Jeff’s Picks for 2019 Oscar Host: From John Cena to Leslie Jones

     December 1, 2018

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To host, or not to host? That is the question. The 91st Academy Awards are right around the corner, and the show still doesn’t have a host. That’s rare, but not unprecedented. The Academy even waited until early January one year. But now that November is coming to an end, it is time to begin speculating as to who will receive the golden microphone and a global audience of tens of millions.

When I posed this question to most of my co-workers, many of them suggested Dwayne Johnson, but I just don’t see him as a realistic choice. He’s so busy with so many projects, and there’s just no real upside for him to do it. Not at the height of his career. Others questioned the need for a host at all, and it’s true, we’ve spent so much time worrying about who will host, that no one has considered whether the Academy should experiment with eliminating the position altogether. There should be more pre-taped packages. This is Hollywood… they’re used to multiple takes and special effects and finding the magic in the editing room. By forcing them to put on a 100% live production, you’re forcing everyone to be something that they’re not. After all, the Oscars aren’t the Tonys.

One very important clue as to the identity of who the host may be, unsurprisingly, is the identity of the producer. If I was Donna Gigliotti, I’d ask the people I’ve worked with in the past to gauge their interest, and there are two pairings that really intrigue me. One from Hidden Figures, the other from Silver Linings Playbook. There will be people or scenarios on the list below that you may feel contradict my earlier stance about The Rock, and I understand that, but just hear me out, because I guarantee this will be one of the more unique lists of Oscar host hopefuls that you’ll read on the internet.

Keep in mind that I ruled a bunch of people out. So, apologies to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (perfect for the Globes), John Mulaney and Nick Kroll (perfect for the Indie Spirits), Amy Schumer (too divisive), Tiffany Haddish (she ain’t ready yet, sorry), all the network late-night hosts (including the Jimmys), and singers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Justin Timberlake, who swear they aren’t interested in the time-consuming and high-pressure gig.

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Image via NBC

Drake and Leslie Jones – When I ask people who should host the Oscars, many suggest actors and actresses who have little to no experience performing in front of a live audience, and it’s important to remember that the Oscars are a live show. That kind of experience is invaluable. And both Drake and Jones have it. Jones is always funny on Saturday Night Live, particularly when she’s directly addressing the camera on Weekend Update, and she’s a strong woman of color who brought eyeballs to the Summer Olympics with her commentary. SNL may air on a rival network, but it’s not like ABC is airing any competition in that time slot, and even though she’s on the show, I don’t think of her as NBC talent in the same way I associate Jimmy Fallon with the network. Meanwhile, Drake has also thrived on SNL, and the former Degrassi actor could bring in a younger audience to help boost the show’s sagging ratings. These two would make a fun pairing, and I know at least one producer in the Oscar race this season who would love to see Jones get a chance, no matter who she’s paired with.

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Image via Sony Pictures

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly – Put these guys in their Step Brothers tuxedos and imagine them trading barbs on the Dolby stage. If I was Tom Rothman, I’d encourage them to take the gig, then move Holmes & Watson out of a crowded Christmas corridor and release it in February or March, drafting off the publicity that the Oscars would bring. The Oscars could use some Shake N’ Bake and these are the perfect guys to bring the laughs that the show so desperately needs each year.

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Images via Disney-Marvel/WB-DC

Chris Pine, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pratt – There would be little upside for one of the Hollywood Chrises to host on their own, but if they all did it together (three of the four would also suffice) it would instantly make the Oscars a must-see event. None of them really have a movie in strong contention outside of the VFX and sound categories, so there wouldn’t be much of a problem in that regard. I just don’t see how this idea could go wrong, especially if Pine or Evans (who have the most experience performing live on stage) took lead emcee duties. You could also just get the original Avengers to host in anticipation of the fourth film in that blockbuster franchise.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg – For the first time since 2009, Tom Cruise does not have a movie out next year. For Cruise superfans such as myself, that’s a long wait. Cruise is still a Movie Star in a way that not even Dwayne Johnson is right now, but Cruise also has to know that his Q-score isn’t as high as it used to be, and the Oscars might be the perfect opportunity to court an audience that wants to see him show a little versatility outside of the Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher franchises. I mean, Tropic Thunder was 10 years ago. Maybe it’s time for Cruise to tell some jokes again and show the world why he’s still The Man.

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Image via Instagram/@NBCSNL

Bill Murray and Bill Hader – Who needs the Jimmys when you’ve got the Bills? Murray could totally host the Oscars on his own, obviously, but I like the idea of pairing him with a younger comedian, and it’s hard for me to picture Eichner getting the gig paired with Julie Klausner even though they had great comic chemistry on Difficult People. Murray would be deadly alongside anyone, of course, but these two represent two different generations of comedy.

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Images via Netflix/Universal

Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann – To me, these two are Comedy royalty. Mann is coming off a genuine studio hit in Blockers ($93 million worldwide on a budget of $21 million), and Apatow delivered one of Netflix’s funniest, most poignant standup specials of the year. Apatow could even figure out a way to incorporate his band of merrymen, though after his own hosting stint, James Franco may be banned from the Oscars stage until further notice. I’m just saying, it’d be fun to have an actual couple host the Oscars together, and Apatow and Mann would be a lot better than, say, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Jennifer Lawrence… and Robert De Niro – An unlikely pairing on paper, sure, but they shared the screen in both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, and they appeal to two different audiences (and generations). People say De Niro is getting older and maybe not remembering his lines like he used to, but I don’t buy it. He’s one of the greatest actors ever, if not the greatest, and I bet he could rise to the occasion again. Lawrence could bring out the best in him, plus she needs to remind everyone why she was America’s Sweetheart just a few short years ago. As for Bobby D, you corral some appearances from famous co-stars Al Pacino and Ben Stiller, and bada boom, he’s got the twinkle in his eye again and delivers a magical evening. Plus, this is supposed to be The Year of Bradley Cooper, their Silver Linings co-star, so that would be a fitting coincidence.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer – Gigliotti’s last movie was Hidden Figures, and the more I think about it, the more I think, why not these two? They’d be great! Taraji loves the limelight, and Octavia has the perfect attitude. You just know she could dish it out to her fellow celebs and they wouldn’t hold it against her since she’s such a sweet person in real life. I doubt they could get Janelle Monae onboard for this, but it’s worth a shot, and even if she declined, Henson and Spencer have more than enough sparkle to make it work on their own. One woman of color would be wonderful, but two would be even better, particularly this year, given the Academy’s well-publicized diversity push.

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