One of the zillion tweets posted during this year's Academy Awards said it best: "Tonight's show finally answers the whole 'What can't James Franco do?' thing." The famous multi-tasker may draw acclaim as an actor, a graduate student, a filmmaker and creator of art installations, but Franco flopped as co-host of the Academy Awards. Throughout the evening, his teleprompter readings seemed drab and forced, and as the show plodded along, he seemed more resigned to the fact that it just wasn't working.
Anne Hathaway, for her part, smiled gamely and carried on. After firing off an early gag about how demographic-minded a show this was going to be -- she and Franco were clearly hired as hosts in a desperate attempt to get younger audiences to tune in to a three-and-a-half-hour tribute to 'The King's Speech' -- she kept her energy levels aloft and actually seemed to be having a good time.
Granted, there's plenty wrong with the Oscar show that has nothing to do with the hosts. For one thing, great gobs of time are spent either navel-gazing over the history of Hollywood (or the Academy Awards themselves) or explaining what various categories actually mean. Do we really have to go over Sound Mixing or Editing every year? When's the last time the Grammys stopped to explain what jazz is?
Still, when Billy Crystal got a rapturous standing ovation, it definitely seemed like the crowd was fondly remembering his stints as a host, and wishing that he was up there instead of Hathaway and Franco. Crystal wound up being there to introduce yet another historical bit, this one about the first televised Oscar ceremony, that included some creepy holograms of Bob Hope saying "Thanks, Billy," and introducing Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.
I'm not old enough to remember Hope's hosting gigs at the Oscars, but I do fondly recall another funny man's stint as the master of ceremonies: Johnny Carson. Carson wound up being the perfect guy for the gig in many respects; not only was he hilarious and capable of coming up with great extemporaneous running gags (with the help of the writers backstage, of course), but since he wasn't in the movie business himself, he didn't have to bow and scrape to the award-winners and givers.
Crystal was great too, although his shtick ran thin after a while. (His opening number was originally a parody of overblown opening numbers before becoming overblown themselves over time.) Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart -- and even the much-maligned David Letterman -- brought a lot of laughs to an evening that can get deadly dull and way too self-serious. (Of course, you can't get too harsh with the famous folks, apparently, lest you receive the pillorying that Ricky Gervais endured after his acridly hilarious hosting job at the Golden Globes.)
To be fair, Hathaway did seem capable of firing off the occasional one-liner, but Franco came off as a tad bewildered, as though he were working on a term paper during the commercial breaks. Don't be surprised if their hosting gig gets mentioned in the same breath as such immortal Oscar disasters as "Rob Lowe dances with Snow White" and "that musical number featuring Telly Savalas, Teri Garr, and Pat Morita."
David Letterman's Oscar work suddenly looks a whole lot better. Come to think of it, so does choreographer Debbie Allen's.
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