Oscars have come and Oscars have gane, and here we are in the thinkpiece season. I will have you know that I am still, as I write this, disappointed in all of you who chose not to sign the petition to make me host. I even ended up missing the first half-hour or so because we lost the cable remote and had to go to extraordinary lengths to access the show, since my cable box wouldn’t let me just program my universal remote to work with it.
So in all honesty, I missed the part of the show where I think a host is most valuable. We didn’t watch the opening, and I think an opening monologue is a valuable place to have a host—someone who can sort of do a summing up of the year in movies. (I’m also given to understand that I missed the only montage, which may have been what I want a host for?) Not just the nominees, either, but any other movies that were cultural phenomena without, perhaps, having actually been noticed by the Academy. Also things in the world of movies that aren’t movies themselves—maybe someone who could’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room about Bryan Singer?
In my mind, you see, many of the best hosting moments have been observing the limitations of the Academy. Chris Rock did an interesting segment in 2004 where he went to a movie theatre and asked people if they’d seen Million Dollar Baby or Hotel Rwanda, which by and large they had not. They had seen White Chicks, though. (I admit that you can prove anything if you just ask enough people, but it’s not exactly as though the disparity between popular movies and movies that win Oscars most years is a new and previously unexplored phenomenon.) This is, frankly, one of the best “meeting ordinary people” segments, not least because it was prerecorded, which means it wasn’t exclusively made up of people who are doing something other than watching the Oscars.
A host can also do another thing that was missing from this year’s ceremony—they can comment on how the evening is progressing. Maybe a host could have taken a moment this year to point out that, yeah, Black Panther was doing better than history had any reason to indicate. To point out how amazing it was that Spike Lee finally won the damn thing. In 1998, Whoopi Goldberg gave the score midway through the evening in World War II versus Elizabethan England versus “Crazy Italian Guys,” this having been after the infamous “climb on the chairs” moment. (Note to famous people—climbing on chairs will never be seen as charming and endearing. It wasn’t when Tom Cruise did it; it wasn’t when Roberto Benigni did it. Stay off the furniture.) Maybe this year’s host could have observed how diverse the winners were, even if White Guy Solves Racism was winning things as well.
I know people who think it went better without a host, even though it didn’t seem to me to be going notably faster. Apparently, it was barely over three hours long, but it felt less interesting. You have to have the voiceover announcer to say, you know, “Hey, look, it’s Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson” or whatever. There’s still a little back-and-forth between the presenters. Apparently, the Academy is desperate to improve their ratings because they rely on the revenues from the telecast to finance all the serious stuff they do over the rest of the year. The Academy is more than just the Oscars, you see—they finance scholarships and research, including oral history and film preservation. The Academy does a lot of good work, and the Oscars are the public face of that.
Then again, I might’ve missed it, but did they even show the Academy scholarship kids this year? Maybe that’s part of what the host could do—every now and again through the show, tell us about a project the Academy does to genuinely benefit film. That might help fight the perception of being, as Jon Stewart put it during one of his hosting gigs, a bunch of out-of-touch people presenting one another with solid gold statues.