In a surprise move, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen Brett Ratner, director of popcorn films including "Rush Hour" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," to produce the 2012 Oscar telecast, along with veteran show producer Don Mischer, academy President Tom Sherak announced Thursday.
Ratner, 42, is a filmmaker whose youthful movies are often hits at the box office and misses with critics. He produced the R-rated summer comedy "Horrible Bosses" and will see his next directoral effort, the Ben Stiller movie "Tower Heist," hit theaters in November. In choosing him, the academy has made a sharp break from previous producers, including last year's co-helmer, producer Bruce Cohen, who took home a best picture Oscar for "American Beauty" and was nominated for "Milk."
Ratner, who's never been nominated for an Oscar, seemed stunned by the move. "One of my dreams was just to be a member of the academy. I was shocked when they let me in after 'Rush Hour,' " he said during a joint phone call with Mischer. "And now I sit on the -- what's it called? -- the executive council of the directors' branch, or committee, and we are the ones who vote on which directors get to come in. That's unbelievable. I just love film and wanted to be a filmmaker, but this went beyond my dreams."
Ratner said he was first approached about the job by Sherak a few weeks ago but spent some time mulling it over, and meeting with Mischer, before accepting.The two were scheduled to sit for 45 minutes at the Beverly Glen deli getting to know each other and wound up spending three hours together throwing out ideas.
Ratner said he was comforted that Mischer, who has long experience in live television, would be by his side. "Don's experience and his knowledge of the process and how to execute something like this" is imporant, said Ratner. "I'm sure if it was just me, they'd be even more doubtful then they already are, saying what the hell does he know about a 3-hour live telecast. Having Don here gives me a lot of confidence and as you know I already have a little bit of that."
Ratner has never directed live television but has helmed features, documentaries and music videos, qualifications Mischer believes make him a good partner for the job. "Brett's a risk-taker and loves a challenge. Ideas just flow from him. He's going to make it fun."
For years, the academy has been seeking ways to bolster the sagging ratings for the Oscar telecast, choosing two young stars, Anne Hathaway and James Franco to host the show this past February.
But the show was largely panned by critics and rounded up just 37.6 million total viewers, slumping 10% compared with 2010, according to the Nielsen Co., although those numbers were above the 2008 and 2009 telecast. Worse, the 2011 show also tumbled in the key category of adults ages 18 to 49.
The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012.
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Photo: Director Brett Ratner on the set of the movie "Red Dragon." Credit: Universal.