Why James Franco and Anne Hathaway Could Be Great Oscar Hosts
Being the host the Academy Awards is a job that's scrutinized almost as much as being President of the United States.
It's a strange notion when you think about it, mainly because the host's job is to do an "opening act," usually involving a musical number or comedic monologue, then basically step out of the way while the presenters and performers traipse across the Kodak Theatre stage and give out Oscars. If the host lets loose an occasional quip while introducing a presenter or a Best Song nominee, all the better. But, after the first half hour of the show, the host really doesn't matter all that much.
So, when the news broke that James Franco and Anne Hathaway have been selected to host the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27, my reaction was pretty much "why the hell not?" Oscar hosting is such a crapshoot that pretty much anyone the Academy and producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer would have picked had an equal chance to shine or stink.
But Hathaway and Franco could be an inspired choice if things break right, for a number of reasons:
They're relatively young. At 28 and 32, respectively, Hathaway and Franco are the youngest hosts the Oscar telecast has had in decades. My fellow Squadder Jean Bentley was nice enough to send me some quick research into the age of past Oscar hosts, and Hathaway could be the youngest since a 29-year-old Donald O'Connor did the job in 1954.
The presence of Hathaway and Franco isn't going to suddenly turn the Oscars into the MTV Movie Awards, mind you; the show is too hidebound by tradition and structure to do anything too revolutionary. But at the very least, the hosts may bring an energy to the telecast that has only been seen on occasion in recent years.
They're the mainstream version of indie darlings. Hathaway and Franco have as much indie street cred as any mainstream movie star could have. Though Hathaway made her career as a teen in 'The Princess Diaries' movies, she gained a bunch of indie respect for her Oscar-nominated role in 'Rachel Getting Married.' Franco's indie cred started on TV in the still-much-adored series 'Freaks and Geeks' and has carried through to his movie career, with highly-praised roles in 'Milk' and '127 Hours' gave him the "serious actor" bona fides that roles in the 'Spider-Man' movies did not.
You don't need a comedian to host to have an entertaining Oscar show. Two of the most famous repeat Oscar hosts -- Bob Hope and Johnny Carson -- were comedians. But during the eras when they hosted, there were years when multi-talented actors like O'Connor did the job. Yes, they could be funny, too, but they could also sing and dance. Hosts like David Niven could be witty and quick on their feet, as well, as viewers in 1974 saw during the famous Oscars streaking incident.
It wasn't that long ago when non-comedians were hosts on a regular basis; in 1985, for instance, Robin Williams was joined on the Oscarcast by Alan Alda and Jane Fonda But Billy Crystal's success during the '90s put producers in a rut, giving viewers a streak of comedians as hosts that sometimes worked (Steve Martin) and sometimes didn't (Whoopi Goldberg).
Everyone would anticipate who the host would skewer in his or her monologue that year, putting undue high expectations on a person who's mandate is to not tick anyone off. Any joke that generated few laughs in the theater was interpreted as a bomb of epic proportions, even as critics acknowledged that the comedian was usually writing for the audience on TV and not the people in the tuxedos and gowns.
Hugh Jackman -- with an assist from Hathaway -- proved two years ago that a multi-talented actor can do a fine job as Oscar host. He sang and danced his way through an entertaining opening number, and handled the more mundane elements of hosting smoothly. He certainly did a hell of a lot better than Martin and Alec Baldwin did last year; their scripted banter was almost as painful to watch as the award for best costume design.
Hathaway is certainly in that multi-talented category, as she showed when Jackman "plucked" her from the audience to do a musical recreation of 'Frost/Nixon.' Franco... well, between his painting and his experimental stint on 'General Hospital,' there should be enough there for him to be at least self-deprecating.
Now, for all I know, this may end up being a horrible choice. But in an environment where even Jon Stewart can't muster a cutting zinger, Hathaway and Franco might actually be a pleasant surprise.
Tell us what you think: Are Franco and Hathaway a good choice to host the Oscars?
(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)
Another fellow Squadder, Gary Susman, gave his take on the choice at our sister site Moviefone.