By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist November 10, 2011 at 3:56PM
As you might have noticed, this week has seen the films slip to the back of the Oscar news cycle in favor of the ceremony itself. Brett Ratner, selected as this year's ceremony's co-producer, managed to bring the gig into disrepute by, well, behaving like Brett Ratner, and resigned his position on Tuesday. His chosen host Eddie Murphy has gone with him, to almost no one's surprise. Ratner was always a controversial, risky choice, but it's backfired on the Academy in a much bigger way than anyone was expecting, and there can't be many happy faces there (Sherak has said he was "appalled" by Ratner's conduct).
Ratner and Murphy were the hopefuls tasked to turn things around after years of ever-dropping viewing figures, and in particular this year's ceremony, which saw the ill-fitting pair of James Franco and Anne Hathaway front the worst show since Rob Lowe danced with Snow White. The Academy needed to act fast to rescue the train wreck, and Ron Howard's big-haired producing partner Brian Grazer was announced yesterday as the man filling the hole left by Ratner who, ironically, was the director on the Grazer-producer "Tower Heist." So they've got the behind-the-scenes team in place, but they don't have a ton of time (Ratner had hired writers and a new booking agent for the show, but whether or not they're staying on remains to be seen).
Grazer has a good relationship with Murphy, going back more than fifteen years, to "The Nutty Professor," and he's reportedly attempting to get him back, but we can't see that being likely. Having already made his public statement, we can't see Murphy, who's always been ambivalent about the Academy, backtracking on his word. Stranger things have happened however, and it's possible -- likely, even -- that Grazer was hired partly in the hope of keeping the star, but it feels like too little, too late at this point. So who's left?
As ever, talk has turned to getting recent hosts to return. First among them is Billy Crystal, the most frequent host of the modern era, having donned his tux eight times between 1989 and 2003. He's headlining a film in 2012 for the first time in years, the comedy "Us & Them" with Bette Midler, and indeed, he was supposedly on Ratner's short-list, with unofficial discussions reportedly being held. He's a safe, easy pair of hands, and would likely be more entertaining than most recent hosts, but might feel a little slighted after not being first pick the first time round, although he's said to be keen to take the job again. However, broadcasters ABC may be hestitant on the choice as Crystal is very unlikely to bring in that younger demographic they so desire (but then again, Franco and Hathaway didn't change those numbers last year).
Three-time host Steve Martin is another name that crops up, especially as he's worked with Grazer before. But his last time round, with Alec Baldwin co-hosting, wasn't well-received, which might make it less likely, although that year was well-rated, principally thanks to "Avatar." The chances of the two returning together are slim, but Martin could feature on his own again, although he too is not a favorite with the younger crowd (our audiences in general who roundly ignored October's "The Big Year"). Hugh Jackman's stint in 2009 is something of a high watermark in terms of recent hosts, but we can't see that he's actually got the time: he kicks off the New Year shooting "Les Miserables" and moves into "The Wolverine" afterward, so it's pretty much unworkable. Jon Stewart's done it twice, but was never a favorite, and doesn't seem particularly keen to come back, while entreaties are unlikely to be made to other recent hosts like Ellen DeGeneres or Chris Rock. Or maybe Franco and Hathaway will get a second crack...sorry, we couldn't make it through that sentence with a straight face (it's actually a shame; we reckon Hathaway would do a good job without a baked performance artist dragging her down).
So it's entirely likely that we'll see a new host taking the stage this year, and there are some candidates more obvious than others. Grazer has working relationships with comic megastars Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers (though Myers has fallen far off the pop culture radar). Carrey might be seen to be too unpredictable, but Stiller's bits in previous ceremonies have generally been entertaining, and we reckon he's a strong candidate -- he's become more establishment than some of his contemporaries, but should still bring the laughs. Plus it would carry on the strange "Tower Heist" obsession that Tom Sherak and co. seem to have this year. And Stiller wouldn't necessarily have to carry the load himself. He could be paired with Vince Vaughn, for instance (the pair are currently working for Grazer on the comedy "Neighborhood Watch"), Jack Black or Owen Wilson. All three have the right kind of background, mixing dramas and comedies, to pull off the serious bits as well as the jokes, something that's crucial, and that likely rules out a Will Ferrell, or even a Carrey.
