Billy Crystal: Mark J. Terrill/AP
Brian Hiatt
March 01, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Billy Crystal returned to hosting duties at Sunday night’s Oscar ceremonies, and promptly began taking comedic shots at some familiar targets. President Bush, for one: ”It’s been four years since I’ve been here. The Academy and the Oscars have been very gracious to me,” Crystal said. ”They let me come and go the past few years. It’s kind of like being in the Texas National Guard.”

Crystal also joked — very carefully — about Mel Gibson’s controversial smash, ”The Passion of the Christ.” ”For the very, very first time, we’re being simulcast in Aramaic,” Crystal said, later adding that Charlize Theron’s performance in ”Monster” ”scared the bejeezus out of Mel Gibson.” Crystal took on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as well, suggesting that ”Lost in Translation” was the Austrian-born actor-turned-politician’s favorite movie of the year.

Not surprisingly, Janet Jackson’s right breast also was a frequent comedic target. In Crystal’s ”what the stars are thinking” bit, the cameras focused on Julie Andrews as he said: ”God, this sunburst nipple broach is killing me!” And in Crystal’s theme song to ”The Lord of the Rings” (based on ”My Favorite Things”) he sang: ”Frodo and Sam on a mystical planet/Then Smeagol pops out like the right boob of Janet.”

No onstage events were as memorable as Jack Palance’s one-armed push-ups, but Crystal still found room for improvisation. After Best Documentary winner Errol Morris said that he feared that the U.S. is entering a Vietnam-like ”rabbit hole,” Crystal quipped: ”I can’t wait for his tax audit.”

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