Saturday, March 4, 2017

Oscars Post-mortem, Part 3: Kimmel & the Show

Somewhat forgotten amidst the flurry of reactions regarding Moonlight's unprecedented victory last Sunday night is the Oscars telecast itself, which -- besides that historic blunder which seems to have superseded all that came before it -- was mostly a breezy and passable affair as far as awards shows go.
Justin Timberlake's interactive crowd-pleaser "Can't Stop the Feeling" (already discussed along with the other musical numbers) was a smart, engaging way kick things off, segueing into Jimmy Kimmel's opening monologue. The routine, while not the most memorable stand-up we've seen open the show in recent years, was probably the most successful. Besides leaning a bit too often on easy pickings about movies having not been seen, Kimmel batted a pretty high percentage with his jokes, most of them landing well and earning deserved laughs on cue.

Favourite one-liners include:
-"There's only one Braveheart [Mel Gibson] in this room, and he's not going to unite us either."
-"I wanna say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? It's gone, thanks to him."
-"Supporting Actors... It's what most actors' parents are still doing; supporting actors."
-"Black people saved NASA, and white people saved jazz. That's what you call progress."
The Hidden Figures ladies in stitches after that last zinger.

"The highly overrated Meryl Streep" can't help but crack up at the impromptu ovation Kimmel solicited in mock denigration.

His interstitial material was mostly tame but palatable, only straying off-colour once or twice, such as with his dig at incarcerated O.J. Simpson which made even Mel cringe.

Some may quibble that Kimmel's frequent allusions to his feud with Matt Damon smacked too much of inside jokery that most viewers wouldn't get (possibly true), but it was certainly the most successfully protracted of the night's numerous running gags. It culminated in a precious parody of the evening's theme segment (actors describing films that inspired them) with Kimmel heaping ironic praise on Damon's performance in We Bought a Zoo, followed by Kimmel playing Damon offstage while presenting Best Original Screenplay. Belly laughs from me.

Other recurring bits yielded diminishing returns. While the gimmick of parachuting snacks provided some cute reaction shots the first time, it got exponentially less funny every time they returned to the well.

Worse yet was the condescending tour bus prank that dragged on forever and wasn't even all that funny in concept. In the time that was eaten up by that nonsense, the producers could have put together actually substantial clip packages for the craft categories, or at least tightened the show up to end before midnight.


Taraji and Dev Patel's mum, delighted by Red Vines

As far as Oscar's ubiquitous montages and filler footage, there are ups and downs. The mini-montages of previous Oscar winning actors is nothing we haven't seen before. The aforementioned motif of actors describing the films that inspire them and then proceeding to present an award with the star of that film, however, was nice invention for this year's show, and led to some charming presenter pairings.

Although the same can't be said for Kimmel's self-promoting "Mean Tweets: Oscars Edition", nor the "Movies Around the World" segment, which felt especially arbitrary in its placement after Best Foreign Language Film and right before Best Visual Effects. And while the In Memoriam sequence was moving, the discovery afterwards that the late Janet Patterson's photo was actually that of living producer Jan Chapman is a pretty inexcusable gaffe.
Best in show among the presenters? Tough call, as there were some good ones. Kate McKinnon and Jason Bateman's amusing banter made the bitterness of Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts' Oscar wins easier to swollow. Lesley Mann and John Cho's adorkable chemistry made the Sci-Tech clip reel more enjoyable than it has any business being (give 'em a rom-com!). But my vote for best patter goes to the gleeful Seth Rogen coercing his childhood hero Michael J. Fox to join in with his Hamilton moment.
Seriously, Lin-Manuel was having the most fun of anyone at the Oscars this year. In every single reaction shot he's either grinning ear-to-ear or laughing his ass off.

All in all, it may not be the most memorably produced telecast this decade, but it was seldom embarrassing. It truly is a shame that the last-minute fiasco may cost producer Michael De Luca -- through no fault or liability of his own -- the top job at Paramount he's been eying, but I guess that's showbiz.

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