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, Time’s Up, 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 big home run performance; his goal was to serve as our dependable guide through rough waters, to celebrate Hollywood at a time when it is embattled. And he succeeded. His monologue sounded like one of his cheery late-night talk-show monologues — timely, mildly clever, forgettable.
Kimmel didn’t make us wait for the knock we knew we’d hear about the best picture botch of 2017. Last year’s disaster was this year’s opportunity. “This year when you hear your name called, don’t get up right away,” he joked. “Give us a minute.”
One touching moment came early in 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.
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 he did seem particularly grateful to the ones — particularly the women, including Mary J. Blige, Rita Moreno, and Allison Janney — who were willing to stop by his station. And when the camera threw to her from Seacrest, Giuliana Rancic seemed particularly grateful, too. Needless to say, Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, who arrived together, took their enthusiasms about the importance of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement over to the ABC cart.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.