As if we needed further proof that the Great Depression 2.0 is upon us, the producers of Hollywood’s most opulent showbiz extravaganza have decided that wit is a luxury item they can no longer afford. After two decades of hiring comedians to MC the Oscars, in a bid to revive plummeting ratings the Academy has chosen a hunk over a humorist. This year’s Oscar host is Wolverine. Or, as the multi-taloned X-Man is known outside his superhero franchise, Hugh Jackman.
Last year, the Oscars’ TV ratings sunk by 24 per cent to an all-time low. This should surprise no one. The TV audience is fragmenting. And by the time the Oscars roll around, we’ve seen so many trophies handed out—from the Golden Globes to the People’s Choice Awards—fatigue has set in. The Oscars may be the only awards that matter, but the show has become a pageant of robotic efficiency. The stars are so carefully coutured that no one makes wardrobe mistakes anymore, and spontaneity has been scripted out of existence. But instead of blaming the show’s lifeless production values, military pacing, and morbid tributes to the living dead, the Academy has ditched Jon Stewart—the sharpest MC it’s had in a while—and replaced him with a vapid pretty boy.
Stewart, who had the gig for two years, was an anti-host, an outsider who satirized and dignified the Oscars at the same time. The two go hand-in-hand: the MC is Oscar’s valet and his court jester. Jackman looks more like a male escort. Oscar has always been the gold standard of celebrity currency; it’s sad to see him deflated by tabloid journalism.
Currently starring as a beefcake cowboy in Australia, a US$130-million spectacle that’s being promoted as an epic advertorial by the Aussie tourist board, Jackman seems in no danger of being nominated for an Oscar himself. These days, his chief claim to fame is that People magazine has named him the Sexiest Man Alive. This is a dubious qualification for an Oscar host unless he plans to wear his tuxedo shirtless. Jackman is not quite so sexy from the neck up. But some may find it titillating that he has no earlobes. His ears connect to his head at the base with a Porsche-like curve—making him part of an exotic breed of lobeless stars that includes Mick Jagger and Tom Cruise.
Aside from his status as a sexy beast, it seems Jackman’s main qualification for hosting the Oscars is that he has hosted the Tonys. Which is like saying being governor of Alaska is a qualification for being vice-president of the United States. Jackman, in fact, hosted the Tonys so impressively that he won an Emmy for it—the only major prize he has ever won, unless you count a 2001 Saturn Award for Best Actor bestowed by the U.S. Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for his work in X-Men.
If the Academy wants to regress to its golden age, however, Jackman may be the perfect host. Australia is like a vast, mutant Oscar montage. Crammed with references to The Wizard of Oz, The African Queen and Gone With the Wind, this all-you-can-eat barbie buffet is a western, a war picture, a romance, and a post-colonial lament for Aboriginal injustice. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) and larded with riffs on Somewhere Over the Rainbow, it plays like a closeted musical. You keep waiting for characters to burst into song at any moment.
As luck would have it, Jackman is a song and dance man, having starred in such musicals as Beauty and the Beast and Oklahoma! Yikes. If the Oscars are intent on boosting ratings with younger viewers, reverting to old-fashioned production numbers may not be the wisest move. Besides, who could ever hope to top Rob Lowe’s infamous 1989 Oscar-opening duet with Snow White?
Whether playing this as Crocodile Dundee Redux or X-Men’s Wolverine, Jackman’s strong suit seems to be animal magnetism. He looks best with a beard and a cowboy hat. In Australia he appears most at home riding horses, herding cattle or stripping off his shirt by the campfire to dazzle Nicole Kidman with his bronzed, gym-ripped torso. “You really have a way with horses,” she coos after watching him whisper a steed into submission. When she invites him to a ball, he says, “I mix with dingoes, not duchesses.” He turns up anyway, suddenly clean-shaven in a white tux. Perhaps Jackman can take a cue from Billy Crystal, who once made his Oscar entrance on horseback. But the Sexiest Man Alive would have to up the ante. He could bring a dingo.
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