The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Last Night’s Academy Awards

Last night's memorable moments, from Kimmel's monologue to Viola's win to that cuckoo-bananas ending.

Heyyyy those Oscars last night, those were… certainly something, eh? Jesus! First La La Land doesn’t do the clean sweep everyone was predicting (c’mon, seriously, it had 14 nominations); then it started winning, so it seemed like it would at least take the big prizes, then Best Director, then Best Picture, then… not? It was a wild, twisty ending for a long, mostly engaging night, and while that last-minute, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” moment is the big takeaway, there was a lot talk about from the big show. Here we go:

THE GOOD

Jimmy Kimmel

I’m as surprised as you are. The announcement of Mr. Kimmel as this year’s Oscar host seemed uninspired at worst and lazy at best (i.e., someone at ABC going, “Ah what the hell, he does the live show after it every year, just let him do the show”), and there wasn’t much reason to think he was going to deliver much more than a big-canvas version of his dumb late-night show. But – after Justin Timberlake performed his Trolls song, which again, I still can’t believe grown-ups listen to like it’s a real song – Kimmel’s opening monologue was (mostly) sharp and funny. Yes, it had the plucking-celebs-out-for-a-soft-roast air of our post-Gervais era, but he get off some good lines, at the expense of Mel Gibson (“There’s only one Braveheart in the room, and he’s not gonna unite us either”), Donald Trump (“I wanna thank President Trump – I mean, remember last year when it looked like the Oscars were racist?”), and Hollywood’s double standards (assuring foreign viewers that this town doesn’t discriminate based on country of origin: “We discriminate against them based on their age and weight.”) Sure, the monotonous jokes about how no one had seen the nominated movies were tired (and inaccurate – this year’s Best Picture nominees included three $100 million-plus grossers), but overall, Kimmel got off to a strong start. More about the rest later.

Mahershala Ali’s win

As has become his pattern this awards season, Ali’s acceptance speech was warm, sensitive, and inspiring. But the standing-O for him also indicated the love in the room not just for that performance, but for the story of that actor – a grinder, if you will, who’s been banging it out as a working actor for 15 years, in supporting roles on film and (mostly) TV. Countless great actors are just waiting for that great role; this was one of them getting one, and his peers saw and applauded that.

Kate McKinnon and Jason Bateman

The best thing about Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters was how she was just bonkers and weird and funny for reasons that didn’t even make any sense, so her entire presenter gig alongside Jason Bateman, from her goofy strut to center-stage forward, was sort of perfection. (She certainly had to do something with the terrible banter they wrote her.) She and Bateman had such a good traditional comedy-team thing going, her zany goofball bouncing right off his patented straight-man schtick, that our timeline immediately filled with people wishing they’d do a movie together. That must’ve been a pretty melancholy sight for the producers of Office Christmas Party.

Gael Garcia Bernal and Mark Rylance

Considering the intensity of the current political moment (and the advice of some of our finest commentators), there was a rather surprising lack of explicit political content from this year’s recipients. But a couple of the high-profile presenters had a few things to say. Bernal, paused the presentation of awards for animated films to note, “As a Mexican, as a Latin-American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any form of wall.” And last year’s affable Best Supporting Actor winner Rylance – wearing, as usual, that great hat – noted as part of his Supporting Actress introduction, “Opposition’s great in film and stories, it’s wonderful in sport, it’s really good in society.”

Viola Davis’s speech

“There’s one place where the people with the greatest potential are gathered,” Ms. Davis said, as she received the Best Supporting Actress prize for Fences. “And that’s the graveyard.” With that shattering proclamation, she proceeded to give one of the finest Oscar speeches of all time, a brilliantly written and movingly delivered tribute to playwright August Wilson, and the general importance of work that will “exhume those stories.” It was a remarkable moment of passionate oratory, probably the best Oscar acceptance speech since Tom Hanks’s heartrending “The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels” back in 1994. Or, as the New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff put it, “Has anyone ever won an Oscar for an Oscar speech?”

That bonkers ending

We all hoped Moonlight would win, because it’s the best film of last year and all, but it seemed like La La Land was the sure thing – record number of nominations, commercial hit, and the kind of loving valentine to itself that movie folks just love to give Best Picture to (see Birdman, The Artist, Argo, etc.) And they did. And then… they didn’t! In one of the oddest clusterfucks in this show’s long history, Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were apparently accidentally handed a duplicate of the Best Actress envelope (seriously, deep into the night, this thing was being hyper-analyzed like the Zapruder film), and so they opened it, and engaged in what sure seemed like some sorta-funny-sorta-strained oldster back-n-forth, and they announced the movie that was on it, ignoring the name of the actress that was also on it. It was left to La La producer Jordan Horowitz to break up the acceptance speeches to announce “Moonlight won Best Picture,” in what first looked like one of those lame-ass “This is your award too” moments, before he held up the correct card.

moonlight-card

And launched a thousand memes.

