Criticism is a field overwhelmingly dominated by (surprise, surprise) white men. Not anymore. In Refinery29's monthly series, our movie critic gives fresh consideration to the movies, actors and pop culture moments that shaped entire generations. It’s time for a rewrite.
At the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, held at L.A.’s Kodak Theater on February 27, 2011, Colin Firth threatened the audience with dance moves while accepting the award for Best Actor for The King’s Speech. Melissa Leo dropped an uncensored F-bomb on-stage in the middle of her Best Supporting Actress speech for The Fighter. Jennifer Lawrence achieved instant ingenue status in that red dress; and Gwyneth Paltrow — let me repeat that: Gwyneth Paltrow — performed an original song from the underrated 2010 classic Country Strong. But those memorable moments, which by all rights belong in any Oscars montage, have largely been forgotten. Instead, all we remember from that night is then-host Anne Hathaway basically doing anything — singing, dancing, laughing like she’d just sucked in nitrous oxide, flailing wildly — to make us forget that her co-host, James Franco, appeared to be falling asleep on his feet beside her.
Much like Rob Lowe’s disastrous 1983 Snow White musical number, the notorious Hathaway/Franco hosting debacle has become the stuff of failed Oscars lore. It’s the automatic fallback answer to any question about what not to do at an awards show — or any public event, really. Hathaway herself has been known to joke about it — just last year, she addressed the roiling controversy around the lack of 2020 Oscars host by posting a picture of herself and Franco on Instagram, quipping: “No matter what happens with today’s show, just remember, it’s already been worse. Happy Oscars!,” she captioned the photo.
It’s a smart move on her part, one that makes her seem simultaneously cool and above it, an image she’s slowly been able to cultivate after years of Hathahate. But Hathaway’s ongoing willingness to poke fun at herself only underscores what makes that whole situation so frustrating in hindsight. Watching the show a decade later, it’s clear that both hosts were ill-prepared for what was to come. In fact, as we enter our second year without any hosts, the idea that two of our biggest box office stars would even chance to put themselves in such a harsh spotlight feels otherworldly. But what’s also crystal clear is that Hathaway was not the problem. Yes, she was overly enthusiastic and theatrical and passionate — but she was hosting the Oscars! Also, that’s who Anne “call me Annie” Hathaway is. Her behavior only truly seemed over the top when put side-by-side with Franco, whose total lack of affect led many to believe he was stoned. (For the record, he says he was not.) In other words, this is a story of a woman trying her very best to just do her job, and a man barely caring enough to show up. And guess who reaped the consequences?
At the time, the backlash was swift. Critics excoriated the pair in the days following the event, though many, to their credit, noted that Hathaway had tried to hold up her end.
"Anne Hathaway at least tried to sing and dance and preen along to the goings on, but Franco seemed distant, uninterested, and content to keep his Cheshire-cat-meets-smug smile on display throughout,” Tim Goodman wrote for The Hollywood Reporter.
“At least Hathaway was in there pitching throughout — unlike her co-host, who sometimes seemed to be preparing for a remake of Dazed and Confused," USA Today’s Robert Blanco wrote.
This wasn’t just outsiders’ perception. Interviewed about the event in a recent in-depth piece for The Ringer, Oscars writer Jordan Rubin told Mara Reinstein that the two hosts’ different work ethics became apparent in the months leading up to the big night. Hathway made herself available to workshop ideas, while Franco, then a teacher at NYU, was almost never around. Once the ceremony rolled around, the clash was inevitable.
“She showed up ready to play and committed 110%,” Rubin said. “And he was a great guy but often looked like he had just woken up from a nap. It’s almost like you’re showing up to a tennis court and one person decided that they were going to play in the U.S. Open and the other wanted to play in jeans and just kind of hit a few balls.”
But as the memory of the night faded, so did our ire at Franco, who kept his image as a guy who was just too cool to care about an establishment institution like the Academy Awards (despite also being a nominee that night for his performance in 127 Hours). Hathaway, meanwhile, would go on to win her first Oscar two years later in 2013, which only fueled her reputation as a goody-goody, a girl who just tried so damn hard.
It’s an interpretation that’s especially ironic, given that according to Hathaway, Franco had to convince her to take the gig. “Can I dish some tea?” she told People in a 2019 interview. “I turned that gig down, and James is the one that convinced me to do it.” Beyond that, Hathaway hasn’t publicly lambasted Franco in any way.
