If you had asked me a week before the Oscars if I thought James Franco would be a good host, I’d have given you a ‘maybe’. He can be funny, and he certainly seems confident, smart, and proud of what he does. If you had asked me again a day before the Oscars, after his prissy response to Ricky Gervais in which the actor lectured the comedian about what is or isn’t funny, and I’d have given a more confident answer. He was going to suck, because he thinks that his business is too important to be mocked, and the Oscars isn’t entertaining if it isn’t a roast.
It’s easy to joke that Franco looked stoned, but of course it isn’t a joke. With his eyes half closed and his face slack, he brought down the energy in the room every time he appeared, and that was a big room with a lot of uppers going on. Even when he strode on to the stage in Marilyn drag, it was more stunt than gag, with no payoff or punchline.
Anne Hathaway was better. She was by no means good, and I doubt she’ll ever be invited back. I thought she would be a total non-presence, but next to Franco’s sleepy stiffness she had a gushing affability, like this was the superest gymkhana that daddy had ever taken her to.
Every Oscars gets dubbed the worst Oscars ever, and it is hard to remember a good one, but no-one watches the Oscars because they expect the whole show to be good. It’s the moments that matter. What made this such a bad show was that it had so very few moments. Taken as a whole, the Oscars are never good. People speak fondly of the Billy Crystal years, but when Billy Crystal hosted I always felt like I was watching a daytime game show. Yet I admit that his brief appearance was one of the scant few highlights. Melissa Leo’s bad language was another. I’m struggling to name a third, as I found Kirk Douglas’s stroke-afflicted mumbling more frightening than charming.
None of the speeches stand out in my memory. Colin Firth’s speech was good for the first half hour, but it waned as the leaves turned. I would have enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s speech more if he had delivered it while walking to and from the podium. Christian Bale’s speech ought to have been spectacularly mad, but in the end it was only remarkable because he forgot his wife’s name.
Lowlights were many, mostly in the form of the hosts’ strained attempts at banter, delivered with all the art and dexterity of a Slap Chop, but all their horrors paled next to the holographic ghost of Bob Hope, an exploitation of the dead that seemed to drag on much longer than the too-abrupt In Memoriam package.
Who should host the Oscars next year? The job usually goes to comedians - stand ups and talk show hosts. Hugh Jackman two years ago and Franco and Hathaway this year have been failed attempts to do something that’s both new yet conversely a little more ‘old Hollywood’. Last year’s Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin double act bridged the actor/comedian gap, but failed to live up to its promise. If an actor is picked again next year, it needs to be someone with enough wit and charm to win over audiences both in the theatre and at home, and preferably someone heavyweight, yet able to laugh at themselves. Robert Downey Jr, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey spring to mind.
If they go back to comedians, Tina Fey would be a laudable choice. Ricky Gervais would be too untamed, and the Oscars probably wouldn’t want the Globes’ cast-offs. Perhaps Ellen DeGeneres deserves a second chance, and Jimmy Fallon might deserve a first chance, except that he’s on the wrong network, which makes the most plausible contender for the job one Jimmy Kimmel.
On second thoughts, James Franco might do better next time, right?