Bob Mondello On Oscar Host, Best Picture

The Academy Awards take place on Sunday. Billy Crystal will be back hosting the event after Eddie Murphy dropped out. Audie Cornish talks with movie critic Bob Mondello about the hosting choice and the movies up for best picture.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This Sunday night, a blast from the recent past will take the stage in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BILLY CRYSTAL: (Singing) It's a wonderful night for Oscar, Oscar, Oscar...

CORNISH: Billy Crystal is once again hosting the Oscars, although he was not the first choice. That was Eddie Murphy, but he quit back in November. So Crystal returns. And the Academy puts off for another year the search for the right fit to master the ceremony. For more on this year's Oscars, our movie critic Bob Mondello is here in the studio. Hey there, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hey. Good to be here.

CORNISH: So, first of all, we went and searched for some clips of recent Oscar hosts who have not, shall we say...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: ...been invited back recently.

MONDELLO: Lovely.

CORNISH: Let's take a listen to what we came up with.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ACADEMY AWARDS)

JAMES FRANCO: Anne, I must say you look so beautiful and so hip.

ANNE HATHAWAY: Oh, thank you, James.

FRANCO: Yeah.

HATHAWAY: You look very appealing to a younger demographic as well.

FRANCO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah.

CORNISH: Of course, that was Anne Hathaway and James Franco...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: ...and David Letterman, the...

MONDELLO: And you can hear it going south.

CORNISH: David Letterman.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Bob, why is it so darn hard to find an Oscar host that works?

MONDELLO: Well, the problem is that the Academy is looking for a youthful audience at home, and they're playing to a relatively elderly audience in the hall. And so it's a tough mix. If you go older, nobody tunes in. I mean, that's the theory, anyway. And if you cast younger, then the room goes cold, which is exactly what happened with Anne Hathaway and James Franco. I actually have a theory about what happened that night.

CORNISH: Oh, do tell.

MONDELLO: A lot of people wondered about this. And my feeling is that they're both actors, and that they figured out parts to play for this. And she was going to be young and energetic and very excited about it. And he was going to be ho-hum and, like, not interested. So he came across as not interested, and she came across as trying to cajole him into enjoying the evening. And the evening just fell flat.

CORNISH: Right. Of course, that works for a 45-second bit...

MONDELLO: Right.

CORNISH: ...not so good for three hours...

MONDELLO: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...and it feels so scripted and - which makes me then wonder if that's why Billy Crystal and some other people in the past have been good choices...

MONDELLO: Well...

CORNISH: ...I mean people who play themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Oh, totally. It's an excellent choice to choose Billy Crystal because he's in the line of the Bob Hopes and the Johnny Carsons and all the people who are essentially comedians and who are used to working on their own and to ad-libbing while they're up there. And it's just...

CORNISH: And commanding the stage for hours at a time.

MONDELLO: Exactly.

CORNISH: So let's talk briefly about the movies. Now, are you seeing any trends this year in the films that are getting the most Oscar attention?

MONDELLO: Well, yeah, they're almost all involved in nostalgia of some sort. I mean, the big one is probably "The Artist," which is nostalgic about the death of silent movies. And then there's "Hugo," which is sort of about the birth of silent movies. And "The Help," which is all about the '60s in the South. "Midnight in Paris," which is all about the '20s in Paris. And so you're looking at a lot of pictures that are about looking back and...

CORNISH: Right. I think "The Descendants" is the only film that is actually set in the now.

MONDELLO: Right. And I think that speaks to something about our feelings in general and maybe the Academy's feelings about this year's pictures, which were not necessarily the blockbusters. I mean, that's the other thing. If you look at the blockbusters this year, all of the top 10 pictures, practically, were sequels, so that they are looking back, too, in a way. And it's been a lot of - OK, this year has not been a great year for a lot of people, economically and a lot of other ways. Let's look back.

CORNISH: At the same time, are these movies that we love, that we're going to remember, that are going to be classics? I mean, I have to admit some of them, you know...

MONDELLO: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...I don't find them that memorable right now.

MONDELLO: No. I feel that way too. And I was talking to Linda Holmes, our culture blogger for NPR, and she was saying that a lot of these pictures strike her as eights. And I feel that way too. A bunch of them were in my second 10 when I was doing a list of 10 best. The danger here is it that you hit a picture that wins Best Picture, and then it is totally unmemorable. I think back to, let's say 1968, with "Oliver," which I thought - I mean, what...

CORNISH: The singing orphans.

MONDELLO: Yeah. The singing orphans. Yeah. But "2001" wasn't even nominated that year...

CORNISH: Ah, yes.

MONDELLO: ...well, which is the picture you'll remember for many years.

CORNISH: Sci-fi film, right.

MONDELLO: Right. So...

CORNISH: So, Bob, can we expect any surprises this weekend?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Well, everything will be a surprise to me because I always lose the Oscar pool.

CORNISH: Oh, good.

MONDELLO: I'm just terrible.

CORNISH: I plan on playing with you, then.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: It's a good idea.

CORNISH: NPR's Bob Mondello, thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CRYSTAL: (Singing) That's why the Oscar, that is why the Oscar, that's why Oscar is a tramp.

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