Earlier this week, as Oscar host rumors circled the web, I tweeted this: I sure hope they can get 1988 Eddie Murphy to host the Oscars and not 2011 Eddie Murphy.
It’s an obvious joke, really – gee, Eddie Murphy used to make good movies and now he doesn’t – but there was more to it than just that. I picked 1988 not because that was the year of Coming to America, one of his last great efforts before his career spiraled into a world of kid flicks, fat suits, and whatever Pluto Nash was supposed to be, but because that was the year of his infamous Oscar rant.
It was a weird evening all around. This was the night where Chevy Chase greeted the crowd with “Good evening, Hollywood phonies,” the night a writers’ strike meant presenters had to ad lib on stage, the night when Pee-Wee Herman shared screen time with RoboCop. Then came Murphy.
Before revealing the winner for Best Picture, Murphy admitted to the crowd he originally didn’t want to come to the show, then went on a tear about the Academy’s failure to recognize black actors, half-joking about how “it’s about every twenty years we get one.” (His tongue-not-so-in-cheek prediction that no black performers would win again until 2004 was both off the mark – Denzel Washington and Whoopi Goldberg would win statues, both in supporting categories, within the following few years – and eerily on target – it wasn’t until fourteen years later that black actors would win in a lead category.) Watching Murphy rant, you can see how he’s realized this is his one chance to speak his mind on the Oscar stage and how he’s made peace with the cost of doing so, letting slip with “I’ll probably never win an Oscar for saying this.”
Take that attitude and stir in whatever resentment Murphy still has following his infamous loss to Alan Arkin a few years back, and what you get is a guy who has no real reason to like the Academy. So when the choice for Murphy to host the Oscars was made official this morning, my first thoughts went not to “oh, man, it’s the guy from Norbit.” Instead, I smiled a little, hoping against hope that Murphy will decide he just doesn’t give a damn. If that’s the case, we could have a situation similar to Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes – a host eager to take the piss out of the proceedings. Murphy is still a very smart and very funny guy (even if his projects of late have been lacking in both), and a host who’s clever and carefree has the potential to stir things up in all the right ways.
Granted, we’re talking about an Oscar night co-produced by Brett Ratner, who could very likely push Murphy to keep things predictably middlebrow. This is why I fully expect to see Murphy show up in at least one Rick Baker fat suit. He’ll be tame and do some easy jokes in the voice of Donkey. There could be a montage celebrating mediocre action-comedies.
But if we’re lucky, we might get an angry Eddie Murphy who doesn’t give a crap. Fingers crossed.