Boring Oscar shows aren’t the worst thing in the world. They’re long and forgettable, but even the most exciting Oscar broadcasts are long and forgettable — except when envelopes get mixed up. Sadly, that kind of thing doesn’t happen two years in a row.
Among the moments we’ll be forgetting from Sunday’s 90th annual Academy Awards show are a few pretty good jokes from its host, the recently canonized St. James Kimmel the Just (formerly known simply as late-night guy Jimmy Kimmel), whose easygoing talent for breaking the ice was probably the best way to get through a year in which all the real talk was about Hollywood’s systemic failures as a place to work. A boring Oscar show is good for an industry trying to shuck off its past.
Kimmel played with that idea in the show’s opener, styled like an old Hollywood newsreel with modern-day jokes: “Imagine a country with a black leader,” Kimmel said in an old-fashioned announcer’s voice, referring to the character played by Chadwick Boseman in the “Black Panther” blockbuster. “Wouldn’t that be swell?” A joke about President Trump quickly followed, when the grainy footage zoomed in on “Panther” co-star Lupita Nyong’o: “She was born in Mexico and raised in Kenya — let the tweetstorm from the president’s toilet begin.” (There was a Hope Hicks joke, too. And a Mike Pence joke.)
Kimmel, who promised the evening’s nominee a free Jet Ski (presented a la “Price is Right” by Helen Mirren) for the shortest acceptance speech, also dutifully saluted the Time’s Up moment, pointing out the Oscar statuette’s ability to keep its hands to itself, as well as its notable lack of a penis.
Speaking of which, conspicuously absent was Harvey Weinstein, banished forever from the academy. “What happened with Harvey and what’s happening all over is long overdue,” Kimmel said. “If we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace — if we can do that — women will only have to deal with that every other place they go.”
And, as he must, Kimmel addressed last year’s envelope screw-up (Only a year ago? Already a year ago?), when presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were given the wrong envelope and wound up giving the best picture Oscar to “La La Land” instead of the real winner, “Moonlight.” It all started, he surmised, when he declined to do a comedy bit with the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants entrusted with keeping track of the envelopes. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do comedy with the accountants.’ And then the accountants went and did comedy on their own.”
What some viewers remember most about that incident is how unfair it seemed to Dunaway and Beatty — elder abuse! — and lo, the two were given a second shot in this year’s show, successfully presenting best picture to “The Shape of Water.”
Frances McDormand continued her winning streak, getting the best actress Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” She gave the night’s most memorable speech, urging every woman nominated in any category to stand up proudly. “We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Invite us into your office in a couple of days.” She signed off with two words: “Inclusion rider.” (It’s a contract thing. You’ll figure it out.)
The rest of the awards were a mixed bag, which rarely helps an already long telecast. Best actor went to Gary Oldman for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”; best director went to “Shape of Water’s” Guillermo del Toro.
Other notable victors included Jordan Peele for the original screenplay to his hit horror/social-metaphor film “Get Out”; Allison Janney, who won best supporting actress for her portrayal of figure skater Tonya Harding’s hardhearted mother in “I, Tonya”; and 89-year-old James Ivory, who won for adapted screenplay for “Call Me By Your Name.”
Meanwhile: Do you like clips of old movies? Clips and clips and clips of great movies made before the current enlightenment? Clips that are already permanently implanted on your movie-loving brain? The 90th Oscars, always elated at the sight of a round number, spent a lot of Sunday’s show with that kind of stuff. Some viewers would watch three hours of clips, but a far more memorable way of celebrating the past comes in the form of Hollywood’s amazing octogenarians and nonagenarians — Rita Moreno, in the same dress she wore in 1962. Eva Marie Saint, at 93, as grand a presence as she was when she won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in 1954’s “On the Waterfront.”
In one of the show’s highlights, a trio of actresses (Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek) emphatically introduced a long clip of the new Hollywood (Kumail Nanjiani, Ava DuVernay) talking optimistically about changes that are evident and changes that will hopefully keep coming.
It’s hard to notice from year to year, but the Oscar telecast has changed in recent iterations, intentionally or otherwise. Viewers keep peeling off by the many thousands, but the show has blessedly become more efficient — and thanks to a host such as Kimmel, less of an extravaganza of ego.
It was only five years ago, after all, that host Seth MacFarlane opened — very badly, especially in hindsight — with a song called “We Saw Your Boobs,” about actresses who have done on-screen nudity.
In his second year, Kimmel has shown that the telecast needn’t be anything but sharp and sure, with a funny host whose bits are manageable, shareable and — best of all — forgotten. We’re not making showbiz history here; we’re just trying to get through another Oscar night.
Kimmel brought out some sharper jokes — about Barbra Streisand’s cloned dogs — as the show headed toward the final stretch, but his best bit of the night mirrored one from last year, in which everyday people on a Hollywood bus tour were brought into the Dolby Theatre during the live telecast to meet some of the A-listers sitting in the Oscars audience.
This year, as an appreciation “to the moviegoing public” (you know, those schlubs who still pay $12 or more to go see a movie in a theater), Kimmel invited some stars in the audience (Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, director del Toro, Mark Hamill and Nyong’o) to traipse with him next door to the vaunted Chinese Theatre, where an audience was watching a preview screener of the upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time.” Having shocked the audience, the stars then handed out free snacks — including by hot-dog gun. It’s a very Kimmel kind of thing to do, and it’s Oscar night’s good luck that it’s a Kimmel kind of world right now.
(And for those who couldn’t endure all 3 hours and 50 minutes of the show, the winner of the Jet Ski was Mark Bridges, who won best costume design for “Phantom Thread.” His acceptance speech clocked in at 36 seconds.)