Critic’s Notebook: The Shape of the 90th Oscars
Was it just me, or did it seem like the Oscars went on for 90 years? (OK, just shy of four hours, not counting the various pre-shows, but still.)
“This is history happening right here,” the ever-ironic host Jimmy Kimmel noted of the landmark 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony in his cautiously respectful and sporadically amusing monologue. It was certainly a historic moment in the way the show acknowledged the tectonic aftershocks in a company town that is no longer looking the other way when it comes to sexual harassment and gender inequality. Oscar himself was lauded by Kimmel: “He keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word and most important, no penis at all.”
And perhaps thankfully, another climactic envelope snafu was avoided. But while there were some smart, sharp montages from Hollywood history—especially when setting up major acting and film categories—though as always there was at least one too many stretching out the long night, little about Sunday’s show is likely to make the cut of future greatest-hit Oscar tributes.
Let’s just boil it down to nine points of memorable interest, one per Oscar decade.
1. Rise Up for Frances McDormand
As expected, Oscar night was heavy on messaging. And while there were many heartfelt if preaching-to-the-choir tributes to the empowerment movements of #TimesUp and #MeToo, none had the galvanizing theatricality—and, yes, eccentricity—of Frances McDormand demanding the year’s female nominees in all categories (including the groundbreaking cinematography nod for Mudbound‘s Rachel Morrison) stand up and be noticed during her lead-actress acceptance speech. In giddy near hysterics, McDormand declared, “Look around, everybody! We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed.” Her concluding words: “Inclusion rider.” (Translation: a push toward including requirements in contracts regarding diversity of all types.) If it means more movies like Lady Bird and Get Out going forward, by all means.
2. The Jet Ski
Kimmel’s best gag wasn’t the lengthy all-star ambush of a neighboring movie theater—which arguably was an improvement over last year’s overlong kidnapping of a tour group—but his announcement at the end of the monologue that whoever delivered the shortest acceptance speech would win, Price Is Right-style, a jet ski. Roping Helen Mirren into the joke was an added stroke of inspiration. (The winner: Phantom Thread costume designer Mark Bridges.)
3. Best Get Out Joke
In another attempt to keep the speeches short, Kimmel promised that instead of playing winners off with music, “you will see and hear this:” Enter Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) reprising his moment of terror from Get Out, shrieking the title phrase to show-stopping effect. Sadly, this was never reprised during the rest of the evening.
4. Best The Shape of Water Joke
From Kimmel’s monologue, saluting the year’s most-nominated film, which would go on to win the top Best Picture prize: “Thanks to Guillermo (del Toro), we will always remember this year as the year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.”
5. The Black Panther Factor
It won’t be eligible until next year, and has only been in release for a few weeks, but the blockbuster box-office success of Black Panther did not go unnoticed on Oscar night. Kimmel kept doting on it. In his monologue: “I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie. And the reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year.” With a nod to the snubbed Wonder Woman, he later joked that Black Panther had already reaped another $48 million since the show began, and that it’s already so successful “it’s the favorite not to get nominated for anything next year.”
6. Best Presenter Banter
Jodie Foster, on crutches to present the lead actress award alongside a statuesque Jennifer Lawrence, explained her injury thusly: “[Meryl] Streep. She I, Tonya‘d me.” Which set off a riff of imagined Streep abuses. Lawrence: “She tripped me once. … She’s always so nice at the luncheon.” Foster: “She’s acting.” Streep, in the front row as usual, loved it.
Close runner-up: Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph riffing on white folks backstage with their mysterious headsets and clipboards. And how delicious that the guy in the movie theater introducing them mispronounced Haddish’s name, considering how she hilariously mangled so many nominees’ names on the morning of the nomination announcement.
7. Chewing the Scenery
Even by Oscar standards, the set was a spectacularly garish mess, framed by a grotesque horseshoe arch of glittery bling. As Kimmel quipped late in the proceedings: “Each of the 45 million Swarovski crystals on this stage represents humility.” And presenter Jane Fonda likened it to the Orgasmatron from Barbarella. She should know.
8. Best Political Jokes
You knew those were coming. But the two best jabs didn’t even mention the president. From Kimmel’s monologue, noting the modest box office of some of the top nominees: “We don’t make films like Call Me By Your Name for money. We make them to upset Mike Pence.” And accepting his Oscar for the animated short Dear Basketball, Kobe Bryant dissed talking head Laura Ingraham’s jibe at LeBron James by quipping, “As basketball players, we’re really supposed to shut up and dribble, but I’m glad we do a little bit more than that.”
9. Hollywood Royalty
One of the night’s best ideas, which could have been developed even more fully, was to bring on winners from decades past as presenters. Rita Moreno, still fabulous at 86, wore the same dress from the night she won for West Side Story in 1962. Just as impressive was Eva Marie Saint, 1955 winner for On the Waterfront, enthralling the audience at 93 with stories of being costumed by Edith Head and shopping at Bergdorf Goodman with Alfred Hitchcock. A legend talking about Hollywood legends at the Oscars? More of that, please.