Set against a backdrop of political upheaval, sexual harassment and school shootings, Oscar’s 90th anniversary celebration could have been one of the most emotionally charged ceremonies in recent years. Instead, thanks to a superb sophomore hosting job by Jimmy Kimmel and a significant nostalgia factor, this year’s Oscar ceremony was a well-paced celebration of the best of Hollywood. And they opened the right envelope! Check out the full list of winners here.
After a short black-and-white parody of old newsreels Kimmel wasted no time addressing the accounting elephant in the room — last year’s historic Best Picture mix-up — by delivering a word of warning to the nominees: “This year, when you hear your name called, don’t get up right away.”
Kimmel said early in his monologue that his goal was to keep the evening positive, and he largely succeeded, particularly when encouraging people to support movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo. Referencing the success of superhero films like “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman,” Kimmel had one of the best barbs of the night. “I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie,” he said, “and the reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year.”
What Kimmel managed to do so well was address the issues that were on everyone’s mind while still keeping the evening light. He delved into the issue of harassment in Hollywood by pointing out the reason that the Oscar is the most respected man in Hollywood: “Just look at him. He keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and most importantly, no penis at all.”
Overall there was a surprisingly old-fashioned charm to Kimmel’s delivery, reminiscent of great Oscar hosts like Bob Hope and Billy Crystal. There were jokes about agents, Meryl Streep’s ubiquitous presence, and the astounding box-office success of “Black Panther.” There were jokes for (and about) people of all ages: Christopher Plummer representing old age, and Timothee Chalamet representing the young crowd. The jokes were both funny and congenial, and the result was an atmosphere of relaxation. Like the best Oscar hosts, Kimmel kept the evening positive and truly funny. He didn’t dwell on politics, which in such a highly charged atmosphere proved incredibly refreshing.
But Kimmel was biting as well, taking the academy to task for revoking character actor Carmine Caridi‘s membership just for sharing screeners when the only other person who was ever expelled from the organization was Harvey Weinstein for years of sexual harassment and abuse. Then there were the requisite jabs at the Republican party, with Kimmel targeting Vice President Mike Pence with a well-placed “Call Me By Your Name” joke.
A feeling of nostalgia permeated the ceremony. First there was the Oscar stage itself, a beautifully extravagant and ornate set that gave the evening a sense of old-fashioned glamor, although presenter Jane Fonda thought it resembled the Orgasmatron from her classic film ‘Barbarella.” Even the musical numbers seemed delightfully old-fashioned, particularly a colorful performance of Oscar-winner “Remember Me” from “Coco” and a rousing “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.”
The producers made a wise decision by airing montages of past winners prior to each acting category, which gave the ceremony even more of a sense of history. And then there were some of the presenters: Rita Moreno danced her way onto the stage, and Eva Marie Saint hilariously pointed out that she is actually older than Oscar and then gave a touching tribute to her late husband. And speaking of montages, which can often be tedious, the academy put together a boffo one honoring movie audiences.
But one particular movie-going-audience got more than just a thank you montage. Kimmel brought a herd of stars including Gal Gadot, Guillermo del Toro, Mark Hamill, Armie Hammer, and Lupita Nyong’o to a nearby cinema where an unsuspecting audience was showered with candy, a six-foot hero sandwich, and a hot dog cannon. It was pure chaos. It was pandemonium. And it was a brilliantly inspired bit.
Despite the positive tone of the evening, the prevailing controversies were addressed head-on. Annabella Sciorra, Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek Pinault — three women who were early voices in the Weinstein revelations — introduced a touching montage of female and minority voices and their impact on cinema. Equally touching was the montage honoring America’s military, although Kimmel took time to apologize for the presence of his arch-nemesis Matt Damon in the montage as part of the cast of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).
Of course, no ceremony is perfect. Kimmel’s bit offering a jet ski and a trip to Arizona to the winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech seemed clumsily familiar, maybe because it was exactly like the 2000 ceremony where winners were offered a big screen television for whoever gave the shortest speech. But at least he didn’t offer to feed the audience again, another awards show trope that has worn out its welcome.
If Kimmel was hoping to save time by encouraging short speeches, that time was quickly eaten up by presenter banter that trafficked in the banal (Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph not included). When certain presenters addressed issues of diversity and justice, it came across as forced and clashed with the overall jovial feeling of the ceremony. And, once again, when will the Oscars stop having actors present categories in which their film is nominated? Was there any legitimate reason to have “Baby Driver” stars Ansel Elgort and Eiza Gonzalez present the sound awards, only to have their film lose both to “Dunkirk”?
Last but not least, there was Frances McDormand. After an evening of run-of-the-mill-speeches, McDormand — who started off her speech with her now trademark statement that “I’ve got some things to say” — asked every female nominee in the room to stand up and called for inclusion in Hollywood: “Look around,” she said. “We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed.” It was a moment of pure celebration and power, and the perfect encapsulation of this particular Oscars moment on its eventful 90th birthday.