Janet Jackson did not attend the Oscars in body. But she was there in spirit, along with fellow absentees Mel Gibson, President Bush and other newsmakers who were the subjects of a safe brand of humor throughout the show.
At this point, what more could be said about Jackson's Super Bowl halftime performance? Host Billy Crystal made a few good-natured attempts. In one segment, Crystal scolded Robin Williams, who kept tugging at the lapel of his tux to reveal his shirt. A few minutes later, when the camera focused on Julie Andrews, Crystal, pretending to read her thoughts, quipped, "This sunburst nipple brooch is killing me."
Crystal also commented on Gibson's success in "The Passion of the Christ's" opening weekend. "It opened on Ash Wednesday and had a good Friday."
As usual, the show was peppered with soft-edged political humor, and Crystal wasted little time during his opening monologue before turning to it. Making note of how much things had "changed" since the first time he hosted the show 13 years ago, he quipped, "Bush was in the White House, the economy was tanking and we had just finished a war with Iraq."
The audience also laughed when Crystal thanked the Oscars for allowing him to come and go from hosting duties in the last four years: "It's like the Texas National Guard."
Later, when Williams appeared on stage for some banter, he grabbed Crystal's hand and announced, "Look at us. A San Francisco wedding cake."
But the laugh of the night came after the show's most politically charged moment, which like last year was during the acceptance speech for best documentary. Last year, Michael Moore blasted the Bush administration and Iraq war. This year, Errol Morris won for his film about Vietnam, "The Fog of War." In a not-so-veiled reference to the president, Morris said he feared the country was once again "going down the rabbit hole, and if people can stop and reflect on some of the ideas in this movie, perhaps I've done some damn good."
After Morris left, Crystal deadpanned, "I can't wait for his tax audit."
'Tonight we're being broadcast in 53 languages.... But
for the very first time we're being simulcast in Aramaic.'
Billy Crystal, making one of several references to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"