The 27th of February 2011, a date that will be remembered, above all, as marking the night when Anne Hathaway desperately tried to prove that she has a personality. On paper, the Hathaway appeared to have everything going for her: doe-like eyes, glossy hair and wholesome good looks that have a widespread appeal. Unfortunately, and rather worryingly for an actress, she never seemed capable of making the distinction between ‘vivacious’ and ‘vapid’. And yes, audiences do like to see a friendly, welcoming host with glittering eyes and smile, but anyone who presents the Oscars in future really ought to be warned that adopting the wide-eyed stare of Bambi’s mother in the moments before those fateful shots ring out is just going to traumatise the more sensitive members of the audience, myself included. Though she was undoubtedly drafted in to attract tweens who would have enjoyed seeing her in an array of undeniably beautiful dresses, I can’t help but feel that the only people she appeals to are Italian fraudsters who enjoy dressing up as cardinals (Google it).
To be fair to the hostess, her male counterpart was, if anything, even more irritating to watch. The problem with James Franco taking on an aloof, disinterested air is that it’s not all that different from the public persona he normally adopts. I realise that the some-time writer and full-time poster boy for edgy intellectual posing was intended to serve as a foil for Hathaway’s cheery enthusiasm, but, call me humourless if you will, I expect more from an Oscar-nominated actor than playing what is, if anything, a duller version of himself.
Still, as I’ve just demonstrated, it’s easy to criticise the hosts, especially when they’re that young, successful and attractive. Really, it’s the murky powers-that-be who decide on the direction that the awards will take each year, with 2011 appearing to have been selected as the year of the ‘knowing look’. There is, of course, a long tradition of industry in-jokes and spoofs of the year’s films at the Oscars. However, this time round you could barely go ten minutes without the autocue forcing the hosts to adopt a studied air of cynicism, with Franco complementing Hathaway on looking ‘so beautiful and hip’, and in turn being told that he himself is ‘very appealing to the younger demographic’. If we’ve learnt anything from the success of Hugh Jackman’s stint as an all-singing, all-dancing host in 2009, when viewing figures beat those of the previous year by an impressive 13%, it’s that the camper, tackier and more exuberant the Oscars are, the more appealing they become. Most viewers have come to terms with the fact that we are no longer living in the Golden Age of cinema, with stars who embody class and glamour as they did in the time of Greta Garbo and Grace Kelly.
The lure of the Oscars lies more in the sheer comic value of (often unintentionally) funny speeches, and in watching people dressed up to look like startled ostriches (I’m looking at you, Sharon Stone). Any attempt at self-irony seemed a little smug – really, it’s the job of the viewer to poke fun; take away this and there’s little role left for the audience in an awards ceremony that is already insular enough as it is.