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Who Was The Best Oscars Host Of The Past 25 Years?

11. James Franco and Anne Hathaway (2011). Always beware of courting the "young," particularly two young people who are basically 50-year-olds in grownup clothing. Franco, stripped of all self-referential schtick, turned into an empty suit with nowhere to hide, and Hathaway's desperate attempts to pep up the room made you want to dive under a chair. Whenever someone says, "Hey, try hosting the Oscars, it'll be fun, whaddya got to lose?" one need simply point to these two.

10. Seth McFarlane (2013). McFarlane had a few jokes that landed and was certainly trying—which is more than you can say for those two above—and I've always thought the mean-spiritedness of the show was somewhat overstated by those who reflexively dislike McFarlane's work (this includes me). This was still a shitshow, if just because McFarlane, whatever you think of his wit, just isn't that natural of a performer. The four hours McFarlane hosted the show was the most time he'd ever spent alone in front of an audience like that, and it showed. It's still bizarre they ever asked him.


9. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin (2010). You had a sense the producers really just wanted to ask Baldwin to do it but didn't think him a light enough presence to carry a whole show. (They were probably right.) But the Martin-Baldwin combo—which seemed to exist only because the two had just been in a movie together with Meryl Streep—just never worked. They kept stepping on each other's lines; they showed no actual chemistry; and all told you didn't even get the sense they liked each other all that much. They probably should have just asked Martin to host by himself again.

8. Billy Crystal (1990-93, 1997-98, 2000, 2004, 2012). Sorry, but as supposedly smooth as Crystal is (and I'd argue that smoothness is more smarm than anything else), I found his unrelenting, self-aggrandizing torture to watch. It's hard to remember that Billy Crystal wasn't always 80 years old—how is he only 65 now?—but he has represented that smug, insular, establishment self-satisfaction from the womb. There has never been a more Billy Crystal moment than when he came out during the disastrous Franco-Hathaway show and bathed in the applause as if he were Gollum with his precious. Billy Crystal is the worst.

7. Hugh Jackman (2009). The recent trend toward "gimmick" hosts is more a response to Jackman, oddly, than anyone else on this list. Jackman was competent and fine and painfully dull. He tried to make his opening song an old-timey musical jamboree, but watching it today, it feels elderly, stodgy, and cheesy. (Particularly when you compare it with what Neil Patrick Harris pulls off at the Tonys.) Jackman hosted this show only once, but it felt as if he'd been hosting for decades.

6. David Letterman (1995). It wasn't until I went back and researched this that I remembered Letterman was the host of the Pulp Fiction/Forrest Gump year. (If you're too young to remember, back in 1994 you could figure out pretty quickly if you liked someone based on whether he or she was a Pulp Fiction person or a Forrest Gump person. This was also the Hoop Dreams snub year.) Letterman is remembered as being worse than he actually was, though you never could quite shake the sense that he felt deeply uncomfortable in this environment. (Letterman should never have to say the words "the magic of the movies.") Still, Dave had his moments: Anyone who can get Paul Newman to say "you wanna buy a monkey?" is all right in my book.

5. Chris Rock (2005). Most people remember Rock's stint as host for Sean Penn's stupid, humorless reaction to Rock's mocking Jude Law for being in so many movies, but Rock's monologue was actually pretty hilarious. He wasn't as good at anything else, but then again, Chris Rock has never been good at anything other than monologues and standup. But at that, he's great.

4. Whoopi Goldberg (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002). Whoopi has always fit in strangely well at these things. She's such an odd performer with such a weirdly specific shtick that it wouldn't seem nearly as universal as it is. But she began her career as a stage performer doing one-woman shows, and she has an inherent confidence that works in this setting, along with an ability to do characters other than Whoopi Goldberg, though that seems to have dissipated as she has gotten older. She's too much of a TV "personality" to host now, but there was a time when she felt like a refreshing antidote to Crystal's Catskills bits.

3. Jon Stewart (2006, 2008). Stewart once told Letterman in an interview that the reason neither was that good of a host was because "deep in our hearts, we think it's stupid." The thing that was good about Stewart, better than he even gave himself credit for, is that he is a natural host: If anything, Stewart can be too sincere and self-important, as if he knows that only his mordant sensibility can adequately refract the various doings of the culture. That's why he felt like a solid Oscar host rather than an alien invader coming in to tear down all the curtains (like Letterman). Plus, the fact that he did it means someday they might ask Stephen Colbert, who would be perfect.

2. Ellen DeGeneres (2007, 2014). She wasn't perfect last night—that pizza bit went on way, way too long—but she's still naturally charming and funny, capable of pulling off awkward without things ever getting awkward. (A near-impossible feat in front of an audience of a billion, give or take.) The stars clearly love her, which leads to timeless moments like that Oscar selfie, which pulled off the neat trick of both mocking and celebrating the shows' self-regard. (Safe to say, McFarlane couldn't have gotten those stars together to pose. They would have all been running away.) The reviews this morning have been mixed, but her comfort in the job is obvious. I hope they ask her to do it again. Plus, the Jonah Hill line was terrific.

1. Steve Martin (2001, 2003). The thing to remember about Martin is that, first and foremost, he is a writer. He approaches jokes that way, from the inside out, while still understanding what works as a performer. He is also an Angeleno, a member of this world rather than someone who stands outside it. (L.A. Story is still as close as Los Angeles has to a Manhattan.) He fits in here, which is why he can make jokes about the Oscars and still retain standing when he gives them out. He's also Steve Martin, one of the funniest human beings ever to live. Martin is getting older, slower, and he has been in only one movie in five years. But this is his natural stage. When Martin is involved in something, it gets smarter and funnier. All told, then: Maybe he should avoid the Oscars from now on.

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch. Photos via Getty.

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