Will Hosting the Oscars Win Franco and Hathaway Oscars?
What happens now that James Franco and Anne Hathaway are the dual hosts and hopeful winners at the Oscars on Feb. 27? The last time an Oscar nominee hosted the Oscars, 1987 Crocodile Dundee co-writer Paul Hogan, he razzed himself as a sure loser (to Oliver Stone [nominated for both Platoon and Salvador], Hanif Kureishi or Woody Allen, who won for Hannah and Her Sisters). "I realize I'm not exactly the odds-on favorite," Hogan said. Franco is an odds-on favorite for a best actor nom, though we in the punditocracy decree that he'll lose. "Hosting won't help Franco to win," says blogger Tom O'Neil. "Colin Firth has a death grip on that race, but it MIGHT help Hathaway to be nominated. She's in a crowded race, but one where there are so far only two locks for bids [Annette Bening and Natalie Portman]. After that, it's a grab bag of contenders [Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Lesley Manville, Sally Hawkins, Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams]. By getting the hosting gig, it suggests that she's REALLY part of the Oscar family, especially beloved."
True, everybody loved it two years ago when host Hugh Jackman whisked her out of the audience for a a whirl, like pre-fame Courteney Cox in Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark video. But not enough people loved Love and Other Drugs, whose opening was lackluster, so Hathaway's hosting coup is likelier to land her a Golden Globe than an Oscar nom. She has popped safely out of the crashed film's flames, naked (on EW's cover) but unharmed. "Hathaway's best hope is for a Globe nomination," says Newsweek critic Caryn James. "This sends a message that Franco and Hathaway are taken seriously in the business -- they're grown-ups! -- which can help push them to the front of a race, but I don't think it changes their odds of winning or even getting nominated."
One Oscar voter agrees completely. "No, no, no. I don't see that it changes anything. I don't think it's negative or positive. It just gives the Oscar writers a chance for a few inside jokes. I don't have any strong feelings about it -- it's not a big deal. Younger blood is great."
Since Hathaway can't win as best actress, she can't lose as Oscar host. But blogger Jeff Wells thinks front-runner Franco is making a mistake. Hosting "will probably kill his shot at being a Best Actor nominee ... the Oscar telecast host can't win the Best Actor Oscar!"
"Hey, Tom Selleck won an Emmy for Magnum P.I. in 1984, the same year he hosted that awards show," retorts O'Neil. And 1959 Oscar co-host David Niven won as best actor for Separate Tables.
The way Franco and Hathaway can lose is by being the worst Oscar team since Rob Lowe and Snow White. This seems unlikely. They got the gig partly by being good hosts on SNL. Franco was pretty good, playing the General Hospital clip where Kirsten Storms tells him, "You really know how to charm the pants off of a girl." But Hathaway charmed everybody's pants off on SNL, nailing her skits even better than Franco did. "Hathaway's been one of the (few) pleasant surprises of the last couple of years on SNL," says showbiz blogger Bill Barol. "She actually seems to know where the jokes are located, [holding] her own against Fred Armisen and Bill Heder, two real sluggers, in a sketch about Kate Middleton." If she can sell Bruce Vilanch's gags, Barol says "they should give her the Mark Twain Award, like, immediately. That night."
I'll bet Franco and Hathaway will charm come Oscar night, but my pants won't budge until I see them do what 29-time SNL hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did as Oscar hosts: anchor the biggest ship in the movie universe. Analyzing great clips of the November SNL performance that evidently got Hathaway the Oscar gig, EW critic Ken Tucker says, "Hathaway wasn't the kind of first-rate SNL host who dominates the proceedings the way, say, Alec Baldwin or Steve Martin do. Instead of brawny power, she brought a brightly lit wit, an avid enthusiasm tempered by sure skill."
That may not be enough to make her (or Franco) Oscar legends. Maybe neither will take home a shiny doll from the carnival. But you have to play fame as a long game, and these two are winning.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.