Critics are already turning cartwheels wondering whether Eddie Murphy will be a good Oscar host, but the truth is: the host won’t make any difference until the producers sweep away the stale, vaudevillian writing that makes the show feel like a relic from the Bob Hope era in the 21st century.
People can scapegoat James Franco and Anne Hathaway for last year’s disaster, but it was the Academy and the producers who shot themselves. It never made sense to aim for a young demographic then saddle them with a tired stunt like dressing Franco as Marilyn Monroe (a joke for great-grandparents who remember Milton Berle in drag?)
The Academy seems to have tried everything, but it’s a superficial attempt. They bring in Chris Rock, then complain that he’s irreverent. The Academy is terrified of real change, or it would have let Franco be Franco and applauded Rock (who wasn’t nearly scathing, just edgier than Billy Crystal).
You can’t reach New Hollywood with Old Hollywood writers, as last year’s mini-squabble between Franco and entrenched Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch displayed. After the show, Vilanch complained to New York Magazine's Vulture blog about that wacky performance-artist Franco. As Vilanch put it, the Oscar gig is "outside of those guys' comfort zones. The only people who know how to host those shows are people who get up onstage every night and say, 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. A funny thing happened ... ' Or people like Bette [Midler] who get up and sing all night and tell stories." Yikes! That is exactly the lame comfort zone that has to go if the Oscars are ever going to be any good.
This graffitied photo, which Franco posted on his website after Vilanch's remarks, perfectly captues the tension between the old and the new:
I don’t have much hope that this year’s producer, Brett Ratner (another faux-hip choice), will change much. His choice of Murphy seems dizzyingly nostalgic. What's the show's theme - Back to the Future?