"There's got to be a morning after" went the strains of the Oscar-winning song from the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure" and that somber warning always pertains to coverage of the Oscar events show itself. After last year's abysmal event that saw awful comedy bits, offensive omissions of major stars from the memorial tribute and the historic snafu in which the wrong film was initially announced for Best Picture, there was no where to go but up. Much of the success or failure of these shows rests on the back of the host. I thought it was going to be a mistake to bring back Jimmy Kimmel, as I was generally unimpressed with his performance last year. However, the second time was the charm- or almost. (More on that later). In general, this year's telecast was more tightly structured and moved at a faster clip even though it still ran about three-and-a-half hours. Helping matters was the fact that there was an exciting and highly diverse selection of films competing in the key categories and they boasted some brilliant performances by an eclectic array of actors. Gone are the days when viewers had to suffer through the mandatory opening musical production number, which was generally measured in terms of how misguided it proved to be. Kimmel started off with a witty dialogue that was surprisingly and refreshingly light on the political barbs in spite of the fact that the White House had just gone through a couple of miserable weeks that had brought out a surrealistic number of self-imposed scandals and crises.I had thought there would be so many quips about this that I expected to see President Trump's name listed among the key contributors to the show. (There were, however, some deep digs at Harvey Weinstein, who does not have a political base that can be offended.) However, I was relieved that Kimmel kept himself in check because I'm among those that think major awards shows should try to stick with the subject at hand: the work and the personalities involved in creating it. With Kimmel having decided to follow the old adage and "Leave the messages to Western Union", it fell upon others to promote diversity and equality. Great efforts were made in both areas with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand movingly calling for all female nominees to stand up. It was a moment that illustrated how fast and furiously Hollywood is moving to finally provide opportunities to females in the industry. Similarly, there were many minority artists on stage as presenters, performers and winners. I was glad to see triple-threat Jordan Peele, the director, writer and producer of the ingeniously quirky "Get Out", become the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay award.
The awards dispensed during the show all went to worthy winners, though I would have liked to have seen "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" take home the Best Picture prize. Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand were popular, if predictable, winners based on their superb performances. "The Shape of Water" took Best Picture, as did its director Guillermo del Toro. The elaborate presentations for Best Song just emphasized the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nominees in this category, as the songs themselves ranged from pleasant to dreadful, which is often the norm. The show was moving along swimmingly until Jimmy Kimmel took viewers and participants on a major, ill-advised detour just as he had last year by introducing an elaborate gag in which people in an adjoining movie theater were used as unknowing props when Kimmel brought an array of celebrities from the Oscars ceremony next door to surprise them. Incredibly, it was a variation of the same awful shtick he pulled off the previous year. There's something rather condescending about bringing in a boatload of rich people to dispense candy and hot dogs to the grateful masses. It's like watching benevolent nobles toss some trinkets to their loyal serfs. Worse, the gag ate up valuable air time that could have been used for more appropriate purposes. Earlier in the show Kimmel made a snide remark about showing some of those honored with Oscars being dismissed with "blink-and-you-miss-them" clips from a ceremony that had been held previously. He correctly needled the Academy for pointing out that these artists and technicians, who would have once been allowed on stage at the "real" event, were now excluded. But his hypocrisy was revealed when he launched his dopey sight gag later. If you think I'm being a grump then ask yourself if it was more appropriate to spend time showing Kimmel and company tossing food to audience members or have the opportunity to see and hear Donald Sutherland accepting the Governor's Award for lifetime achievement.
The segment that honors artists who passed away in the last year should also be retired. Although sensitively presented and well-edited, the number of inexcusable exclusions is now almost downright offensive. Yes, it's great to honor those who make the cut (I counted three personal friends in the montage of artists who have left us in the last year), but if you can't extend the segment for even another few minutes in order to include other worthy honorees, then let's just eliminate it altogether. (The Academy does provide a more comprehensive tribute on their web site. Click here to view).
Some highlights that worked well were the faux 1930s black-and-white opening, the inclusion of some legendary stars such as Eva Marie Saint and Rita Moreno, both looking sensational, and with the latter impressively wearing the exact gown she wore to the 1962 ceremony where she picked up her Oscar for "West Side Story". It was also a good idea to show the montage of clips of previous winners that preceded awards in every acting category. There was a nice recognition of servicemen and women through clips of classic war movies. It was also a good touch to re-invite Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to present this year's Best Picture Oscar sans any mishap (though Guillermo del Toro amusingly double-checked the envelope just to make sure.)
The sets on the auditorium stage were akin to something from a DeMille epic and there was a refreshing lack of pretentious, scatological terms tossed out, a common practice by celebrities who want to make sure they get high profile coverage of their boorish behavior. Oh, and it was wonderful to see cinematographer Roger Deakins finally get an Oscar upon his fourteenth nomination. Deakins was in danger of being the male version of Susan Lucci, who finally won an Emmy after nineteen nominations. It was great to see the "Star Wars" gang on stage but their banter fell flat. However, I did enjoy nominated "Big Sick" screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani's assurances to America that Muslims are indeed humorous and even like ice cream! There was also a clever commercial promoting the Academy's museum that paid tribute to Kubrick's "The Shining". Oh, and a long-running gag about Kimmel awarding a jet ski as a prize to the person with the shortest acceptance speech actually came across well, unlike his detour into the adjoining theater to visit the peasants.
Overall, it was a reasonably successful Oscar broadcast that managed to maintain the respect for glamour that has been the trend in recent years. The ladies looked gorgeous and the men mostly dashing and all of the awards went to people who were deserving even if they weren't your personal first choices. Unless Billy Crystal or Steve Martin can be coaxed back, it looks like Mr. Kimmel might have the gig for the foreseeable future. He's not the best of the hosts but he is getting better.
Click here for a full list of nominees and winners.