Thoughts on hosting the Oscars

By Jess Cagle
Updated November 18, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

Taking a cue from EW’s Oct. 28 Must List, I’ve been tearing through Brian Kellow’s new biography, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, about the late New Yorker critic and chief cheerleader for the renaissance of American filmmaking in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

She famously judged movies not on their artistic ”merit” (Kael liked her quotation marks) but instead on their visceral impact. She evaluated them all — tiny art-house films, big shiny musicals, action-adventures — solely on how they tickled her brain and heart. Kael’s reviews inspired me to become a writer, and you can still see Kael’s influence on subsequent generations of critics. Whether you agree or disagree, for example, with EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman (who’s quoted in the Kael book, by the way), their passion, delight, and fury are always compelling. Kael didn’t love all films, but she sure as hell loved going (she also liked her italics) to the movies.

Kael was endlessly amused by the inner workings of Hollywood and she had a great sense of humor, so I’m sure she would have enjoyed all the Oscar upheaval of the past couple of weeks. After some idiotic public comments (such as this gem: ”Rehearsal is for fags”), Brett Ratner stepped down in shame as producer of the Feb. 26 telecast. But in the end Brian Grazer, who has now taken the reins, is a much more logical choice to produce the show. Grazer has great taste — he’s produced three Best Picture nominees. And he’s a born showman — just look at his hair. The Oscars’ producer is really the driving creative force behind the ceremony (the producer, after all, has to find the host; Grazer got Billy Crystal on board after Eddie Murphy flaked). And ratings depend largely on how much the audience is invested in the nominees, as Josh Rottenberg points out in his story on page 15. The Grazer/Crystal team makes sense. They know what they’re doing. But if they’re looking for advice, mine is this: Hire a lot of gay people. Apparently you can always count on them to show up for rehearsal.