Franco, on the other hand, did nothing to dispel the idea of Hathaway as the problem. In fact, he piled on in multiple interviews when asked about the experience. In April 2011, he addressed his total lack of participation on the Late Show. “People said I was under the influence, “ he told David Letterman, himself a notoriously bad Oscars host. “I've thought about it. I think I know why. I love her, but Anne Hathaway is so energetic, I think the Tasmanian Devil would look stoned standing next to Anne Hathaway.” Hathaway responded graciously to his unflattering comment in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, saying “I let James know that a whirling dervish is a more flattering comparison than a Tasmanian devil. I called him, and we e-mailed a bit.”
Hathaway, who genuinely loves movies, and isn’t afraid to say it — with feeling — is a natural choice to host an event that demands both bombastic grandeur and self-deprecation.
"Everyone sort of hates Anne Hathaway, and I've explained that I do, too, and I don't even know why sometimes," Stern said. “She's just so affected [and] actress-y that even when she wins an award she's out of breath, and then she has the standard joke that sounds like it's [been] written [for her]. It all seems so scripted and acted."
"I'm not an expert on — I guess they're called 'Hatha-haters' — but I think that's what maybe triggers it,” Franco replied, completely alleviating himself of culpability for his soporific performance. He doesn’t hate Anne Hathaway, but knows that many other people do. If Howard Stern wants to point that out, Franco is ready to pile on.
His reaction is infuriating, and not only because it’s a clear case of a woman having to make jokes at her own expense to save face while a man throws her under the bus in his defense. Our blind acceptance of his framing is another example of Hollywood turning a blind eye to bad behaviour.
Franco’s taken advantage of that selective attention more than once. Recently, actress Charlyne Yi resurfaced allegations made against Franco in 2018, when five women accused him of sexual misconduct. (Franco denied the allegations.) A lawsuit brought by actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal was settled in 2021, though Franco initially called their claims “salacious,” as well as “false and inflammatory.” Still, Franco has yet to face real public consequences. In 2014, he admitted to hitting on a 17-year-old girl on Instagram, chalking it up to “bad judgement.” Days later, longtime friend and collaborator Seth Rogen made light of the incident during his monologue on Saturday Night Live. Of course, not being fully present during a job as host of the Oscars isn’t nearly as serious as sexual misconduct or preying on underage women. But Franco’s trajectory in the aftermath of that moment is part of pattern: He, and so many like him, have been enabled by a system that demands nothing more of them than to show up — and excellence from everyone else.
And the thing is, after a recent rewatch of the infamous show, Hathaway isn’t nearly as bad a host as she’s remembered to be in the collective public consciousness. There are some dated jokes in the monologue, and what she’s since called her “cheerleader energy” does grow stronger as she realizes that the man standing next to her is not going to shake off that stupor alone. But had Hathaway been paired with someone who could match her energy, things probably would have gone differently. Her multiple costume changes? Flawless. An entire song shading future Greatest Showman Hugh Jackman? Destined to go viral. Even the traditional introductory bit showing her and Franco walking through the Best Picture nominees, Inception-style, is actually fairly well-executed. The failure of this entire endeavor comes down to Franco channeling his inner Daniel Desario — the character he played in Freaks and Geeks — having found the ideal Lindsay Weir-type to lean on for the answers to the test.
I, for one, would love to see Hathaway host the Oscars again. She’s actually the perfect type of performer for that over the top, glamorous, extremely earnest event. Let’s face it, the Oscars are cheesy, and at times cringey. That’s why we watch them. And Hathaway, who genuinely loves movies, and isn’t afraid to say it — with feeling — is a natural choice to host an event that demands both bombastic grandeur and self-deprecation. Plus, a decade later, she’s now reached the level of A-list stardom that would enable her to make the right kind of cheeky jokes, skirting the line without really offending anyone.
Bring on the Daphne Kluger energy! Embrace the Grand High Witch camp! Rarely has a woman ever been allowed to host a major Hollywood event without a male co-star, and well, we’ve seen the consequences. If a double act is required, pair her with Rosie Perez, who hasn’t been invited back to the Oscars since 1994, or Sandra Oh, who did such an amazing job at the 2019 Golden Globes, or newcomer Dominique Fishback, whose enthusiasm would make even the Grinch smile — there are any number of gifted performers who deserve their chance to lead Hollywood’s biggest night. And while we’re at it, let’s bring back Gwyneth Paltrow for an encore performance of “Country Strong.” Now that’s a one-two punch.