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Oscars TV Review: Stellar Show Spoiled By Best Picture Fiasco

Deadline logo Deadline 2/27/2017 Dominic Patten
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An unprecedented Best Picture mistake tonight took the shine off one of the best Oscars in recent years. The 89th Academy Awards initially handed the big win to La La Land, though Moonlight was the actual victor.

“This is very unfortunate what happened,” host Jimmy Kimmel said after the fiasco from a packed stage at the Dolby Theatre to a shocked crowd in front of him and millions watching on TV. “Personally I blame Steve Harvey for this,” he added to tight laughs in a reference to the gaffe the daytime talk show host made in late 2o15 announcing the wrong winner at the Miss Universe contest.

Jokes aside, presenter Warren Beatty’s obvious confusion on-air on the now very live show and co-presenter Faye Dunaway announcing the wrong winner came out of seeing Emma Stone’s name on the card in the envelope, the Oscar-winning Reds director explained as turmoil unfolded. Besides making very clear the high wire risks of live TV, the mistake also seems to indicate that he was handed an envelope for the Best Actress category not Best Picture as he and his Bonnie & Clyde co-star walked onstage.

“Well, I don’t know what happened — I blame myself for this,” Kimmel himself said on-air minutes later in trying to salvage things after Moonlight’s cast and creatives accepted the award that was rightfully theirs. “Let’s remember, it’s just an awards show,” he added meekly. “I knew I would screw this show up, I really did,” Kimmel went on to say for an error that clearly wasn’t his fault. “Thank you for watching I’m back tomorrow night on my regular show. I promise I’ll never come back.”

If the Oscars as a whole can wipe the egg off its collective face, the blameless Kimmel should be back. Coming off a very strong stint fronting the Emmys last year, the nimble ABC late-night host tonight found the right balance and tone from the get-go in his inaugural Academy Awards frontman role. However, in that Best Picture error, Hollywood’s nearly four-hour long big night just handed its critics like President Donald Trump a big stick to easily whack it with – repeatedly.

“I’ve never been to the Oscars before, this is my first time here,” Kimmel said soon after hitting the stage Sunday in what seemed like it was going to be nothing but green lights and parking spaces for the sometimes troubled annual ceremony. “And the way you people go through hosts, it’s probably my last time here,” he then cracked to a big and knowing laugh. Jokes and that huge Best Picture mistake aside, Kimmel should come back to the ABC broadcast event in future years. Based on 99% of Sunday’s show and the way he tried to handle that terrible end, he was the best host the Oscars have had since Billy Crystal nailed it in the early 1990s.

With the White House having proclaimed earlier this week Donald Trump wouldn’t be watching Hollywood’s big night, the President and the fractured politics were a clear presence and target for parts of the three-hour-plus show in this town full of Hillary Clinton supporters. Somewhat surprisingly, there was less politics than expected on a night that saw that Best Picture victory for the Barry Jenkins-directed pic and as well as big wins for La La Land director Damien Chazelle and leading lady Emma Stone plus Manchester by the Sea‘s Casey Affleck, Fences‘ Viola Davis and Moonlight‘s Mahershala Ali. At least in the short term, all those wins and the quality of the show itself will be flooded in the crash and burn that happened at the end — and that’s a real shame.

Kimmel took some midrange digs in the opening monologue, but it wasn’t until deep into the 2017 Oscars that the Trump barrage of sorts really started. Winning the best Foreign Language Film for Iran’s The Salesman, the absent Asghar Farhadi had a letter read out to cheers that denounced the administration’s currently halted travel executive order as an “inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.” Later, co-presenting the animation awards, Mexico-born Gael Garcia Bernal told the assembled A-listers that he was “against any form of wall that wants to separate us.” Winning Best Adapted Screenplay, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins said “the ACLU has your back” and added, “All you people out there watching how feel there is no mirror for you, who feel your life is not reflected.”

Those polemics aside, Kimmel also got into the act digitally with a genuinely witty and playful attempt to goad the social media-friendly POTUS on live TV. “We’re more than one hour into the show and Donald Trump hasn’t tweeted at us once,” he said, picking away at his own smartphone. “I’m starting to get worried about him,” Kimmel then said before sending the President a tweet on live TV in front of billions of viewers.

