and the Academy were snubbing African-Americans. (This in a year when Goldberg was hosting and Quincy Jones was producing the show.) But Goldberg deftly exorcised Letterman’s ghost (her first words: “So, did you miss me?”) and defused the controversy with wit and a renewed focus on the nominees. (Best joke: “Elisabeth Shue played a hooker. Mira Sorvino played a hooker. Sharon Stone played a hooker. How many times did Charlie Sheen get to vote?”) The result: one of the most fondly remembered Oscarcasts of modern times.

THE BEST
Billy Crystal (1992) In his most unforgettable entrance, Crystal was wheeled onto the stage in a hand truck, muzzled like Hannibal Lecter. (The gag was prophetic, given the historic “Silence of the Lambs” sweep that night.) He proceeded to be his usual tireless, sharp self, and his septuagenarian “City Slickers” co-star Jack Palance’s feat of one-armed pushups during his Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech inspired for Crystal (and his writers) the best series of running-gag ad libbed one-liners in Oscarcast history. Who’d have known that Crystal was so sick with flu that he’d missed the dress rehearsal? His trouper’s turn was the performance against which all Oscar hosting turns should be measured.

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