On Wednesday, the entertainment-journalism world exploded over the news that the 2019 Academy Awards would go hostless for the first time since 1989, after playing a prolonged game of homophobic footsie with actor-comedian Kevin Hart.
Forget, for a moment, that the move has yet to be confirmed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as of this writing, with every single news source tracing their stories back to a report in Variety that referenced “individuals with knowledge of the plans.” Forget, too, that the Academy is likely leaking its own plans, to test the strategy’s waters. And please God forget that the last time the Academy tried this, audiences ended up watching Rob Lowe “sing” with Snow White.
So far, so good, as all but the most die-hard of Hart apologists seem fine leaving the idea of both the man himself and a host in general behind this year. Plus, by doing this, the Academy is already writing its own comeback story for 2020. Although no actor or comedian wants to go near the awards after the Hart debacle, whoever inevitably takes the stage of the Dolby Theatre next year will look like an automatic hero – both because they’d be compared to literally nothing, and because this year’s awards are going to be disastrous whether there’s someone reciting a monologue or not.
Consider the evidence: Although 2018 was one of the most memorable and game-changing years for film in recent memory – Widows! First Man! Roma! Burning! Black Panther! – a good portion of this year’s Academy Award nominees are shaping up to be a veritable perp line of problematic offenders.
There’s Green Book, winner of the Golden Globe for best picture (musical or comedy), whose director Peter Farrelly this week admitted (and apologized) for regularly flashing his penis back in his Dumb and Dumber (i.e., Dumberer) days. Or there’s Green Book’s screenwriter Nick Vallelonga, who also this week deleted his Twitter account after an old tweet surfaced showing his support for one of Donald Trump’s more insane Islamophobic conspiracy theories. And we haven’t even touched on the goopy film itself, which has been rightly criticized as using racial discrimination as the catalyst for a white hero’s journey of self-discovery.
Then there’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which won the Globe for best picture (drama). There are so many reasons why the Freddie Mercury film shouldn’t be top-lining the Oscars that it’s hard to zero in on just one, but for starters, there’s the fact that it severely diminishes Mercury’s sexuality, that director Bryan Singer was fired mid-production yet still retained his credit, that Singer is facing a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault and that the actual filmmaking pales in comparison to a flood of movies that will likely be ignored by the Oscars altogether. (If Steve McQueen’s Widows, Damien Chazelle’s First Man or Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? end up earning best-picture nods I’ll eat this column – and live-cast it on Twitter, too! Promise!)
The best that discerning and realistic audiences can hope for right now is a sweep by A Star Is Born – and when your hopes are placed upon a remake of a remake of a remake, however great it is, that says all you need to know about the landscape. (There’s the possibility of a strong showing for Roma, but that would require a wide swath of old-school Academy voters having to stomach a breakthrough win for new-kid Netflix.)
Still, the quality of the movies on offer is a perennial problem for the Oscars. This year, in addition to the host issue, the Academy is facing its own internal identity crisis. Namely: Does it want to appeal to ratings and ensure its broadcast legacy, or does it want to honour the actual craft of cinema?
On the former front, the Oscars have been fighting a losing battle for years, with last year’s telecast, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, hitting an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers. On the latter, the Academy can’t seem to make up its mind.
This past August, it hastily introduced a “most popular movie” category without thinking to give it an actual category name or eligibility parameters, and the backlash was fierce until the idea was scrapped altogether. The fact that the idea was thrown out into the world with so little thought – echoes of the Academy’s Hart dealings – underlines that no one there seems to know what the Academy needs to be doing or how it should be doing it. (Ditto the decision to present select “below-the-line” awards, i.e., best costume and set design, during Oscar commercial breaks – a plan that was also unveiled without specifics, angering both film fans and Academy members themselves.)
All this, and we haven’t even touched the internal politics roiling the Academy, from the sexual-harassment allegations faced by president John Bailey (since dismissed after an internal review) to the lingering feelings over the delayed Academy Museum in Los Angeles (due to finally open this year after cost overruns) to the controversy over member expulsions.
If the 91st Academy Awards do indeed go hostless this year, it will be a successful move – in that it will give critics just one less piece of ammunition to assail an organization already riddled with self-inflicted wounds.