Once famously middle-of-the-road, Jimmy Kimmel has become politicized on his late-night talk show in the past year, having taken politicians to task on health care and gun control. And as the Oscars host Sunday night during a fraught year, he plugged the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #NeverAgain movements and he mentioned the pay gap between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg for their “All the Money in the World” reshoots.
“If we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace,” he said, “women will only have to deal with sexual harassment all the time in every other place they go.”
But generally speaking, Kimmel worked to keep the tone light and the outrage to a minimum during the night. In a tone somewhere between philosophy and warning, he explained to us that “This is a night for positivity.”
Translation from Hollywood-ese: Let’s stay away from too much controversy folks, so none of us will feel too uncomfortable. No confrontational humor please, we’re skittish.
Kimmel didn’t appear to be trying to give a home-run performance; his goal was to serve as our dependable guide through rough waters, to manage to celebrate Hollywood at a time when it is embattled. And he succeeded. His Oscars monologue sounded like one of his cheery late-night talk-show monologues — timely, mildly clever, smart, forgettable.
The night did get into some of the controversies, but in very controlled ways. At one point, Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, and Salma Hayek took the stage to talk about #MeToo and introduce a well-made short in which directors and actors talk about equality, diversity, and representation. The best line in the segment came from “The Big Sick” co-writer and star Kumail Nanjiani: “Now straight white dudes can watch movies starring me, and they relate to it,” he said. “It’s not that hard, I’ve done it all my life.”
Kimmel made a number of jokes about how to keep the ceremony on the shorter side, including a jet ski prize to the winner who delivered the shortest acceptance speech. (It ultimately went to Mark Bridges, who spoke for only 36 seconds after taking the Oscar for best costume design for “Phantom Thread.”) But that kind of meta humor is itself tiresome at this point in Oscar’s 90 years. And it doesn’t compensate for what is becoming an annual gimmick — a stunt involving real people. This year, Kimmel surprised regular moviegoers at a neighboring theater with a collection of stars including Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot, and Lupita Nyong’o. Chaos reigned in the theater, as the moviegoers gawked at the stars and the stars tried to prove they can actually mingle with reals.
Aren’t you looking forward to hundreds of GIFs and news stories about the moviegoers and their shock?
There were a few touching moments during the night. At the end of his acceptance speech, Sam Rockwell, winner for best supporting actor for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” said “This is for my old buddy Phil Hoffman,” repeating it in case it got lost in the applause. It was a sweet remembrance of his late friend Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Winner James Ivory, winner for best adapted screenplay for “Call Me By Your Name,” also remembered his departed industry friends — Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whom he called “life’s partners, who are gone.”
And when Roger Deakins won for cinematography for “Blade Runner 2049,” he got a rousing standing ovation — an acknowledgment of the absurdity that it was the legendary cinematographer’s first Oscar win after 14 nominations.
There was also one particularly rousing moment: Best actress winner Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech. We knew it was coming, and it did not disappoint. With her trademark intensity, she asked all the female nominees in the audience to stand — “Meryl, if you do it, everyone will,” she added, in case some of the women were embarrassed to get up. “Look around ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “because we all have stories to tell and finance.” Her conclusion, which was a form of advice: “I have two words to end with tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider is something top-tier actors can include in their contracts, in which they ensure gender and racial equality in hiring on movie sets.
The E! red carpet had a stranger-than-usual vibe this year, beyond the usual twirling, leering, promoting, and awkward chitchat. Some felt that E! should have taken Ryan Seacrest off mic duty for the night, as he faces accusations of sexual misconduct brought by his former stylist. But E!’s independent investigation “found insufficient evidence to support the claims,” according to Seacrest, and so he was front and center.
Did actors steer clear of him? It’s hard to know, however few of the major nominees wound up talking to him. And he did seem particularly grateful to the ones — especially the women, including Mary J. Blige, Rita Moreno, and Allison Janney — who were willing to stop by his station. When the camera threw to her from Seacrest, Giuliana Rancic seemed to be feeling some vicarious stress for her longtime cohost, expressing an excess of praise for those who talked to him.
Needless to say, Judd and Mira Sorvino, who arrived together, took their red-carpet enthusiasms about the importance of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements over to the ABC cart.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.