THE BAD

Jimmy Kimmel

The strangest thing about the evening aside from all that was how Kimmel won us over, and then, slowly but surely, lost us again. No sooner had he built up all that opening-monologue goodwill than he lost it, deteriorating into exactly the kind of late-night comedy bits that don’t work on this big of a canvas, and never have. (Ask Letterman). He brought over his “Mean Tweets” segment from Jimmy Kimmel Live, as well as his long-running feud with Matt Damon (though that did yield a few laughs). He did a laboriously prepared bit with a bus full of tourists wandering into the auditorium, forgetting that when you write a zany late-night TV bit, you should write an ending. (It went on and on, and by the end, I was half-expecting Godot to show up.) Also, it included an improvised “foreign names are funny” gag, which leads us to one of Kimmel’s other blunders, an audience interview segment with little Sunny Pawar, the young Saroo of Lion, which led to a wacky bit of business about The Lion King. As writer Manuel Betancourt put it, “Jesus Christ, Jimmy Kimmel, can you not use a little brown kid as a prop for an Disneyfied African-themed punchline?”

beatty

The bonkers ending becoming the story

The Best Picture switcheroo was, yes, insane. But there’s also a human dimension to this story – for the Moonlight people who didn’t get that moment you dream of when the envelope is opened and your movie is announced and you take that celebratory trip up to the stage, and the La La Land people who got that moment and then lost it. But more than that, we’re not coming away from the night talking about an amazing thing that happened at the end of the Oscars: not only did the Best Picture award go to the year’s actual best picture (a rarity, to put it mildly), but it went to a tiny-budgeted independent film with no stars from an upstart studio. And, even more importantly, it went to a movie about a young gay black man – the first LGBTQ story and the first film with an all-black cast to win that prize. To borrow Joe Biden’s phrasing, Moonlight winning Best Picture is a big fucking deal, but, at least in the near future, it’ll be remembered in the shadow of The Other Thing.

Asghar Farhadi’s absence

We knew he wasn’t gonna be there to receive his Oscar, both earned and expected, for Best Foreign Film for The Salesman. But it was still heartbreaking when he wasn’t there to accept it. “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear – a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” he wrote, in a statement read by engineer and entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian in space. “These laws prevent democracy in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others – an empathy which we need today more than ever.”

The damn montages

Once again this year, the ceremony’s producers indulged us in too damn many “Movies: Pretty cool, huh?” montages, as if this isn’t the one viewing audience that needs to be convinced that Movies Are Good. This year’s ceremony included a series of short montages of movie stars proclaiming their favorite movie, so that they could then give out an award with the star of said movie, which meant we got Charlize Theron praising Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (duh), Javier Bardem singing the praises of The Bridges of Madison County (huh?) and Seth Rogen gushing over Back to the Future (oh goody, a stoner explaining a time-travel movie). Meanwhile, there wasn’t enough time in the show to give awards and hear speeches from legendary editor Anne V. Coates, legendary casting director Lynn Stalmaster, legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman, and legendary actor/director Jackie Chan; as is the current custom, those awards were handed out last fall, at a separate JV ceremony, so they’d have time during the big show for all the masturbatory montages. (Though, credit where due, Kimmel’s We Bought a Zoo payoff was pretty good.)

kidman

Nicole Kidman clapping

I mean, seriously, what’s happening here?

THE UGLY

Mel Gibson being a “good sport”

Everyone’s favorite “get raped by a pack of niggers”-shouting anti-Semite was back in the embrace of a warm Hollywood community last night, thanks to Hacksaw Ridge’s six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. And Kimmel lobbed a few softballs at him over the course of the evening, which were always followed by a nice reaction cutaway of Gibson, laughing it up and being a good sport. But each time, he seemed increasingly unhinged, his laughter and the matching, barely-hidden fury in his eyes reminiscent of a serial killer about to snap. The whole thing was pretty gross, and not the best look for an industry that’s trying to stand up to a guy who says disgusting things on leaked audiotapes.

My predictions

Sincerely, if you used our predictions as any kind of basis for your own, good God, my apologies. We usually do pretty well, missing a couple but hitting most; this year, we went a miserable 15 correct and 9 wrong, thanks to the aforementioned La La Land upset (and the general lack of a La La sweep), a bad call on the Affleck/Washington toss-up, and couple of other big surprises (including, ugh, Suicide Squad is now an Oscar winner). All I can tell you is we’re sorry, but Jesus, this was a nutty year. I mean, you saw that ending, right?