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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: Really, finding the Oscars host shouldn't be a problem

Two words: Ellen DeGeneres.

She's the answer and always has been. She's been in plain sight all along. In my opinion, she'd solve all the Oscar hosting problems. Of all the Oscar hosts of the past quarter century, DeGeneres' hosting gigs from 2007 and 2014 were my favorites by far.

The way I look at it, the Motion Picture Academy should have tied her up contractually – or some other diabolical showbiz way – the way it once did Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.

DeGeneres, at best, was that good and that likable – irreverent, but completely respectful and always off-the-wall funny enough to let you know she wasn't recycling the Academy's oldies-but-ultimately-not-so-goodies (Hope, Carson and, in his final gigs, alas Billy Crystal).

I must admit right about here you might want to be careful about my taste in this matter because it's more than a little eccentric. I'm in that extreme American minority that didn't think David Letterman's stint as Oscar host was nearly as bad as he and everyone else thought it was. Letterman's solution to the perennial problem of how to make the show watchable was so radical that it was bound to make Hollywood's most zealously tedious guardians of tradition and big shot showbiz egos uneasy: He simply turned the Academy Awards into a fancy-schmanzy David Letterman show by other means, complete with stupid pet tricks.

I can just imagine all those old-line Hollywoodians in their polo match ascots and six-figure gowns muttering, "Doesn't he know where he is? He's at the Oscars!"

That's why DeGeneres is perfect. She doesn't share Letterman's root conviction that all show business is inherently ridiculous and infantile. As a hugely successful afternoon talk show host, she's intimately connected to actual inhabitants of American homes and how they see the world when they're watching the tube.

The Oscars matter to anybody who likes movies and always have. What wins one year affects the kinds of movies that are made subsequently. That's why the idiocies and hopeless money-gobbling mediocrities of so many winners always strike a powerful blow on behalf of American stupidity.

"Ben-Hur" and "The Artist" and "Rocky" were all, in my view, godawful Oscars for Best Picture although only the first and last made epochal money and affected future movies. "The Artist" was such a ridiculous Best Picture winner that it never mattered that its emotional impact depended so much on the uncredited theft of Bernard Herrmann's magnificent score for Hitchcock's great film masterpiece "Vertigo." (Herrmann's heirs should have sued.)

So we need Oscar hosts who are sophisticated and grown-up and sly enough to hide it with good middle-American common sense. In the past 25 years, no one has filled that bill as breezily as DeGeneres.

Originally choosing Kevin Hart was an attempt to solve two Oscar problems, one of which is insoluble.

The soluble program is the lack of diversity problem that can be affected by more minority representation everywhere.

The insoluble problem is the gulf, in current Hollywood, that separates the year's truly excellent American movies, from the megaton tentpole successes. That gulf has become virtually unmanageble.

The old killer TV ratings, then, can't be achieved when award winners are – inevitably – achievements redolent of excellence rather than mass popularity. That's why good Oscar hosts are more important than ever.

"Good" Oscar hosts have to be those least crippled by male adolescent high school anxieties and tastes (see Seth McFarlane).

We're living in an era of total extremes. It's going to take time and intelligence and equanimity to smooth them out. The old toxic male understandings are under constant scrutiny -- and deserve to be.

It is a horrific misunderstanding that comedy in the Trump years has become easier. The opposite is true. The problem now is with so many brilliant, truth-telling comics, comedy has become a 21st century way of being in deadly earnest. Comedians have to be a lot smarter and more careful.

Common sense should have told the Motion Picture Academy that Kevin Hart was simply too adolescent a comedian to flll the role that Johnny Carson and Bob Hope and Billy Crystal filled back when the annual show got killer ratings.

These days, it seems, common sense is in escalatingly short supply, it seems to me. Those who've clearly got it, need to be cherished as conspicuously as possible.

Ellen DeGeneres, for instance.

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