As some aging men take trophy wives in order to feel young, Hollywood embraces generational change by changing partners — in its case, Oscar hosts.
On Sunday night, when James Franco, 32, and Anne Hathaway, 28, take the Kodak Theatre stage at the 83rd annual Academy Awards, they will be the youngest emcees since 1975. That year, Goldie Hawn, 30, performed ceremonial duties.
Yet when organizers tapped Franco and Hathaway to be the new faces of Oscar, little did they know that there would be so many other fresh faces among the 2010 nominees — whose numbers include Franco himself for his role in "127 Hours."
"You'd probably have to go back to 1977 to see this infusion of young blood," says Len Klady, veteran entertainment reporter for moviecitynews.com. He refers to the year that Richard Dreyfuss, 30, became the youngest best actor winner (to that date, for "The Goodbye Girl") and 30ish George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were among the director nominees.
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Or, says "Inside Oscar" author Damien Bona, you'd have to go back to 1974, when Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges and Robert De Niro competed for actor honors (De Niro took best supporting) and Francis Ford Coppola walked off with a best director statuette (for "The Godfather, Part II").
This year, the pool of contenders looks more like a fountain of youth.
Nine of the 20 acting nominees are 40 or younger. Among them: supporting actress hopeful Hailee Steinfeld, 14 ("True Grit"); Jennifer Lawrence, 20 ("Winter's Bone"); Jesse Eisenberg, 27 ("The Social Network"); Natalie Portman, 29 ("Black Swan"); and Christian Bale, 37 ("The Fighter").
And this year, "True Grit" directors Joel and Ethan Coen (respectively, 56 and 53) are the graybeards among the best director nominees. Exclude them and the average age of this year's director contenders is 40. When the Coens, long the class clowns of the academy, look like its elder statesmen, something is happening, right?
"I'm hesitant to pigeonhole a year on a demographic basis," says Leonard Maltin, host of "Maltin on Movies" for Reelzchannel. "I think it's a roll of the dice. The academy can only nominate people who are in movies."
And a lot of people in the acclaimed movies of 2010 are young.
They are the college-aged Facebook founders of "The Social Network" building the better mousetrap. Or the ballerinas in "Black Swan" praying that the principal dancer will bow out and make way for their rise.
They are the driven teenagers in "True Grit" and "Winter's Bone," one hellbent on seeking justice for her father's killer, the other on settling scores with her absent father.
They are the doomed lovers of "Blue Valentine," the scrapping boxers of "The Fighter," the feuding bank robbers of "The Town."
"The irony," says Tim Appelo, who writes the Oscar blog for the industry trade paper the Hollywood Reporter, "is that this is the year of the grown-up movie."
From his perspective, "The studios are trying to pack ... young buns into theater seats by packing the parts with young 'uns."
Pundits play up the generational angle of this year's nominees, noting that best-picture front-runners "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" are a clear-cut contest between young and old, future-looking and backwards-looking, bleeding-edge filmmaking and conventional storytelling. Their respective directors, David Fincher and Tom Hooper, both happen to be 38.
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The live Oscar awards show will air at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC and KAKE, Channel 10.