Not responding by the end of the show, the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host was feting most of the nation’s governors at a dinner Sunday at the Executive Mansion.

With tonight’s host’s personality stamped over most of the LA-based show, watching the Oscars made it very clear that not all late-night hosts are created equal. Unlike the timid Jimmy Fallon’s unsuccessful Golden Globes gig last month, Kimmel hit all the right targets with a series of one-two punches that display what a heavyweight he has become. While it is easy to slam networks of late for pushing their own to front the big awards shows, the seasoned Kimmel had a commanding of the usually unwieldy awards show that Chris Rock, Neil Patrick Harris and even Ellen DeGeneres lacked when they hosted the Oscars.

As DeGeneres herself declared:

In a move familiar to longtime Jimmy Kimmel Live! viewers, the host pranked a busload of unknowing and surprised tourists. He then brought them into the Oscars to grab handshakes, kisses and selfies with the like of a very accommodating Denzel Washington and Nicole Kidman. A showstopper unto itself, the bit also was reminiscent of the late and great Garry Shandling’s 2004 Emmy hosting job where two blindfolded and also unknowing civilians were hustled on stage to give out the top reality TV prize.

But no successful host is an island and, even though things ended so badly, Kimmel had a robust liftoff and the right people in this Mission Control. Besides his own bag of tricks like “Mean Tweets” and homages, the rookie Oscar host was working with the advantage of a strongly produced “Inspiration”-themed show that started off with a foot-tapping good time by a pro that knows how to slam dunk an opening.

Notwithstanding the big Best Picture snafu, first-time Oscar producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd might have guaranteed themselves repeat performances just by kicking things off on the briskly paced show tonight with Justin Timberlake. The multiple Grammy winner and frequent SNL host started things up by coming down the aisle into the Dolby Theatre performing his Oscar-nominated mega-hit “Can’t Stop The Feeling” from Trolls. A smart move that clearly was aiming for fun on a night when everyone knew Donald Trump and politics were on Tinseltown’s agenda. “Hollywood, you look so lovely tonight,” Timberlake called out almost redundantly but so good natured, “Hollywood, do you feel lovely tonight?”

Not long afterward, Kimmel himself jumped into the political arena for the first time on Sunday with a declaration that he can’t unite a divided America nor can Mr. Braveheart himself Mel Gibson. Kimmel then lifted Trump’s election winning manta and asked people to reach out and have “a positive considered conversation, not as liberals or conservatives as Americans, if we all do that we could all make America great again, we really could.”

“Maybe this is not a popular thing to say, but I want to thank President Trump,” Kimmel added a bit later in his opener, warming up his crowd and those watching at home. “I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?” he asserted with masterful timing that brought big applause as did a swing at Trump’s early morning tweeting habits. Throwing some more POTUS kindle on the fire, Kimmel mockingly singled out “the highly over-rated” Meryl Streep, to quote from a outraged tweet of Trump’s after the actress’ Golden Globes speech against him. Noting Streep’s “Ivanka” dress in the front row, Kimmel put down the marker fast and solid – which is what a good host is supposed to do.

Having 98-year-old NASA mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Katherine Johnson come out onstage with Hidden Figures stars was a classy move and indicative of what a smart awards show should do. Janelle Monae, Oscar-nominated Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson, who plays Johnson in the film, seemed genuinely moved to have the barrier breaker there with them. On a more effervescent take, but nonetheless another good trophy show move, have Dwayne Johnson and that amazing blue velvet jacket he was wearing threaten to belt out a tune from Disney’s Moana.

If the Oscars have proved to be sluggishly painful year after year of late, it still was a welcome relief from the seemingly ever-expanding red carpet pre-show. That was more evident this time round with an Oscars that was both quick on its feet and solid in its sense of self. On her best days, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts can make reading the iTunes User Agreement palatable – almost. However, the paint-drying banter with the celebs about fashion, social consciousness and not much more that she, Lara Spencer and newbie Michael Strahan are locked into is an endurance test at best and just awkward otherwise.

Having said that, if there is any downside to Kimmel’s Oscar hosting tonight besides the terrible blight on the ending by the Best Picture error, it is how he would have had to juggle his nightly show, the Oscars and the next time the Emmys are on ABC.

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