All it took for a good Oscars ceremony was no host. The drama of the 2019 Oscar ceremony was just as captivating (if not more so) than the conventional awards race. With ratings hitting an all-time low last year, ABC and the Academy tried multiple ways to shake up the dusty awards, almost all of which were met with immediate derision and backtracking: the Popular Film Oscar; not airing four categories; not playing all Original Song nominees.
But nothing quite matched the Oscar host roller coaster. Kevin Hart was named Oscar host in December, but quickly stepped down after homophobic tweets resurfaced. From then on, many names were suggested only for the final decision to not have a host at all. The last time that happened, in 1989, was widely regarded as an unmitigated disaster, and given all the desperate decisions so far, things weren't looking good.
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However, on the night itself, the lack of Oscar host was a resounding success. The ceremony was shorter (final runtime came in well under three-and-a-half hours), the presenters fresher, the pacing zippy, and the only things missing were the weak parts. In fact, this was the best Oscars in years, one that took the awards back to the films and celebrating a love of cinema. And it's all rooted in not having a host.
Previous years had seen a variety of talented, experienced, funny performers all choke under pressure. Seth MacFarlane's risque comedy proved too blunt in 2013 (especially his "We Saw Your Boobs" opener), Neil Patrick Harris delivered a string of misfired jokes (and magic tricks) in 2015, and Jimmy Kimmel's two-year stint in 2017-18 was marred by an obsession with "real people" segments. The only recent standouts are Ellen DeGeneres in 2014 and Chris Rock in 2016, and the poorly-aged record-breaking selfie aside, that was more for their overwhelming mediocrity. At this point, Oscar host is a poisoned chalice, one where best case is coming out having fronted a boring show. In that light, it's understandable that nobody would want the job, especially after Hart's dismissal put a spotlight on suitability (Dwayne Johnson says he turned it down).
Where the impact was most felt in how the presenters had proper focus and freedom. With no host attempting to inject humor in-between proceedings, the actors chosen to give out the awards played around more: Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry went all in with zany costumes, James McAvoy and Danai Gurira went loud for sound, Keegan Michael-Key Yondu'd in to introduce "The Place Where Lost Things Go" from Mary Poppins Returns, and John Mulaney and Awkwafina were a delight delivering important short film awards. Every one of those would have been a standout in previous years, yet they all happened within a couple of hours.
With the humor passed onto the presenters and the push to shorten the telecast, that left the show with a lot less filler. While there weren't any real moments of engineered spectacle (or montages), the shaving off of an hour without cutting any awards meant everything moved at a pace and the focus had to be always on the awards. Indeed, the only major segments not about the awards - the presentations, the songs, the Best Picture spotlights - were the Queen opening and the "In Memoriam" montage. Had there been a host, there's no way the balance would have been as strong.
In light of everything that's happened with the Academy this year and the amount of confounding decisions, that the Oscars (the event if not the awards) was such a resounding success is something of a miracle. Indeed, more than just making an entertaining awards ceremony, this hostless 2019 Oscars has provided a way out for the Academy in future years: they don't need a host ever again.