It was, like the champagne-hued carpet that replaced the traditional red one, inoffensive and bland. And flat. And long.
The annual Oscar telecast was a night of mild humor from host Jimmy Kimmel, uneven musical performances, unexciting presenting pairs, and predictable winners. It was also a night during which Disney — owner of the Oscarcast’s network, ABC — had the nerve to include an ad for one of its upcoming movies (whose title I will not repeat) in the middle of the protracted ceremony. As my second-grade teacher was known to say to bad spellers, “Grrrr.”
That said, a few genuine emotional moments slipped through and helped the night pass a little more easily. The theme that emerged across the 3½ hours, along with the record-breaking number of statues for Asian actors, was that the voters were honoring veteran actors. That added some potency to the acceptances by Michelle Yeoh, best actress winner for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and Brendan Fraser, best actor winner for “The Whale.”
If a speech like the one given by Ke Huy Quan, whose career started in the mid-1980s, doesn’t make things a little blurry for you, you may not be fully human. The winner of best supporting actor for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Quan — ebullient, in tears, the audience on their feet — exclaimed, “Mom, I just won an Oscar.” He mentioned having spent a year in a refugee camp as a child. “Somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This — this — is the American dream.” The one-time Goonie went on, seemingly without some of the vanity and immodesty that creeps in around the edges — or right in the middle — of some acceptance speeches.
Quan’s bright moment came early in the night, and it was an emotional peak of sorts. Jamie Lee Curtis, too, delivered some sweet moments of joy shortly thereafter, as she accepted a statue for her supporting role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” She was gracious to her colleagues in a big way, announcing “I am hundreds of people,” and she seemed like a loving cheerleader in the audience as each new “EEAAO” winner collected a statue.
There were two other sweet exceptions to the night’s general drag. John Travolta got choked up while introducing an In Memoriam segment including those “who we will always remain hopelessly devoted to,” a reference to the late Olivia Newton John. And M.M. Keeravaani, who won for the best original song “Naatu, Naatu,” sang his thanks to the tune of the Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” He “grew up listening to the Carpenters,” he said, “and now here I am at the Oscars.”
Host Kimmel was on best behavior throughout, with just enough snark to look at least a little rebellious. One of the big questions going into the night was: How will Kimmel deal with last year’s slap episode? The answer was a series of little, unremarkable jokes along the way. In his opening monologue, Kimmel made the requisite one-liners, noting that if anyone in the theater decided to be violent, “you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute long speech.” And for everyone else, “just do what you did last year: nothing.” With five Irish actors nominated this year, he said, “odds of another fight onstage just went way up.”
Otherwise, Kimmel was the Kimmel from his talk show, except with a minimum of political bits — perhaps an Oscar mandate this year. He started the night with the gentle poking at Hollywood egos — mixed with reverence — that has become a tiresome part of the annual ritual. It’s that stretch of the Oscars when stars — many of them anxious about the contest — need to show they can take a joke at their own expense, smiling up at the camera the whole time. Goofing on her theater ad, he said “I am happy to see that Nicole Kidman has finally been released from that abandoned AMC, where she has been held captive for almost two full years now.”
He made the Tom Cruise joke we knew he had to make: “I mean, Tom Cruise with his shirt off in that beach football scene? L. Ron Hubba Hubba, you know what I’m saying?” He gave Hollywood royal Steven Spielberg some faux guff. “All the top 10 highest-grossing films this year were sequels or franchises,” he said. “They say Hollywood is running out of new ideas. I mean, poor Steven Spielberg had to make a movie about Steven Spielberg.”
Over the course of the dry evening, there were efforts to add some juice. Lady Gaga tried, singing “Hold My Hand” as hard as she could in a black T-shirt, working overtime to sell a mediocre song. Hugh Grant, in a joke, compared his skin to a scrotum. Kimmel brought out Jenny the donkey from “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Elizabeth Banks introduced us to the analog Cocaine Bear. But still the night passed by undistinguished, and even the audience seeming less crowded with Big Names than it used to be, less sparkly in every way.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.