Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Franco, Meet Oscar

Oh, James. Can I call you James? You seem like a Jimmy to me, somehow. Maybe a Jimmy-Jams, to your friends. In any case, you may not have many Hollywood friends left after Sunday night's Oscar's telecast, in which you half-assed the notion of the "celebration" to a billion people worldwide, stranded Anne Hathaway on the Isle of Mug, and were upstaged by Kirk Douglas and Melissa Leo in rapid succession.

It's not totally your fault. I think you would have been more at home hosting, say, the Independent Spirit awards, which are held the night before the Academy Awards and cater to a slightly less sequins-and-tulle sort of crowd. Barring that, you would have made a charming and disarming presenter, offering a lopsided smile to those of us who don't buy the Hollywood machine straight-out but still, you know, love the magic of the movies. You were great in 127 Hours, and I've given you props in the past for your weirdo-awesome factor. But Jim-Jam, you totally pooped the bed when you hosted the Oscars.

There has been a ton of press about how this year's Oscars ceremony was, like, "the worst one ever!" and how a lot of the blame has been laid at the feet of you and your pretty co-host. Frankly, I'm not so sure. The dynamic of having some young, hip things hosting what is basically the stodgiest room in the county was flawed from the get-go, and Hathaway and Franco's places in the Hollywood pecking order aren't so well-established as to be a no-brainer. It's true that hosting the show can be a career-maker (look at Billy Crystal, arguable the best and most beloved host of the past generation) or a deal-breaker (ahem, Hugh Jackman), and these young stars might have thought to themselves, "Hm, a billion people watching? Every director, casting agent and producer in the galaxy tuning in? A chance to look unbelievably glam in every country with a television set? Sold!" but the reality was an unfunny and too-long (again) ceremony that James Franco helped not a whit.

It was clear to the people watching at home (or, like us, at the Bloor cinema) that Franco was undergoing a transformation during the awards. He started off funny: he was irascibly game in the opening sequence, an Inception-inspired romp through Alec Baldwin's brain. By the time he emerged in drag, he was looking a little pained...and by the final musical number, a jarring rendition by P.S. 122's legally adorable and Bennetton-worthy ethnically diverse youth choir, he was making shifty eyes at the wings, as though he couldn't wait to bolt for the limo and get drunk as a lord at the Vanity Fair party. His own hesitations around the Oscars were coming though loud and clear, and it was disheartening that a man nominated for best actor couldn't even muster up the pretense of enjoying his own show.

It was obvious that the producers for the show had gambled on a number of youthful gags - the Autotuned remixes and the smirky, MTV Movie Awards-esque opening sequence. But it was telling that the older generation were the ones who were actually bringing the class and glamour to the event. Anyone who wasn't charmed by Kirk Douglas probably dug Leo's f-bomb, and I found myself loving David Seidler, who opened with the line, "My father always said I was a late bloomer." Seidler, who is 73, had the crowd firmly on his side as he shouted out fellow stutterers, and the moment was delightful.

So how do you fix a problem like Oscar? Ricky Gervais was panned at the Golden Globes, derided as being "too mean" and for making really obvious, stale jokes. In the past decade, comedians like Jon Stewart and Ellen Degeneres have suited up and cracked wise at the expense of Uma, Oprah, and whoever else is in the front row (this includes the perpetually grinning, forever besunglassed and ever-widening Jack Nicholson, who was probably too busy off flirting with Jeff Bridges's babe of a wife to notice Franco's wilting host), but none have been asked back with the same regularity as, say, Bob Hope. Or Billy Crystal. Or the Rat Pack, who hosted like, fifteen years in a row.

It's clear that the host needs to be more expansive, more inclusive. Franco's dismissive "Congraulations, nerds," to the winners of the technical awards was a jab at all the creative tech work that, it should be noted, has fattened a lot of wallets in the past year. Where would Inception have been without its special effects? And Black Swan? Toy Story 3? Come on! I digress. A good host makes everyone feel included: even the winners for, say, best Short Documentary Film get their moment in the sun, without getting played off or mocked. And the teasing should be good-natured, not mean. We all know it's a long show. We all watch it anyway, hoping to see something interesting and fun, something that makes the magic of Hollywood a real thing, not just some fake concept Entertainment Weekly shoves down our throats, along with box office figures and blatant payola.

As much as I grimace at this, Hathaway wasn't the weak link she could have been. She was funny and beautiful, trying to cover both her end of things and her lazy co-host's. With the right partner, she would be fine, and I'd love to see her parlay this into a more comedienne-esque persona. Maybe once he gets a few major film credits under his belt, Jon Hamm could be the Donny to her Marie. Maybe it's time Tom Hanks and his freakishly lineless eyes got up there and used his star power to give the Oscars back some glow. Maybe George Clooney, who is funny, smart and a Major Movie Star. Maybe Billy Crystal could do it, although he's starting to look more and more like the ancient character he played in The Princess Bride, and I don't want to scare the kids. But Franco? No. I'm sorry! I genuinely like you! But you should stick with the short stories and the multiple PhDs and leave the generous hosting to a man who can actually muster up a damn.

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