Are You Free in 6 Months?

This is usually down-time for Oscar watching – the two-month lull after Cannes is a good time to recuperate and gear up for the season kick-off at Venice/Telluride/Toronto in early September. And that’s still true when it comes to the films, anyway; but the Academy caught some of us off-guard today b announcing that they have, in fact, already locked down a host for the 2014 Oscar ceremony. Joining returning producers Craig Zaden and Neil Meron (perhaps we’ll get a 10-year anniversary tribute to their TV movie production of “The Music Man” this time) will be a familiar face: Ellen DeGeneres.

Yes, the daytime talk-show giant will return for her second go-round as Oscar host, following her pleasant though generally unremarkable guidance through the 2007 show. I honestly can’t remember any of her bits from that show except her vacuuming under Martin Scorsese’s feet – which is better than being remembered for terrible cross-dressing gags or misogyny, I suppose. My personal conclusion for Seth MacFarlane last year was probably around a B or B-, but it’s clear that despite increased ratings for the telecast, the “Family Guy” creator’s performance wasn’t very popular within the Academy. So once again they’ve reeled in their “get the young viewers!” urge and gone with a safe, broadly pleasing choice. Given their track record going the other way, I’m OK with that.

The relative cautiousness of this pick is also probably related to why the announcement came so early this year. This year, the Academy’s Board of Governors is a little less concerned with the Oscars ceremony and a little more interested in the fundraising process for the ambitious Academy Museum proposal. As someone interested in archiving and film history, I’m actually thrilled that AMPAS seems to be focusing its efforts on opening up its massive collections to the public. If they want to just get the Oscars settled now so they don’t have to worry too much about having another Brett Ratner debacle on their hands, more power to them.

It’s also worth noting that the announcement comes only two days after the Academy named Cheryl Boone Isaacs its new president – the first African-American president in AMPAS’ history, and only the second woman (Fay Canin served from 1979 to 1981). Combine that with re-hiring Ellen, and you’ve got a promising nod in the direction of diversity from this stodgy old-white-man’s club.

It might not have the instant zing factor of, say, another Tina Fey/Amy Poehler Golden Globes, but the prospect of another Ellen DeGeneres Oscar ceremony is a fun one, to me. It seems unlikely that we’ll get many song-and-dance numbers this year, but perhaps she’ll bring along some of her famous friends (Neil Patrick Harris? c’mon, Neil Patrick Harris).

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