The Academy is walking a thin line between wanting an Oscar Show that draws millions of viewers around the world–which will please ABC– and a kudocast that advertises Hollywood in a classy and appealing way –which will please the grown-ups in the room at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday, February 26, 2012. It’s a slippery slope, and I argue that the likes of Bill Condon & Larry Mark (2009) and the late great Laura Ziskin (2002, 2007) provide the model of a show that worked. In the end, it matters less what the producers do with the show than what movies are nominated. If The Lord of the Rings and Avatar are up, there are more viewers. It’s that simple.
So it’s far better to go classy that cheesy, which is why I get worried when Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) enters the mix as the producer of the 84th telecast, with the capable Don Mischer returning for his second turn as producer-director. Ratner is a cheery popular fellow who loves socializing, doesn’t drink, and is skillful at directing mainstream commercials, music videos and movies–Universal’s upcoming Tower Heist, Ratner’s first feature since Rush Hour 3, actually looks promising. (I profiled Ratner in 2007 for Variety.) What Ratner isn’t is classy. He does not have what we would call refined taste. I worry. Remember 1989’s Allen Carr?
“I was so impressed with Brett when I met with him to discuss the Oscar show,” said Academy president Tom Sherak. “He has an incredible love of film and its history and is a true student of the business of movies. He’s unbelievably creative and knows how to take risks that are both interesting and inspiring. Together with Don Mischer – who, by the way, just earned an Emmy nomination for his work on the 83rd Academy Awards – I think these two will give us a fantastic Oscar show that you won’t want to miss.”
“I’m thrilled that Don will again bring his tremendous expertise to the Oscar telecast,” said new Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. “And Brett has a really smart and fresh take for the show. They have great chemistry, and their vision meshed so well with ours.”
“Making movies has been my dream since childhood, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have made several, but the Oscar show is in a league of its own,” said Ratner. “It will be fantastic to work with a live television master like Don to meld the glamour of legendary Hollywood with the enormous talents who thrill moviegoers today.”
Since Miami-born Ratner started off in 1987 with Money Talks, starring Chris Tucker, his eight movies have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Ratner is about to start shooting 39 Clues for DreamWorks, based on the Scholastic book series, followed by Hercules: The Thracian Wars for MGM. Ratner also produces such flicks as Horrible Bosses, Relativity’s untitled Snow White, and documentaries about photographer Helmut Newton and actor John Cazale. He was so high on the doc Catfish that he joined the film as executive producer, a role he also played on the upcoming Seriously Funny – The Comic Art of Woody Allen which will debut on PBS’s American Masters in November.
Sherak is hiring Ratner to make the show accessible and fun. Let’s hope he does that, but without sacrificing the patina of cinephile class that the show also requires.