Oscars organizers must have breathed a sigh of relief at the end of Sunday’s relatively smooth ceremony. But those enduring the 227-minute event might have relished a snafu or two.
Host Jimmy Kimmel quickly addressed last year’s envelope mixup — “This year, when you hear your name, don’t get up right away” — as well as more sensitive subjects, including the Academy’s expulsion of Harvey Weinstein and the industry’s long-time hesitation to cast women and minorities as leads in superhero flicks.
But clearly, Kimmel’s main objective was to set the tone for a party that acknowledged cultural movements and personal misbehavior without letting either one sabotage the evening.
In his monologue, he encouraged winners to speak their truth — but also promised that the person giving the shortest acceptance speech would win a brand new jet ski (as Helen Mirren did a smashing impression of a “Price Is Right” model).
He cracked more jokes about Christopher Plummer’s age than Kevin Spacey’s downfall. While he took a few jabs at President Trump early on, he returned time and time again to a favorite Oscar punching bag: its own lengthy running time.
Producers worked extra hard to offer an escape hatch from controversy with better-than-usual film montages, conveniently linked to the Academy’s 90th anniversary, and musical performances with full, foot-stomping choirs and confetti bombs.
Tapping true legends like Eva Marie Saint, Rita Moreno and Christopher Walken to present awards did more to celebrate Hollywood than recruiting flavors-of-the-month could. That said, “Girls Trip” star Tiffany Haddish can present any time she wants, especially if she’s doing it in tandem with Maya Rudolph.
Yes, there were nods to the #MeToo advocates and to immigrants. Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd introduced a powerful short film about the importance of hearing from more than just white male storytellers. “Big Sick” writer/star Kumail Najiani may have had the best line of the night while presenting an award with Kenyan-born actress Lupita Nyong’o: “I am from Iowa and Pakistan, two places no one in Hollywood can find on a map. For all the dreamers out there, we stand with you.”
But these were carefully orchestrated statements compared to Natalie Portman’s unscripted moment at the Golden Globes when she scolded voters for only nominating men as best director. That discomforting moment resonated more powerfully than anything uttered Sunday.
Some of the winners did their best to take up Kimmel’s invitation to use the podium to support causes.
Director Guillermo del Toro applauded his fellow immigrants, but got the most choked up when he quoted James Cagney’s speech from “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Supporting actress winner Allison Janney dedicated her award to her late brother Hal, who died in St. Paul seven years ago after a long battle with addiction.
Leave it to Frances McDormand to deliver. She used her podium to urge all the female nominees in the room to stand up and then ordered the rest of the industry to take meetings with female storytellers and insist that contracts be more inclusive.
Kimmel interjected the only other real bit of spontaneity when he recruited some celebrities to venture across the street to surprise a movie audience watching a sneak preview of “A Wrinkle in Time.” It was sort of a mess , but it might be the moment you’re still talking about come Thursday.