The producers of this year’s Oscars have begun announcing the presenters for this year’s ceremony, a list that includes the previous ceremony’s big winners—that’s Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett, if your memory’s fuzzy—as well as John Travolta, the previous ceremony’s biggest loser. Travolta achieved instant infamy with his introduction of singer Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem.” Booking him for a return visit to the ceremony is the most brilliant move the producers could have made.
Not everyone, surely, will agree; a British tabloid said that Travolta would be presenting “despite [his] ‘Adele Dazeem’ mistake last year.” It seems quite the opposite: Travolta will walk onstage at the Dolby Theatre with more heat than any other presenter, more anticipation as to what he will say or whom he will introduce. It’s the sort of moment that, if handled right, could salvage Travolta’s reputation—and either way, will make for great television.
The Oscars self-consciously cultivate their image as an institution with particularly memorable and iconic moments that are altogether distinct from the movies they’ve honored—Sally Field’s “You like me!” speech, Cuba Gooding Jr. shouting over the orchestra, David Niven wryly commenting on a streaker. Last year’s ceremony had at least two, in the form of host Ellen DeGeneres’s “Oscar selfie” and Travolta’s mispronunciation. The former was a carefully choreographed celebrity moment, well-executed and safe; the latter was truly electric for how strange it was. To not make reference to it, at the very least, would be a missed opportunity, and Travolta’s involvement ensures both that it’s all in good fun and that there’s the possibility, however slight, of another misreading.
And now, more than ever, the Oscars need that sense of danger. Jennifer Lawrence’s trip on the way to the podium, in 2013, made her win one of the most memorable in recent years, simply because it broke up the pattern of what was supposed to happen. In recent years, the ceremony has been handed over to musicians who perform with 100 percent competence and confidence; the banter between presenters has largely lost its stagy weirdness; and the winners have been encouraged by producers to keep their speeches nice and brief. The slate for this year’s ceremony is unpromisingly star-studded, with a glut of sure-to-be-tasteful music performances (everyone from Jennifer Hudson to jazz singer Lady Gaga) and a set of utterly professional stars booked as presenters. Only, so far, Travolta would seem to show any promise for edge or quirk.
John Travolta earned a spot at the Oscars presumably to redeem himself, but he is the one who redeemed last year’s Oscars, in a few seconds turning them from something brittle and unremarkably classy into a live spectacle worth talking about. He deserves a chance to prove he can read the name of whomever he’s presenting correctly. But viewers won’t be in the wrong for secretly hoping he, or another presenter, gets tongue-tied.