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Oscar hosting: a modest proposal

It's hard out there for a host.

The opening sequence -- in which Oscar's prior hosts turned down the gig with what was meant to be "humorous" derision -- should have been read as a sign and a portent. Jon Stewart was going to bomb. It was just a question of how big.

That isn't to say he wasn't funny. I personally enjoyed him immensely, but I liked him for precisely the same reasons the Academy's audience didn't: because it was evident he couldn't take the awards seriously. Stewart's great strength as a public entertainer is the way in which he deflates undeserved pomposity with a few pinprick quips. The Oscars' great calling card is its overweening, completely out-of-perspective pomposity. You get a host who is practically broadcasting how insignificant the awards are on a grand cosmic scale, you get a room full of people who have spent the last month narrowing down their focus in life to this evening ... it was bound to be ugly in there.

And this is why I think it's time for the Academy to just quit it with the comedians already. Yes, the host should entertain us, the schlubby Oscar-viewing audience at home, but few of us find the audience neutering of Chris Rock -- who also put the Academy in its place by reminding it that plenty of people don't watch nominated movies -- and Jon Stewart all that funny. Nor do we find it a compelling reason to clasp the movie industry to our collective, iTunes Music Store-buying, DVD-renting, is-there-a-point-to-this-montage-on-why-we-should-go-to-the-movies-when-I'm-viewing-the-montage-on-a-big-TV-at-home-and-it-looks-just-fine?-wondering bosom.

So quit with the comedians. Find hosts who are plainly, clearly thrilled to be emceeing for the night. I'd suggest George Clooney, as his Oscar acceptance speech had a beautifully calibrated degree of industry stroking, but I suspect that between his movie works, good looks and Oscar win, it's only a matter of time before he's bodily assumed into heaven. (I only hope it's before anyone convinces him to make Ocean's Thirteen.)

With Clooney out of the running, please consider this humble request: can Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau please host next year?

Hear me out: we know both of them are good with the hosting thing. Vaughn killed as a Letterman sub. He's got charm to spare and it's ever so slightly tinged with something a little sharper and colder, so it'll pass for that brand of crowd-pleasing "wit" the Oscar producers are so evidently straining to capture. Favreau's no slouch in the hosting department either -- his Dinner for Five series demonstrates an understanding of what it takes to coax people through an event others will want to watch. And like Vaughn, he's also pretty charming, so there's little chance of him veering into toothless muggery.

And I think two hosts would provide the jolt of energy the awards show needs. Think of the best bits of the last few years -- Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller giving out costume awards, Steve Carrell and Will Ferrell giving out makeup awards -- and consider how solid chemistry between two performers can demand your attention and make you enjoy the request. We know Vaughn and Favreau have the chemistry. We know they've got the hosting chops. And it's kind of hard to argue that a guy who remade Psycho and a guy who routinely interviews industry types don't love Hollywood on some level.

It's plainly evident that Oscar will not be winning viewers by attempting to get in on the joke. It didn't work for the Miss America pageant -- which only righted itself this year after returning to the fiction that it really really matters which bikini-clad Tracy Flick takes home the tiara -- and it's not working for Oscar. Rightly or wrongly, the participants demand to be taken seriously, so give them a host that does that. This will free up the rest of us to laugh all night, instead of cringing in empathy for the people who make us laugh all year.


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