One of the best suggestions we've heard is Albert Brooks, who would crown a comeback, but he won't appeal to ABC executives particularly, plus he's likely to pick up a nomination anyway for "Drive." Steve Carell might be a good shout, he's certainly a bigger star than Crystal, Martin or Carrey these days. But he's awful busy, with no fewer than four films aiming to lens in 2012, one of which is Charlie Kaufman's "Frank and Francis," in which Carell would take a role that directly pokes fun at the Oscars. Bill Murray would obviously be amazing, but would never do it in a million years, while Sacha Baron Cohen might crop up in discussions, especially with his vehicle "The Dictator" on the way in 2012, but we can't see him hosting the whole show as his characters, and we can't see him doing it as himself, considering how rarely he appears in public without a mask, so to speak. But what about Paul Rudd? Or Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen? Like Stiller, Rudd's been around long enough, and done enough serious work, to win over older audiences, but he's also down with the kids as it were. Rogen likely couldn't host on his own, but he's winning more respect thanks to "50/50," and balancing him out with occaisonal screen-partner Rudd could be a winner. With Jonah Hill starring in drama "Moneyball" this year, maybe even a trio (although Hill's possible nomination for that film might rule that out). Or "50/50" co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who demonstrated his showmanship by performing "Make 'Em Laugh" live on "Saturday Night Live?"
What about the real megastars? Tom Hanks is one of the best loved A-listers around, and his stints hosting "SNL" are almost universally praised. It's easy to forget, given his brace of Oscar nominations, how funny he can be, so why not give him the whole show? Particularly as he has a relationship with Grazer going back to "Apollo 13." And for that matter, Sandra Bullock has always been winning on the Kodak Theater stage: maybe they should be paired up? Obviously, we're being a little disingenuous. The duo star in Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which is expected by all and sundry to be something of an awards season behemoth this year. From what we hear, Hanks is unlikely to be nominated for a small, unshowy role, but Bullock's certainly in the mix, and the risk is the show could end up feeling like a foregone conclusion if they host (although it's worth noting that Franco was nominated for "127 Hours" last year, and many had tipped Alec Baldwin for 'It's Complicated" the year before, so it could still happen).
Johnny Depp isn't really suited for the job (neither are Clooney or Pitt, for that matter), while Robert Downey Jr. would be fun, but the February start date for "Iron Man 3" might make that unworkable. It could help Tom Cruise seal a career comeback likely to be aided by "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," but we can't see him carrying the whole show himself. But there's one megastar who hasn't really been mentioned by anyone: Will Smith. The actor's been away from screens for three years now, but 2012 marks his return with "Men in Black 3," and he's got the right mix of comic nous, showmanship and gravitas for the gig.
That still might be a stretch though, so let's think smaller. Neil Patrick Harris has been tipped for the job for some time now, having previously hosted the Emmys and Tonys, and in fact, he opened the show last year. We wonder if he's really seen as a movie person: despite "Harold & Kumar" and "The Smurfs," he's mainly a TV and Broadway name. But that's never stopped the likes of David Letterman and Jon Stewart from getting it in the past, however, so that might put, say, Seth Meyers in the running (although it's very, very unlikely).
Tina Fey's a legit star and she's shone in the last few years presenting a handful of awards. But again, we feel that scheduling is a problem. Her pregnancy means that the latest series of "30 Rock" has only recently begun shooting, and as star, producer and writer on the show, we'd be surprised if she was able to find time to disappear to LA for a few weeks in February. Amy Poehler's been mentioned by some as an alternative, but as much as we like "Parks & Recreation," she's simply not a big enough name, while "Saturday Night Live" stars like Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader likely have TV commitments too.
So there we are. We think we've covered every possibility. What? There's an elephant in the room? A felt-covered elephant with a man's hand stuck up his ass? Oh, yeah, The Muppets. A fan campaign (possibly with origins in a Disney viral campaign) has been sweeping social networks in the last 24 hours, demanding that Jim Henson's creations be the ones to hand out the golden men this year. And obviously, it's an amazing idea, and what that would undoubtedly lead to the most-talked-about, and likely best-rated, show in decades. But there are practical problems: of logistics (building a stage allowing the Muppeteers to be hidden, of hiring so many performers, of rehearsal time), of budget (it could be more expensive, although "The Muppets" writer Nicholas Stoller suggested to In Contention that it doesn't have to be).
Mainly, we think it's unlikely because the Academy are a bit up themselves about the ceremony. God forbid that anyone treat it as anything other than a celebration of movies, and having the anarchic Muppets in charge doesn't give it the respectability that they crave. Jokes are fine, but the tone in general needs to be laudatory. And to be fair, cutting from the Swedish Chef to a reel for 9/11 movie "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," or getting Beaker to do the In Memoriam section is unlikely to sit right, even with a human co-host (Jason Segel and/or Amy Adams are the natural choice, but also busy as well). Potentially amazing, sure, but Grazer's not the most adventurous guy around, and we'd be surprised if it happened.
Realistically, we see the gig being split, as it has been the last two years, and as it was frequently in the 1970s and 1980s. We'd be surprised if we ended up with a mix as odd as John Huston, Burt Reynolds, David Niven and Diana Ross (1973), or Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan (1986), but any of Stiller, Martin, Vaughn, Fey, Black, Patrick Harris, Smith, Downey Jr., Wilson, Hanks, Rudd, Bullock and Carell are very plausible. With slightly over three months to go, it can't be long before we find out.
The chart will return next week, it's currently in seclusion after making a homophobic remark at a Q&A at the Arclight.