The annual Academy Awards telecast strikes again this coming Sunday. Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out golden statues to the films and filmmakers its members think are most deserving. And every year, millions of Americans wonder if they should care—and if so, how much?
The Academy Awards are a popularity contest. But they’re a very particular kind of contest. This isn’t the People’s Choice Awards. You ordinary Twilight-loving plebeians aren’t allowed to vote. This isn’t the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards or the Golden Globes either. Jaded journalists need not apply. Voting privileges are reserved for Hollywood insiders who have demonstrated a “lifelong dedication to the art and craft of movie making.”
But the Academy Awards aren’t just a hermetically sealed backslapping organization for glitterati. No, they’re also a televised awards show watched by millions around the world. And as such, they’ve got to pull in the ratings. In recent years, rules have been tweaked to build a more audience-friendly show. Since more people watch the telecast when box office smashes like Titanic take home the gold, the Academy recently expanded its Best Picture category from five nominees to 10. (Still didn’t help this year’s ballot, which finds such art house films as Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild but no blockbusters like Skyfall or The Dark Knight Rises.)
And yet the most crucial audience attractor still continues to elude producers. Namely, who’s gonna host this beast? Back in the day, Bob Hope was the go-to guy. Since Hope’s record 18-time gig, Billy Crystal became Oscar King, hosting the show nine times. Crystal even came out of retirement last year when Eddie Murphy dropped out as host at the last minute because his pal Brett Ratner was fired as Oscar producer (thanks to an untimely antigay rant). The problem is, the Oscars are a worldwide phenomenon, and the number of famous faces recognized worldwide who are willing to host the Oscars are slim. James Franco and Anne Hathaway (2011) were awful. Jon Stewart (2006, 2008) was way too American. Ellen Degeneres (2007) was too ... non-heterosexual.
So this year, the show’s producers have settled on Seth MacFarlane, the voice actor and animator behind FOX’s “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” That would seem like a mighty weird choice. Hip for the kids in the audience, but murder for anyone who’s actually seen Lincoln. Of course, that was before MacFarlane scored a $528 million hit writing and directing the raunchy comedy Ted. Nothing motivates Hollywood like money. And so MacFarlane is our host. And maybe it’s not the worst choice ever. (We’ll see.) Not everyone admires MacFarlane’s incredibly rude, non-sequitur-filled style of comedy. But the guy is actually talented, and can probably fake Hollywood sincerity far better than Ricky Gervais ever could over on the Golden Globes. Nobody in Thailand is gonna know who the hell he is. You might even have to explain it to your mom. (I sure will.) But until Bob Hope rises from the grave, we’re stuck with him.