Hollywood put Donald Trump aside for the night, and the Oscars didn’t miss him a bit.
Jimmy Kimmel, hosting for the second consecutive year and as smooth an emcee as exists on today’s awards landscape, didn’t exactly ignore Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein or any of the other dark shadows over Hollywood, but he didn’t let them cast much of a pall, either.
Trump, in particular, might have expected considerable more abuse, based on Kimmel’s nightly show – or any nightly show for that matter. But while the industry’s annual exercise in self-congratulations had its serious (and some self-serious) moments, those right-wing anti-Hollywood types always pledging to stay away from these things probably wouldn’t have needed any extra blood pressure meds.
Just imagine: This year’s Oscars seemed an altogether less somber affair than the Golden Globes, certainly a historical first.
Did the nearly four-hour running time contain any moments for the Oscar ages? Probably not, unless we’ll remember Frances McDormand, who won Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, getting all the female nominees in the audience to stand. “We all have stories to tell and projects we need financing,” McDormand said, ending her speech with a plea for signed-on-the-dotted-line diversity: “I have two words to say: inclusion rider.”
Tiffany Haddish was charming in her newcomer’s enthusiasm, and Jodie Foster, walking onstage with crutches, had maybe the best line of the night – Streep, Foster said, “I, Tonya’d” her.
Tonight’s big moment should have been the return of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, getting a re-do on last year’s best picture snafu. But the Bonnie and Clyde stars just didn’t dive in with gusto and punk, playing it pretty straight. Sensible, I guess, but really I was hoping for some Bonnie and Clyde “yeah what of it” brashness. Or at least a beret.
And Kimmel himself isn’t really a big moment host. Think Johnny Carson, not Billy Crystal. His unwise effort tonight to answer Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity selfie stunt – he gathered a bunch of the auditorium’s stars and took them across the street to surprise an audience watching a sneak-peek of A Wrinkle in Time – was the evening’s biggest time-waster. If we’re lucky and he’s paying attention, tonight’s theater-hopping gambit should be the last of these smug, unfunny stars-are-just-regular-folks moments.
The simpler jokes and routines suit Kimmel better, as he proved by kicking off the show without one of those over-produced, over-long ego mash-up videos of the Crystal era. Instead, he opted for a quick faux-newsreel opening that presented this year’s attendees in black and white, with Kimmel narrating in old-school Pete Smith style (“Armie was born when a witch put a curse on a Ken doll”). The bit set a fast tone of old Hollywood nostalgia and modern late-night comedy pacing.
That streamlined approach continued into Kimmel’s opening monologue, which somehow managed to include the usual finger-pointing of celebrities, pleading for short speeches (he offered a $17,000 Jet Ski as a bribe for shortest speech, ultimately won by Phantom Thread costumer designer Mark Bridges), got some laughs (“None other than President Trump called Get Out the best first-three-quarters-of-a-movie this year” was a rare Trump joke) and blasted Harvey Weinstein. All while honoring first-time Oscar nominees and diversity groundbreakers.
“If you are a nominee tonight who isn’t making history, shame on you,” Kimmel said.
Maybe its his night-after-night practice with dicey and controversial subjects, but Kimmel tonight showed how easy he can make the whole commentary thing look. The Oscars, he said, “shine a light on positive films, and each and every one of them got crushed by Black Panther this weekend.” He remembers, he said, a time when studios didn’t believe minority or female directors could open a superhero movie, “and I remember that time because it was March of last year.”
Kimmel, who also has two Emmy broadcasts on his resume, kept things moving by dropping quick jokes between presentations. More worked than didn’t: After having noted that Christopher Plummer was the oldest nominee in Oscar history, he later circled back to tell what he claimed was the first joke told back in 1929’s ceremony: “Christopher Plummer is the youngest nominee.”
Okay, that last one doesn’t read particularly funny, but Kimmel made it work.
Another good early moment: Kimmel warned that long-talkers would not be ushered off the stage with gentle music, but by Lakeith Stanfield, the Get Out actor, who then ran onstage to scream his famous line of dialogue that gives the film its title.
The Weinstein scandal and its wide-ranging fall-out wasn’t ignored. “Oscar is the most loved and respected man in Hollywood,” Kimmel said. “He keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and has no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitations.”
Nor did he let non-Weinstein Hollywood off the hook, noting that the disgraced Miramax mogul received the same Academy punishment – a revoked membership – suffered by only one other person: Carmine Caridi, an actor who in 2004 was booted for sharing screeners of Seabiscuit. (Actually, it was Something’s Gotta Give and a few others).
Without any moments to match Oprah Winfrey’s powerful Golden Globes speech – doubtful any of tonight’s honorees will be touted for 2020 – some winners and presenters made stronger impressions than others. James Ivory, winning for his Call Me By Your Name adapted screenplay, sweetly remembered his late filmmaking partners Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Basketball legend Kobe Bryant, winning for his animated short Dear Basketball, got in a perfect dig at conservative pundit Laura Ingraham without even mentioning her name. “Basketball players are really supposed to shut up and dribble,” he said, then launched into his thank-yous for winning an Oscar.
Other elements of the show – credit to producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd – mostly avoided the traditional Oscar over-production. Performances of the nominated songs, with the exception of an overwrought “This Is Me” by Keala Settle and a seeming cast of hundreds, stayed true to the spirit of the music, if sometimes a little tidied up: Sufjan Stevens ditched his usual trucker hat & tee for a shiny, striped Nudie-style tux to perform his shoulda-won “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name.
Same goes for the clip packages, well-chosen from the In Memoriam roll-call (with Eddie Vedder serenading) to the Academy’s audience thank-you for 90 years of movie-going. Even the introductions to the award categories seemed particularly astute: the supporting actress contest was launched with clips seemingly chosen for their modern relevance, with Vanessa Redgrave in Julia asking Jane Fonda “Are you as angry now as you used to be?” and Estelle Parsons in Bonnie and Clyde demanding her fair share of the Barrow Gang’s loot.
Not really such a long jump from that to inclusion riders.