This past Monday morning, Brett Ratner was producing the Oscars (with Don Mischer. And Eddie Murphy was the high profile host. Three days later, Brian Grazer is producing the Oscars (with Don Mischer). And Billy Crystal is the high profile host. Other than that nothing’s new. Clearly the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences felt the need to act with lightning speed in order to turn around the PR debacle which Brett Ratner caused with his unfortunate and offensive comments in several public forums. True, AMPAS tried in the recent past to make the Academy Awards more young, hip, and different with some of their choices. This year due to the chaotic nature of the 84th annual honors already (and it’s only November), the powers-that-be are playing it safe again. At 63 years old and a veteran emcee of the show, Billy Crystal was the obvious choice in this scenario. And he is riding in triumphantly just as he has done in years past. In 1990 Crystal rode to the rescue with his first Oscar hosting gig after the disaster of the previous year’s Allan Carr show (remember that one when Rob Lowe sang with Snow White?) This year history repeats itself and Crystal is back to save the Oscars from themselves yet again.
In August Crystal had sent out strong signals he was ready to host the Oscars again “one or two more times” and I wrote then that this was a perfect opportunity to get him back in the fold since he hadn’t hosted since 2004. (He emceed 8 times between 1990 and 2004.) It could have been a boon to his fading movie career. But when Ratner was named producer, I asked him about the possibility of Billy hosting and Brett sloughed off the question, saying the Academy had given him until mid-September to find a host. Then he ignored Crystal’s public overture and went with Murphy, his Tower Heist star. Eddie, too, made history this week when he resigned as Academy Awards host after Ratner exited as producer. As I wrote previously, we can now add this to the ever-growing list of unfortunate incidents in Murphy’s checkered history with Oscar. He made waves when he presented Best Picture in 1988 saying he almost turned down the invitation to do it and then chastized the Academy for their poor track record in nominating African Americans. In 2007, he bolted from the Kodak Theatre after losing Best Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls to Alan Arkin, giving the impression whether true or not that he was a sore loser. And now he’s left again before even setting foot onstage,leaving the Academy in the lurch.
Thankfully, Crystal was waiting in the wings for his cue. Earlier in the year, that became evident at last year’s Oscar show when Billy came onstage at the Kodak Theatre to a standing ovation for a tribute to another frequent host, the late Bob Hope. Afterwards, Crystal indicated he might be willing to come back to emcee — but ONLY if they fixed certain things. If he meant reducing the number of on-air awards, forget it. The Board just won’t do that. Now Crystal is coming to the show in a completely different situation and the best thing he can do is roll out the best ‘Billy Crystal Oscar show host’ bits he’s got stored up. He should go back to what has always worked for him: inserting himself into film clips of the nominees, and singing a medley poking fun at the movies. Inevitably he will do that. And the comforting predictability of it all will be just what the Oscars will need this year after coming out of this week’s planning debacle and last year’s poorly received show.
You go, Billy!
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.