This week on The Awards Show Show, Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan and the Frame’s John Horn discuss what makes for a good Oscars host. Which prior hosts should new pick Jimmy Kimmel learn from, and whom should he endeavor to be least like? (One of our picks is likely to surprise you.) Then, Arrival director Denis Villeneuve has finally come to town after shooting Blade Runner 2049 with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. He’ll drop some tantalizing teases about that movie, talk about Arrival’s surprising post-Trump strength, and talk about the significant way the Oscars altered the course of his career.
An excerpt from the conversation about Jimmy Kimmel follows; listen to the episode below, and subscribe to The Awards Show Show on iTunes.
On the choice to hire Kimmel:
John Horn: I think it’s a very safe pick. There’s a little network synergy here that ABC can promote Jimmy Kimmel on a very widely watched show. I think he’s funny — I don’t think he is super funny — but I think will probably surround himself with clever writers. He probably cares about the movie business, so he’ll have some good quips. But is anybody is going to say, “You know, we’ve got to watch the Oscars this year because Jimmy Kimmel is hosting?”
Kyle Buchanan: He’s capable. I do think they probably were left with very little choice. The producers of the Oscars this year, Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd, they came in so late, with two months left to go before the Oscars. Most of the people you’d want to have gone to are booked.
JH: It’s important people recognize you don’t just show up the night before the Oscars — this is a commitment that is about a month, two or three weeks of daylong rehearsals. If you’ve got an important movie, you’ve got an important TV show, you have to stop working on whatever that is. And you don’t get paid for it; it’s basically pro bono work. You’re not going to make a big paycheck. It is a labor of love.
KB: Yeah, and a lot of the time you’ll get raked over the coals if you do it poorly.
On the Oscars hosts who’ve gotten it right … and who haven’t:
JH: Chris Rock has done the Oscars a couple of times. The first time I thought he was very good. What I like in Chris Rock is that he is able to poke fun at Hollywood itself: In that ceremony he made fun of Jude Law, and Sean Penn (who has no sense of humor) made some kind of incredibly self-important speech about how Jude Law is one of our finest actors. I think Chris Rock has the right sense of irreverence. He is hosting a show and he’s also hosting a comedy special and I think those two things work well together.
KB: You said that he pokes fun. I would say he makes fun, which is a very tricky thing. His ability to do that — boy, it was shocking at the time. He had a lot to talk about, a lot of points to make, a lot of targets to hit. It’s definitely one of the most memorable ones. The ironic thing is the last time he hosted, there was no shortage of material — it was the year of #OscarsSoWhite — and he didn’t really hit the mark. He was tamer and he didn’t seem to have that fire. I wonder if that was because his first stint was so controversial, that he felt like it would behoove him to rein it in somewhat.
JH: Who is first on your list?
KB: I picked the one that I think is probably the best Oscars host of the last ten years: Hugh Jackman.
JH: Hugh Jackman is an unbelievably talented live performer. He has a presence and he has a warmth and I think you root for him as a performer. That’s part of why that ceremony works so well.
KB: He is all of those things. His triple-threat nature, there’s a whole lot of things that you can do with him. But more than that, and this is part of the reason why I was advocating for Dwayne Johnson to host the Oscars, is there’s just something unexpected about him. Since Hugh is not a comedian by nature, everything he did in that award ceremony felt sweet and wonderful. You rooted for him. He had charm to spare and, crucially, he conveyed this Hollywood elegance. A lot of the time when you’re trying to get an irreverent host — and I’m not advocating against an irreverent host by any means — a lot of the elegance and the glamour of the Oscars is sacrificed.
JH: You’re probably not going to like my next pick because the earnestness isn’t there, though the cynicism and skepticism certainly is: Jon Stewart. It’s probably not exactly what you want in a host, because he is not glad-handing everybody. He’s going to be a little skeptical of the whole idea of Hollywood congratulating itself. But I just like to see him, and I thought he did a pretty good job.
KB: The Daily Show was firing on all cylinders back then. He himself set this very high watermark that was going to be hard to match. If they’d announced him as the host this year, that would’ve gotten me so engaged. The bizarre intersections of politics and entertainment that we’re going through with the election would have made him a very germane host.
JH: So who’s on your list next?
KB: Ellen DeGeneres and her Oscars selfie. I think having that viral moment is going to be the thing that a lot of Oscars hosts aspire to. Certainly when you have somebody like Jimmy Kimmel who’s hosting who realizes the late-night landscape has been forever changed by the pursuit of these viral sketches, that’s going to be front of mind. What Ellen did very well is she married this scripted, prepared moment with spontaneity — all these people suddenly crowding the frame. I don’t think that’s something that everyone can do. I would be shocked if we didn’t see a lot of tries to replicate that magic.
JH: I’m going to end with somebody who has done the Oscars a lot, who I think probably outlasted his welcome, and who I never really found very funny: Billy Crystal. I find him a bit mean-spirited.
KB: I love that you went after Billy Crystal for being mean-spirited. Of all the people!
JH: Billy Crystal, if you spend a little time around him, he’s not a nice guy. If I want to see Borscht Belt comedy, I’ll go to the Borscht Belt. There’s that kind of backslapping, I’m-with-you-guys thing, doing Paul Robeson on “Old Man River,” Sammy Davis Jr. … there’s something very unsettling in what he’s doing about race. I think he is not at all what you want in an Oscars host.
KB: The Billy Crystal era had its moments. When he tried to reprise that after Eddie Murphy fell out as host, it was a stop-gap procedure. He did what he could, but I think it double underlined the fact that moment has passed.
On what Kimmel needs to do to succeed:
JH: I think the real challenge for any Oscars host is, you don’t get the credit for the win, you get the blame for the loss. Ultimately I think the Oscars are defined by the speeches. If people are game and they speak from their heart and they have interesting stories to tell when they win their Oscars, that is what makes a great ceremony.
KB: And I think that spontaneity extends to the host too. You have to have an ability to roll with the punches. Just the fact that the audience doesn’t know necessarily what to expect from you counts for something. I feel like that’s what really hindered Neil Patrick Harris when he hosted: He’d done this hosting thing so many times that there just wasn’t any freshness to watching him do it. Whether he went along with it or what, it was still the same hacky, Billy Crystal jokes that they were feeding him. It didn’t feel fresh in the slightest, and that’s my worry with Kimmel. He’s hosted so many things; are we going to feel that freshness from him?
JH: The thing that I think Kimmel has in his corner is that at the Oscars is that you are performing live in front of an audience of about a thousand people and you’re also performing in front of a global audience of tens of millions of television viewers. You really have to be able to do both. I think the people who fail are playing more to the room then they are to the TV. Kimmel understands television, he understands what a global audience is, he understands that his jokes can’t be too inside because they won’t travel outside of the Dolby Theater. I think he gets the challenge.
KB: We shall see. I’m rooting for him. I hope it will be good, and I’m really curious to see what they do with the rest of the ceremony. When I talked to Jennifer Todd earlier this season, she said that Hugh Jackman ceremony was her favorite, too. I hope she learns the right lessons from it.