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Billy Crystal Takes the Reins…Again

Well, I have just got to stop inflicting these terrible omens on myself and the rest of the world with these posts. In my most recent article, I had remarked that I hope Don Mischer does not simply “regurgitate Billy Crystal for the umpteenth time.” Well, perhaps this is not the worst way to resurrect this year’s Oscars from the Ratner debacle, but it is certainly not the best.

I should start off by stating what has already been widely reported: Brian Grazer has stepped up to fill Brett Ratner’s shoes. This is not at all a bad choice. It’s hard not to like, if not at least respect, Grazer as a class-act producer. An Academy Award winner, himself, Grazer has been a major part of such Hollywood films as “A Beautiful Mind,” “American Gangster,” “The Nutty Professor” and “Apollo 13.” To add on to his film career, and beef up his resume as a television producer, he was also behind the helm of such popular hits as “Friday Night Lights” and “Arrested Development.” The decision to hire the man was a great step forward in terms of damage control for this year’s telecast.

So, there’s the good. Let’s move on to the Academy’s less inspired decisions. Billy Crystal is taking Eddie Murphy’s place and making his ninth appearance hosting the Oscars. NINTH. The only person to perform that gig more times was Bob Hope, and many of his turns were as a co-host. The fact that Crystal has been here nine times automatically speaks to the notion that the Academy didn’t care to put any genuine creativity into their decision, but instead have simply gone back to their comfort zone of what worked for them back in a time when the Oscars were still popular with the general public.

One important thing to get across here is that I really don’t have that much against Crystal as a host. In fact, I think he’s done a great job with the show in the past. I recall that the 1997 season, in which “Titanic” took home virtually everything, was maybe the first full telecast I ever watched (I was eleven, so give me a break) and it was his hosting, if nothing else, that really got me hooked.

What I am pissed about, and may never be able to fully forgive Crystal for, are his remarks made to the Associated Press in March of this year when Crystal entertained the notion of hosting again, upon compliance with a personal condition:

“I think the show needs to change. There’s too many awards and it has to sort of freshen itself up, and if I can be a part of that, that would be great.”

Let’s put aside for a moment that the Academy Awards and its selection of those awards are a long-standing and important tradition that has been a staple practically since Hollywood came into being. I’m sorry if Mr. Crystal thinks that it gets a little boring for primetime television. Let’s instead focus on the fact that the Oscars are the only time and place left in America in which all the elements that go into a film are brought together and honored. It’s the only opportunity for a cinematographer or an editor or a sound designer or a makeup artist to stand in front of a worldwide audience and be given the respect of being the best at their craft. You take that away, and the show becomes a second-rate Golden Globes: a star-fucking extravaganza that reassures that audience that all you really need to make a movie is Johnny Depp.

If any of Crystal’s notions were actually taken into effect, it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and induces me to finally change the channel. I’ve endured a lot as an Oscar prognosticator. I can deal with the campaigning, the politics, the poor-taste decisions, and even Harvey Weinstein bribing and felating voters under the table. But when you take the backbone of the film industry and shut them out in the cold because you think it will improve your ratings, you have crossed a line. For that, I say shame on you, Mr. Crystal. At long last, have you no decency?

One can only hope that our host does not get his way, and the Academy’s tradition of honoring all aspects of filmmaking remains intact. We shall find out in three months’ time.

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