It was announced yesterday that sybaritic director Brett Ratner will produce the next Oscar telecast alongside veteran TV producer Don Mischer.
It is a deliberately diverse duo: Ratner is the forty-something director of action fare like “Rush Hour” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” while Mischer is a seasoned producer of high profile television whose credits include The Obama Inaugural celebration, The Kennedy Center Honors, myriad Super Bowl Halftime Shows and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
For years now, in an attempt to attract a younger audience, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been trying to give the annual telecast a makeover.
The past decade has seen a revolving door of hosts including Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres and experimented with different comedic pairs, such as aging lions Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin (who were funny) as well as last year’s hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway (young, beautiful, but not so funny).
In 2008, producers Bill Condon (director, “Dreamgirls”) and Laurence Mark (producer, “As Good As It Gets”) hired showman Hugh Jackman (“X-Men’s” Wolverine) to romp his way around the proscenium in a program styled after Broadway. Jackman’s musical numbers beat out Jon Stewart’s previous year one-liners and increased ratings from 32 million U.S. viewers to 36.3 million, according to E! online. Baldwin and Martin’s 2010 telecast brought in the highest ratings in recent history with 41.7 million viewers but they dropped again with Hathaway and Franco to 37.6 million in 2011.
As producer, Ratner’s prescription for the troubled telecast is comedy. “Comedy is the key,” Ratner said, according to TheWrap.com. “That’s the most important thing I can accomplish. If people can sit in that theater and laugh, and people can watch at home around the world and laugh, then I’ve accomplished what I want to do. The numbers [ratings] will be what they are.”
Ratner, who is equally as well known for his extracurricular antics as his filmography, brings a distinct popcorn-entertainment sensibility to everything he does, whether it’s throwing a party at his Hillhaven Lodge or directing a Madonna music video. Mischer, who has co-produced the Oscars before, is meant to temper Ratner’s wild side. But frankly, the Oscars could use a little barbarous, untamed fun especially if the awards themselves are a forgone conclusion as they were last year (Was there any doubt “The King’s Speech,” Aaron Sorkin and Natalie Portman would all take home the 8-and-a-half pound golden guy?).
With all eyes on Ratner, we can only wonder one thing: Who will rummage through his designer-filled “ex-girlfriend closet” and escort him down the red carpet?
My guess? His mother.
From my 2008 Jewish Journal profile of Ratner:
The first person I meet when I arrive at Ratner’s house is his mother. Visiting from New York, she sits in the living room of Hilhaven Lodge, talking on the phone in her slightly nasal, Miami-New York inflection. She appears striking in this classic setting, dressed in a yellow cashmere cardigan and art deco frames—her youthful contrivances recall that, having given birth to Ratner out of wedlock at age 16, her own youth was cut short.
Ratner grew up on Miami Beach, where, beginning in preschool, he attended RASG Hebrew Academy until he was expelled in the eighth grade for touching a female classmate. He proudly claims he was kicked out for “negiyah.” During his youth, Ratner’s young mother was more like a sister to him, while his Cuban Jewish maternal grandparents, Mario and Fanita Pressman, raised him. Since Ratner didn’t meet his biological father until he was 16, he called high-powered Miami attorney Al Malnik (a multimillionaire entrepreneur best known for having represented mobster Meyer Lansky) his father. Malnik had a formidable influence on Ratner: “If I wasn’t a director, I’d definitely be a gangster. I’d have to use my street smarts. But with gangsters, money is their God, and I don’t know if I would kill people,” Ratner said.
The well-known story that follows is: After sweet-talking his way onto the “Scarface” set, Ratner dropped out of high school to attend NYU film school, where he was initially rejected for poor grades but eventually managed to charm the dean, who admitted him. Desperate for cash to finish his student film, he sent request letters to many Hollywood directors but only one responded—Steven Spielberg, with a check for $1,000.
“I always knew he would be famous,” his mother, Marsha Ratner-Pratts, tells me, gleaming.