For the third year running, the Academy Awards will take place without a host – and maybe it’s for the best.
Presenting the Oscars is a tricky job; success as a comedian, as a TV presenter or as an actor in no way guarantees a successful turn at the ceremonies. And a bad host can tarnish the night, for viewers and for the Academy.
On the other hand, a great host can elevate an awards night beyond simply its winners and losers.
Frequent hosts Bob Hope and Billy Crystal became renowned for their ability as comperes, defining, for many viewers, their respective eras of Oscar history.
2019’s host-less approach was considered such a success that the 2020 ceremony repeated it; 2021 will see the ceremony forgo a host once again.
This format is not a completely recent idea; the 1989 ceremony also had no presenter. A dreadful opening number in which an off-key Rob Lowe sang a lavish medley with Snow White (played by Eileen Bowman) was enough to end the Hollywood career of its bombastic producer, Allan Carr, single-handedly.
As a reminder of exactly what we’ll be missing out on this year, here are five of the best Oscar hosts of all time...
5. Jon Stewart
After a tepidly received turn hosting in 2006, Stewart made the most of his second chance in 2008, giving a confident performance presenting the 80th Academy Awards. The former Daily Show comedian’s jokes were tighter and better delivered, and he showed a real aptitude for letting others take the limelight. Perhaps most commendable of all, Stewart used one of his transitions to invite Marketa Irglová back on-stage to finish her acceptance speech for Best Original Song after being abruptly cut off.
4. Whoopi Goldberg
Goldberg was not only the first African American person to host the ceremony, but the first woman too. Having already won an Oscar for her supporting turn in 1990’s Ghost, the actress won over audiences with her elaborate costume changes and sharp sense of humour. Over the course of her four stints in the role, she would also prove deft at handling more sensitive moments, presiding over the Oscars in which Schindler’s List took Best Picture, as well as the first ceremony post-9/11. Goldberg recently suggested herself for the host after Kevin Hart was removed from the 2019 ceremony amid a scandal surrounding homophobic tweets.
3. Ellen DeGeneres
The comedian and talk show host wasn’t met with the fondest reception when she hosted the ceremony in 2007. But her 2014 return was a much tighter affair, and was instrumental in reconfiguring the Oscars for social media age. DeGeneres was a consummate luvvie and kept the humour low-key and respectful. The ceremony peaked with a star-studded selfie live on air, taken with a host of A-listers that included Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. The image would quickly become the most popular tweet of all time (now displaced), with a total of over 3.3 million retweets.
2. Billy Crystal
Crystal is credited with reinventing the role of Oscars host during his four-year run from 1990 to 1993. A more high-energy personality than most of his predecessors, the When Harry Met Sally... star proved himself a versatile awards show entertainer, and would return again five times over the years. He was comfortable with showmanship, not to mention self-promotion: at the 1991 awards, to promote City Slickers, he closed the ceremony by riding offstage on a horse. Crystal’s most recent appearance as host came in 2012, when he was brought in as a steady hand on the tiller after James Franco and Anne Hathaway’s disastrous spell the year previously.
1. Bob Hope
For decades, the comic stylings of Bob Hope were synonymous with the Oscars. The comedian hosted (and co-hosted) the awards ceremony 19 times between 1940 and 1978, presenting for the final time on the Oscar’s 50th Anniversary. Hope was popular for his charm and assuredness, as well as his droll one-liners. Jack Lemmon presented him with a unique gold medal for his services to the Academy during the 1966 Oscars. Accepting the award, he quipped “anyone that wants to look at this can come to my place and it’ll be in the shrine”.
And five of the worst Oscar hosts of all time...
5. David Letterman
Attempting to transfer his popular Late Night shtick to the considerably less receptive territory of the Oscars, Letterman saw his hosting tenure end in disaster. From a stinker of a joke near the beginning about two actresses with supposedly similar names – “Oprah. Uma. Oprah. Uma. Oprah. Uma. Have you kids met Keanu?” – the usually reliable presenter failed to find his flow. A few later gags were met with near-total silence, and Letterman was accused by the New York Times of leaving the ceremony’s “pacing in shambles.”
4. Chevy Chase
“Good evening, Hollywood phonies.” So began Chevy Chase’s badly received second run at the 1988 Oscars. Taking place in the middle of a writers’ guild strike – Chase makes a crack about the evening’s monologue being “donated by five teamsters” – the actor’s biggest problem is simply that the jokes don’t land. An overlong bit about film critics fails to get much of a reaction, and Chase’s attempts at ad-libbing never manage to rescue the situation.
3. Walter Matthau, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore & Richard Pryor
In 1983, the hosting role was given to the idiosyncratic quartet of Matthau, Minnelli, Moore and Pryor, in an effort to shake things up after four straight years of Johnny Carson. Whether it was a failure of rehearsal, choreography or performance, the sight of the four actors standing in a straight line, arrhythmically swaying to the opening number, remains one of the most awkward Oscar clips of all time. Minnelli tries to save face with a joke, commenting how “Richard, Dudley and Walter are still rehearsing” backstage, but the painfully gauche routine set the tone for a disjointed and forgettable evening.
2. Seth MacFarlane
The Family Guy creator was given a prestigious platform for his notoriously low-brow comic sensibilities when he hosted the Oscars ceremony in 2013. True to form, MacFarlane included a creepy, obnoxious song-and-dance number in which MacFarlane calls out actresses who have done topless scenes in the past (entitled “We Saw Your Boobs”). The reactions ranged from awkward smiles to a horrible embarrassment. The barefaced sexism of the skit attracted no small share of criticism at the time, but six years later, in the wake of #MeToo, it beggars belief that such a sleazy routine ever saw the light of day. Despite the reaction, MacFarlane claimed the Academy invited him back to host the subsequent year.
1. James Franco and Anne Hathaway
Having successfully paired Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in 2010, the Academy threw Franco and Hathaway together the year after, in an apparent attempt to synthesise some youth appeal. As it worked out, the pair’s dreadful chemistry – an uneasy mix of Hathaway’s cloying perkiness and Franco’s disconnected grinning – made for an awkward and historically uncomfortable experience that ironically appeals to no demographic whatsoever. Early jokes are met with mirthless silence, and a later skit in which Franco dresses in drag goes down like a lead balloon.