Word's out that Chris Rock, who cohosted the 2004 Oscars, may return to the dais as emcee of the 2015 Academy Awards. Is Chris Rock a fantastic awards telecast host? Yes. He is definitely the greatest MTV Video Music Awards host of all time, especially because pop stars are as raucous as Rock is. Their gaudy spectacle warrants something of a blistering takedown. But is Rock the best possible Oscars host? I question whether his brand of cool, unpretentious truth-telling is right for a show that — frankly — celebrates the absurdity and fun of Hollywood glamor.
Check out this archived clip of Chris Rock's Oscars monologue.
He lands a number of big jokes. His riff about titles like “Barbershop” and “Car Wash,” as well as his self-effacing take on “Pootie Tang,” is well-observed. The way he jumps back to the Cuba Gooding Jr. joke is great too. But the bulk of his monologue is a questionable slam on exactly the types of actors who get nominated for Oscars, and that's why most of the audience's laughter feels delayed by half a beat. Is it really trenchant to note that Jude Law is less of a star than Tom Cruise at the Oscars? Or that Nicole Kidman's smile seemed phony when she lost to Halle Berry? Though the average moviegoer may treat pretty people like Law and Kidman like Hollywood phonies, that's an awfully populist take to espouse at the actual Academy Awards. The best Academy Awards hosts make you like the stars more and embrace the b.s. factor of the ceremony. Although that sounds like a toothless approach in theory, it's the kind of task that's possible when you hone in on the right targets.
For my money, the host in recent memory who best understood his task was Hugh Jackman. His opening musical number at the 2008 ceremony was a wry, vaudevillian take on the economic recession, and “the Craigslist dancers” are probably its most ingenious touch. But watch how he includes audience members like Anne Hathaway, who gamely turns in a dorky yet admirable turn as Richard Nixon. Maybe you're in the army of Hathahaters who consider her too prim and self-aware; Jackman found a way to work with that perception while Rock simply would've pointed it out. Jackman even found a way to turn populism into winning material: He, too, has not seen “The Reader” and couldn't get a ticket because the line of “Iron Man” returnees was too long. That's more note-perfect for the ceremony than announcing Kate Winslet is no Sandra Bullock.
It's a wonder Whoopi Goldberg doesn't host again since she was a complete master of embracing both the big-budget flair of the ceremony (Remember her costume changes and that “Pleasantville” makeover?) and the fast, withering sarcasm required to move the broadcast along. Chris Rock is one of our most gifted standups, but I hope if he takes over the 2015 ceremony that he pairs his knack for damning observation with more interesting subjects.