Oscars: A look back at previous hosts

Feb. 24, 2011 | 0 Comments

BY NEAL JUSTIN / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Looking back at our coverage of the Oscar ceremonies, one tradition is painfully clear: Critics make lousy guests. Every year producers carefully select dynamic, popular personalities to host, and (almost) every year, we skewer them like brats who didn’t get enough chocolate cake.

It is, as one potential host points out, a thankless job.

“Johnny Carson used to say that you just can’t win,” said Jay Leno, who’s turned down an invitation to do the honors. “Half the people want you to be serious and half of them want you to be outrageous. Billy Crystal was the best at it because he literally took two months off ahead of time and worked his butt off on the routine. That was his full-time job. I already have a TV job.”

This year’s hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, are in serious training, at least based on the commercials showing the pair preparing for everything, including a wardrobe malfunction. Amusing, but let’s not forget that even professional comedians have had a hard time pleasing critics. Here’s a look back at the past decade:

—2010: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin

What we said: Surrounded by “Moulin Rouge” extras, hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin descended from the ceiling and delivered a fast-paced routine that gently skewered the crowd. The riskiest joke, and the most rewarding, came from Baldwin, who said that Martin loved “Invictus” because it combined his two favorite things: Rugby and tensions between blacks and whites.

Hosts’ best line (Martin): “When they announced they had doubled the number of best picture nominees, all of us in Hollywood thought the same thing: What’s five times two?”

—2009: Hugh Jackman

What we said: It was inevitable that Hugh Jackman would open the Academy Awards with a dazzling display of fancy footwork and contagious charm. Unfortunately, all that sweat and sincerity was for naught because the music was tuneless and trite.

Best line: “Meryl Streep has her 15th career nomination. I hate to say it, but when someone puts up numbers like that, you can’t help but think ‘steroids.”‘

—2008: Jon Stewart

What we said: Stewart did a fine, if unspectacular, job with his opening monologue and improvised quips throughout the evening, skillfully mixing in his specialty — political humor — without turning the event into a special edition of “The Daily Show.”

Best line: “Diablo Cody used to be an exotic dancer and now she’s an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. I hope you’re enjoying the pay cut.”

—2007: Ellen DeGeneres

What we said: Instead of trying to force something and more than likely coming up short, she stuck with what she does best: making silly, scatter-shot quips. Still, I felt a little let down.

Best line: “It’s exciting. You don’t know who’s going to win, unless you’re British. Then you know you’re going to win.”

—2006: Jon Stewart

What we said:
Stewart held his spiky wit in check and his feel for pointed political humor was little in evidence. … Keeping it light and keeping it moving was the order of the evening.

Best line: “Bjork couldn’t be here tonight. She was trying on her Oscar dress and Dick Cheney shot her.”

—2005: Chris Rock

What we said: The most conspicuous absentee from Sunday’s Oscarfest was not “The Passion of the Christ” but the passion of the Chris.

Best line: “Clint Eastwood, now that’s a star. Tobey Maguire is just a boy in tights.”

—2004: Billy Crystal

What we said: The show opened with a blast of stale air as Crystal was digitally inserted into scenes from the year’s notable pictures, a decade-old Academy Awards gag that has lost its power to surprise.

Best line: “Things were so different then (from the last time he hosted in 1991). Bush was president, the economy was tanking and we’d just finished a war with Iraq.”

—2003: Steve Martin

What we said: Martin ably handled the challenging job of finding a tone that was entertaining but not oblivious to world events.

Best line: “In ‘About Schmidt,’ Jack Nicholson plays a retired insurance executive who climbs into a hot tub with Kathy Bates. But hey, who hasn’t?”

—2002: Whoopi Goldberg

What we said: Though many of her clumsily scripted “ad libs” aimed to be sexy, most came off beastly. She offered the shortest of monologues, and her subsequent appearances were brief and to the point.

Best line: “Even though the movie (‘The Lord of the Rings’) was 3 1/2 hours long, there just wasn’t room for the black Hobbit. Or as we were originally called, Blobbits.”

—2001: Steve Martin

What we said: First-time host Martin’s listless performance got the 73rd annual Academy Awards off to a limping start from which it never recovered.

Best line: “Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman. It’s something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town.”

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