Reactions to James Franco’s Oscar hosting gig were generally mixed, ranging from “Is he stoned?” to “Am I stoned?” to “Oh, I get it, he’s meta-hosting” to “Who’s that weird dude creeping on the nice girl from The Princess Diaries?” Eminent Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch vehemently denies that Franco was on any drug (besides extreme sleep deprivation), but he still has some stern critiques for Franco’s hosting. Vilanch tells Vulture, “He didn’t get there. I don’t think he realized how big a deal it is to do it until he was actually confronted with it… It’s outside of those guys’ comfort zones. The only people who know how to host those shows are people who get up onstage every night and say, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.’”
Franco tweeted a response, since removed from his Twitter account, saying “Bruce, he let me down” and featuring a graffiti’d photo of the host and the writer, with Vilanch saying: “James f—ed up the Oscars. Trust me, I know comedy. I mean, come on, I write for Bette Midler!” Oh no, an Oscar host is feuding with Bruce Vilanch! It’s like watching Mom and Dad fight, except Mom and Dad are actually funny!
Now, before we start taking sides, let’s try to establish a middle ground here. Vilanch makes a good point that the best Oscar hosts have been stand-up performers like Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, but that obscures the fact that many of the worst Oscar hosts have been stand-up performers like David Letterman and Whoopi Goldberg (and, let’s be fair, Billy Crystal post-1998.) Plenty of people dug Franco’s hosting job — EW’s Ken Tucker praised the co-hosts for “a combination of respect and integrity” — and personally, I think there was more energy in just one of Franco’s frequent Jim Halpert-esque camera-glances than in the million grasping jokes Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin tossed out at last year’s Oscars. (“And over here is the Inglourious Basterds section … and over here are the people who made the movie. Heyo!”)
Conversely, you can understand Vilanch’s complaints. According to the writer, the relentlessly-educated Franco “didn’t get to town till Thursday before the show on Sunday.” One can imagine that Vilanch and Franco probably didn’t have time to develop the writer-host chemistry of, say, Vilanch and Hollywood Squares BFF Goldberg. On a larger level, it does seem like this year’s Oscars proved that the whole notion of making the Oscars more “youthful” — ie, more Twitter-tastic — might be fundamentally flawed. (Also, that Bette Midler thing is a low blow, even if it is half-true.)
PopWatchers, whose side are you on in this Oscar family feud? Vilanch partisans, do you think the writer is not-so-subtly trying to tell the Academy to bring back Billy Crystal next year? Franco apologists, do you think this is just a matter of a serious writer-host generation gap? Should we just consider creating an Oscar Hostbot with the voice of Bob Hope?