Jimmy Kimmel's 3 1/2-hour search to find the right tone for an Academy Awards broadcast that uneasily mixed humor and politics ended appropriately: in mass confusion.
The stunning "wrong-envelope" debacle in which favorite "La La Land" was announced as the best picture winner by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway —only to be given to "Moonlight" moments later — yielded the wildest conclusion in Oscars history, capping an awards show that dragged at times.
"I knew I would screw this show up," Kimmel joked.
The deft ad-lib proved the most memorable quip from an Oscars like no other, one where the focus before the bizarre climax was on an election whose results shocked Hollywood.
Kimmel, in his opening monologue Sunday night, noted the show was being viewed across the U.S. and in “225 countries that now hate us.”
But he earned bigger laughs by speculating on the reaction of an audience of one: “Some of you will get to come up here on this stage tonight and give a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about in all-caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement.”
First-time Academy Awards host Kimmel’s joke selection ranged from teasing longtime mock enemy Matt Damon to jabbing at President Donald Trump. His approach reflected the challenge of balancing Hollywood handling itself coveted golden statuettes with handling the rise of the new president, a one-time reality TV star who regularly slams entertainment elite on Twitter and elsewhere.
Kimmel, who is not a musical performer, outsourced the opening number to Justin Timberlake, who got the crowd off its feet with “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” an apparent effort to capture the “La La Land” spirit (just as the singer did last month with his cameo in Jimmy Fallon’s Golden Globes kickoff, a “La La Land” takeoff).
While he doesn’t have a reputation as political comedian, ABC late night host Kimmel fired off some good Trump-related lines (“I want to say thank you to President Trump – remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? It’s gone, thanks to him.”) and later tweeted at the president.
But he left the expression of more pointed sentiments to the celebrities who filled the Dolby Theatre, who addressed the Trump Era with varying degrees of subtly, often without mentioning the president by name.
Some wore blue ribbons in support of the ACLU. One of those ribbons adorned the tux of “Moonlight” director and co-writer Barry Jenkins, who said while collecting a screenwriting Oscar, “All you people out there who feel like there’s no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back. And for the next four year we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.”
Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the Oscars in protest over Trump’s “inhumane” attempts to ban travel to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim nations, sent a message that was read when "The Salesman" won best foreign language film.
“Dividing the world into the us-and-our-enemies categories creates fear – a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” he said in the statement, presented by Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American engineer and astronaut.
Kimmel worked to keep things light, even if the ABC broadcast didn’t move all that quickly. He dropped candy, cookies and doughnuts in on tiny parachutes, to a soundtrack of “Ride of the Valkyries,” a nod to Ellen DeGeneres’ pizza-ordering stunt in 2014.
Employing a regular feature from his show, Kimmel had celebrities read mean tweets about themselves (“Miles Teller has the face of a guy who would request Gangnam Style at a wedding where he doesn’t know either the bride or groom.”). Kimmel’s best bit involved bringing in a busload of unsuspecting tourists to meet the stars, suggesting that perhaps there’s not as much of a disconnect between the public and Hollywood as the president would have us believe.
One of the night’s most emotional moments came when Taraji P. Henson, a star of “Hidden Figures,” a film about pioneering African-American women who played key behind-the-scenes roles at NASA during the Space Race, introduced Katherine Johnson, the mathematician she portrayed in the movie.
The 98-year-old Johnson, sitting resplendent in her wheelchair, simply thanked the audience, which greeted her with a standing ovation. For one glorious moment, Katherine Johnson was the only person who mattered at the Oscars – no longer a hidden hero whose achievements and embodiment of the human spirit can never be trumped.
Hopefully, her deserved moment in the spotlight won't get lost amid a massive flub — one that capped an awards show that shouldn't be rocket science.