Those who scratched their heads in befuddlement when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences named originality-challenged director Brett Ratner as one of the lead producers of next year's Oscars telecast are now likely sitting back with told-ya-so satisfaction as Ratner bumbles around saying stupid, embarrassing things while doing press for Tower Heist.
He has been on a bit of an apology tour over the past couple days, saying he's sorry for gossiping meanly about actress Olivia Munn on Howard Stern and for asserting during a post-screening Q&A that, when shooting a movie, "rehearsal is for fags." Very embarrassing! For Ratner, sure, but also for the Academy.
It's embarrassing for the Academy in the obvious way -- the poster boy for the one big, known thing you do all year is caught using an offensive term for gay people, in grand old gay Hollywood of all places. But it's also cringe-worthy for the Academy in that it serves to highlight what a weird, ill-matched choice Ratner was in the first place. What were they thinking?
Well, they were thinking what the people behind the Oscars -- probably about as traditional and unavoidably cheesy a Hollywood event as there is -- have been thinking for a while now: That the show needs some sort of updating For the Kids. Ratings for the telecast have been doing a bit of yo-yo-ing over the past few years, with last year's Anne Hathaway/James Franco muddle seeing a fairly significant decline from the previous ceremony hosted by emcee workhorses Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. The pairing of the swoon-worthy funnyman stoner artiste and parent-approved dorky starlet was a stab at energizing the younger market, but the effort was so self-conscious in its contrivance that it was groan-inducing, more square than any old Billy Crystal show would have been. The Oscars trying to be hip and young is like watching your mom bobbing her head to a song she's never heard as she browses the skinny jeans rack at Forever 21. It's not just silly and a little sad, it's also a little scary. Age out of context! Old man with an earring! It's unpleasant.
And you'd think that after the Franco/Hathaway mess the Academy would have learned its lesson and steered the big, lurching cruise ship back into familiar, bathtub-warm waters. But instead they proved their tone-deafness again by hiring who? The guy who directed those Rush Hour movies that the Academy's grandson used to like. And who, y'know, has turned obnoxiousness into a sort of personal brand. No, Academy, no.
Well, OK, to be fair, we can see to some degree why the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences might initially think a Bret Ratner-produced Oscars was a good idea. Ratner is for sure a financially successful director. He does seem to make movies that put younger butts in seats. Though, upon closer look, really Ratner's only youth-targeted movies are the Rush Hour series and the widely reviled X-Men: The Last Stand. It's not as if they hired Zack Snyder or, hell, even the Wachowskis to direct this thing. (We would be eager to see either of those shows explode and splatter at the Kodak Theater come February.) We're talking about Brett Ratner! Known commercial dope who is only going to bring innovation and change to the show, as the Academy bigwigs hoped he would do, if you think that innovation and change means there are rap songs in the trailers for his movies or he brags about "banging" starlets. There's no artistry to his films, barely even any technical mastery in the big set-pieces, that indicates he could successfully produce a four-hour glitter spectacle. No, this doesn't seem to have been a creative decision. This reeks of demo-baiting.
There's also, if we're honest, a strange whiff of the deliberately butch about the choice, as if the hope might have partly been that the director of such solidly hetero movies might make the awards ceremony more palatable to the more gay-panicky among potential viewers. (Really, though, does that previously just-out-of-reach demographic exist at all?) That's obviously not a sentiment overtly on display in all this but, when you look at the lineup of producers on the last few ceremonies -- Bill Condon, Adam Shankman, Bruce Cohen -- there's an interesting contrast. Brett Ratner did not direct Dreamgirls or Hairspray or produce To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar! as Condon, Shankman, and Cohen did, respectively. He directed Rush Hour 3 and Red Dragon, man! Y'know, cool tough stuff. There's a strange, sad kind connection, then, when Ratner starts prattling on about "fags."
Really, the main problem is this: The Academy needs to stop trying so hard. Small alterations here and there are great, but for the most part the Oscars are always going to be what they are. They're gaudy and corny and rarely cool and directed by theater people who know some spectacle and trust an aging comedian with a silly musical number. Brett Ratner in particular isn't the problem -- he's certainly a problem, but not the root one. The real issue is that the Academy doesn't trust anyone to like them for who they are. A few change-ups to keep us on our toes are good. Trying to overhaul the whole damn thing just strips the show of any context, and at heart the Oscars are nothing but context. No one wants to watch a new hip awards show orchestrated by Brett Ratner. They want to watch the damn Oscars.
But hey, who knows. Maybe Ratner will deliver a good show. It doesn't seem likely, not if his obnoxious and over-inflated sense of himself comes too much into play. And we of course can't formally judge it until we've seen it. But at least the Academy did one thing right in hiring this clown. We're talking about the Oscar telecast in early November, aren't we? That just might be victory enough.