In a surprise move, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen Brett Ratner, director of such popcorn films as "Rush Hour" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," to produce the 2012 Oscar telecast along with veteran producer Don Mischer, academy President Tom Sherak announced Thursday.
The 42-year-old Ratner's youthful movies often do well at the box office but are panned by critics. He produced the R-rated summer comedy "Horrible Bosses" and will see his next directorial effort, the Ben Stiller film "Tower Heist," hit theaters in November.
Ratner, who has never been nominated for an Oscar, seemed stunned by his selection.
"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 Thursday 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 throwing out ideas.
In a statement, Sherak called Ratner "unbelievably creative" and said he knows how to "take risks that are both interesting and inspiring." Dawn Hudson, who became chief executive of the academy this summer, added that "Brett has a really smart and fresh take for the show."
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 important, Ratner said. "I'm sure if it was just me, they'd be even more doubtful than they already are, saying what the hell does he know about a three-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."
In February, Mischer's partner on the show was producer Bruce Cohen, who took home a best picture Oscar for "American Beauty" and was nominated for "Milk."
Cohen and Mischer sought to put a more youthful face on the program, tapping Anne Hathaway and James Franco as hosts .
But the telecast was largely panned by critics and drew just 37.6 million total viewers, down 10% from 2010, according to the Nielsen Co. Still, 2011 saw higher viewership than in 2008 and 2009.
The news of Ratner's hiring comes just two days after the academy's board of governors created a stir by announcing it would present the organization's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Oprah Winfrey. The selection raised questions among some in Hollywood because Winfrey is known more as a TV personality who has been involved in relatively few film projects.