Who Should Host The Oscars Now?

Plans for the 2012 Academy Awards went up in sudden smoke this week after the resignation of producer Brett Ratner, who had come under fire for making a bizarre homophobic  comment (anyone who has paid attention to Ratner’s Tower Heist media blitz knows it was only a matter of time before he said something that would embarrass the Academy). On Wednesday, prospective Oscar host Eddie Murphy dropped out, with the rationale that since he was Ratner’s personal pick, the new producer should have the right to choose his own man/woman.

The motion picture academy moved quickly to name a replacement for Ratner: he’s noted producer Brian Grazer. Hollywood is buzzing about who might now get the hosting gig, and we have our own list of possibilities:

Eddie Murphy: Why not? Ratner’s indiscretion was boorish, but there’s no reason why Murphy should have to pay the price too. Grazer is reportedly eager to talk him into changing his mind. This might not work – Murphy isn’t exactly a regular on the Hollywood social scene, and may not have taken the job originally had it not been a favor for a friend  -- but given all the prep work he’s already put in, he may not want to let the effort go to waste. But Grazer is the producer of Tower Heist, so he already has an in with Murphy from that standpoint.

Billy Crystal: The most prolific host of the last few decades, Crystal has made some noises of late that he might be willing to do it again, even though he’s been so quiet in recent years that it’s fair to wonder if he’s all but retired. Crystal may come across as a step backwards, but the bright side would be that coming off the upheaval of recent days, he would be the ultimate safe choice. All of Oscar’s recent efforts at going edgy have blown back on the Academy.

(Anyone who has been a past host could probably be mentioned as a possibility, given the need to get someone up to speed in a hurry, but most of those past hosts were also panned.)

Neil Patrick Harris: If there’s an awards show out there, Harris’s name will come up as a prospective host. That’s no surprise, because he’s damn good at it, and has already appeared as the star of an Oscar musical interlude. The drawback is that Harris is known pretty much as a TV actor (Harold and Kumar franchise aside), and the Academy has never shown much of an interest in those – if you want to host the Oscars and you do TV, it had better be as a late night comedian.

Jimmy Kimmel: Speak of the devil. He already has a slight relationship with the Oscarcast, since he’s had a post-Oscar edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live for the last several years. Kimmel’s is the name generally left out of the Leno vs. Letterman debate, and you have to know ABC would welcome the opportunity to raise his profile. But that’s the problem too: aside from the lingering fratboy image he still has from The Man Show, the Academy might not feel he’s “big” enough for a job like this.

Jimmy Fallon: He doesn’t have Kimmel’s association with ABC, but he has two qualifications his late night counterpart can’t match: his well-received performance as host of the 2010 Emmys, and his proven talent for the sort of humorous musical set pieces Oscar producers always like to work in. He has the same gravitas problem as Kimmel, and because he’s still in his thirties, there’s also a “Franco/Hathaway” problem.  You have to think it’s going to be a long time before the Academy takes another risk on a young host after last winter’s disaster (which is the major reason why I didn't bother listing Justin Timberlake, who definitely has "major awards show host" somewhere in his future). But he’d be a superb choice: simultaneously daring and safe.

Ricky Gervais: You just knew he’d be injecting himself into this news. He’s already said he’d be willing to host both the Golden Globes and the Oscars. I can’t see any way this would ever happen, but in the (unlikely) event the Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t want him back, the Academy would be smart to pounce. The whole idea behind Gervais hosting the Globes to begin with was to underscore the ways that it’s more informal and less stodgy than the Oscars, so why wouldn’t the Oscars then turn around and say, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you stodgy!”

Steve Carell: If he were still the star of a weekly series, there would be no way he could spare the time to host the Oscars, but that’s not a problem anymore. Carell has that same quality Steve Martin brought to the ceremony, in that he can bring the deadpan humor while still appearing dignified and classy. He’s already had some noteworthy moments as an awards show presenter and banterer, which is exactly how Gervais managed to get the attention of the Golden Globes honchos.

Tom Hanks: Doesn’t Hanks just seem like the type who ought to host the Oscars at least once in his career? He has the unique quality of being at the same time both one of Hollywood’s leading citizens and someone with ad lib ability and a sense of fun. I suspect he wouldn’t want the job, but Grazer might decide to appeal to his sense of duty (and let’s not forget that Grazer produced Splash, which was the key break for both men). Hanks might be nominated himself this year (for his performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but as we’ve seen with Franco, that’s no barrier to being a host.

The Muppets: We would be remiss to not mention the current online campaign to have the Muppets serve as hosts. There is massive anticipation out there for the upcoming Muppet film, so this may be an idea whose time has come. It’s hard to see an organization like the Academy taking its cues from social media, and there’s been no indication that the people behind the Muppets (other than Disney and by extension ABC) would even be up for this sort of effort.  But they already have some experience in parody, and the usual egos would not be in play. Except for Fozzie, who rumor has it is a bear to work with.