The 2019 Academy Awards were universally panned for the decision to go forward without a host (following Kevin Hart losing the gig). To many, that was the second-worst hosting decision in Oscar memory, topped only by the James Franco-Anne Hathaway fiasco combination of 2011.
No decision has been made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as to who (or if anyone) will host the 2020 Awards show, which is scheduled for February 9, 2020. There are rumors and suggestions in the online and real worlds, many of them based upon the performances of past hosts … as well as some important cultural/social considerations, such as age appropriateness; diversity and inclusion (D&I) relevance (“not a white guy!”) and even the changes that have buffeted the industry over the past several years (as in Netflix, Amazon, Hulu).
Something we do know: the team approach to hosting fails more frequently than it works. Back to the Hathaway-Franco example … The Wrap observed that Franco “was nearly comatose,” while Hathaway “overcompensated by being mind-numbingly perky. And a pairing that didn’t make a lot of sense on paper ended up making no sense at all on stage.”
Given that, it isn’t surprising that, with one notable exception, the choices seem to fall into these individual categories:
Geriatric but safe. Steve Martin (three times; 2001, 2003 and 2010 jointly with Alec Baldwin) and Billy Crystal (nine times; 1990-1993, 1997-1998, 2000, 2004 and 2012) regularly sit near the top of the various lists ranking the best hosts ever. Despite their past success, however, neither of the two are necessarily relevant with today’s Hollywood, nor do their approaches to comedy and hosting ensure success. On the other hand, the demographics of award-show viewers may skew older.
Safe but not geriatric. There three current two-timers: Ellen DeGeneres (2007 and 2014), Jimmy Kimmel (2017-2018) and Jon Stewart (2006 and 2008). They’ve done it before. And, while none of them is batting 1000%, each has succeeded in at least some of their hosting gigs. Memorable moments: DeGeneres for her group selfie, Kimmel for having pizza delivered for the audience, and Stewart for this 2008 line: “(Away From Her) was about a woman who forgets her husband. Hillary Clinton called it the feel-good movie of the year.”
The singer/dancer approach. The show shook things up twice, in 2009 and 2015, when it went in a different direction and picked Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris and to be hosts. The singing-dancing Jackman was viewed as a big hit. However, despite earlier successes at the Tony and Emmy awards shows, Harris bombed.
Great gets. Satisfying the “not-a-white-guy” and current-relevance checklist are two names – Fleabag star and Killing Eve writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who’s also been brought in to improve the next James Bond script) and Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – who likely would ensure optimal attention and ratings. The only risk: are they as interesting out of character as they are in character?
Obvious but fresh. Dwayne Johnson. Tiffany Haddish. Adam Driver. Kumail Nanjiani. Idris Elba. Current A-listers or emerging stars. Driver a previous nominee and likely a nominee this year for The Report.
Chameleons. Kate McKinnon, Sacha Baron Cohen. The laughs – and the variety of characters that each could provide – would be off the charts. Baron Cohen recently also provided a surprisingly solid performance in The Spy.
Overdue. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Funny. Biting. Popular. Question: Why hasn’t this happened previously?
Nominees. It sometimes gets awkward when host also are nominees. It’s happened six times, the two latest being Seth McFarlane in 2013 and James Franco in 2011. So, yes, a three-headed host team comprising The Irishman’s Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci would be interesting. But Pesci, by himself, might be even more fun.
The Johnny Carson model. The Tonight Show legend hosted the show nine times despite not being a movie actor and being associated with television. It was a formula that worked, suggesting Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel (again) or Samantha Bee or Trevor Noah (and get D&I points at the same time) might be logical choices.
Directors. Yes, why not? You would have to be of a certain age (or a really big fan) to know this, but directors (John Huston, Frank Capra and Joseph L. Mankiewicz among them) actually have hosted the show. For 2020, a director would check the D&I box as well change things up a bit. Why not Spike Lee or Kathryn Bigelow. Or Greta Gerwig, whose Little Women may in fact be a nominated (and, remember, Gerwig was nominated for Lady Bird in 2017). Jordan Peele could be a nominee for the horror thriller Us, his follow-up to superhit Get Out, which earned four Oscar nominations.
Animated characters. Anna and Elsa from Frozen II. Given the movie’s box-office numbers, who did you expect?
At the end of the day, the prospective host who might make the most sense is a person who arguably has been on the stage more, spoken the most words and always had the best seat in the house.