Franco, Hathaway as Oscars co-hosts nothing but stunt casting

It makes perfect sense for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to hire James Franco and Anne Hathaway for hosting duties … of the early morning Oscar nominations announcement on Jan. 25.

It doesn't make much sense at all that the academy chose Franco and Hathaway to host the actual Oscars telecast Feb. 27.

What? Did every other movie star above the celebrity level of, say, Ned Beatty turn down the gig?

Let's be clear: Hathaway makes movies and proved by singing an "impromptu" song with Hugh Jackman at the 2009 Oscars that she possesses musical talent and comedic timing. But she's no Billy Crystal who, if you think about it, became one of the show's greatest hosts with Hollywood credentials almost as slim.

Yes, Franco is one of the most intriguing actors working today, and likely to also be a best actor nominee on Oscar night for 127 Hours. But his odd combination of slacker vibe and intellectualism isn't exactly primed for prime time. Franco has never seemed ready to be counted alongside Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin when it comes to making painfully crafted teleprompter humor sound off the cuff in front of millions of TV viewers.

I'm not sure if Franco can sing and dance like Hathaway. To be fair, I also don't know that she wouldn't be equipped to write a book of short stories as Franco has, either.

Hathaway and Franco "personify the next generation of Hollywood icons — fresh, exciting and multi-talented," telecast producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer co-gushed Monday through an academy publicist.

Memo to members of previous generations of Hollywood stars who genuinely earned the overused title "icons": You are apparently too stale, dull and mono-talented to host the Oscars.

The decision to hand over one of show biz's most coveted gigs to Hathaway and Franco is the academy's most desperate move yet to become relevant — the word "remain" lost its meaning here years ago — to young adults buying the lion's share of movie tickets, usually for junk without a snowball's chance on Rodeo Drive of getting major Oscar nominations.

It's a gambit as transparent as last year's decision to expand the best picture nominees list to 10, enabling a popular 'toon (Up) and a pair of fantasy/sci-fi blockbusters (Avatar, District 9) to make the cut, bringing TV viewers with them. The strategy worked, to a degree. A estimated 41.3 million viewers at home watched at least part of the Oscars show in March — its highest viewership since 2005, and nearly 10 million more than 2008 when No Country for Old Men won best picture, convincing more moviegoers than ever that the academy is out of touch with popular tastes.

You have to wonder how many Avatar fans took the 10-nominations bait in March, and how many turned off their TV sets in disgust when The Hurt Locker won best picture. How can the academy ever get the 3-D glazed eyeballs of fanboys and fangirls cast in their direction again?

By giving them something shiny and pretty to watch while again waiting in vain, this time for Inception or Harry Potter's semi-finale to get jobbed in favor of The King's Speech. Hathaway and Franco certainly fit the bill.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.

Franco, Hathaway as Oscars co-hosts nothing but stunt casting 11/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:25am]

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