The first Oscars of the Time’s Up era opened with a trip back in time: A black-and-white, 1940s newsreel takeoff, complete with archaic corny and sexist narration, delivered by host Jimmy Kimmel. (On Meryl Streep: “Her most important role is that of mother to her four children.”)
The mildly amusing start to the 90th Academy Awards underscored a key theme of Sunday’s broadcast on ABC: There’s no returning to the good old days, which weren’t all that good, at least not for the women of Hollywood.
“Things are changing for the better,” declared second-time Oscars host Kimmel, who struck some serious notes during his nearly nine-minute monologue.
He did a somewhat stronger job of making the point with one-liners during a performance that at times veered into another old-school format: a roast.
Kimmel invoked the merman-romance plot of “The Shape of Water”: “We will always remember this year as the year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.”
He highlighted the industry’s cluelessness: “We made a movie called ‘What Women Want’ and it starred Mel Gibson.”
He suggested Oscar wasn’t to blame for Hollywood’s troubles: “He keeps his hands where you can see them,” Kimmel said, pointing to the giant golden statuette on the Dolby Theatre stage. “Never says a rude word. And most importantly, no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitations.”
Kimmel generally worked well within his own, self-imposed limitations.
He delivered carefully crafted quips that skewered disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood for horrific treatment of women while being careful not to even suggest any mockery of sexual harassment victims.
He slammed Fox News, Vice President Pence and President Trump, who, Kimmel joked, “called ‘Get Out’ the best first three-quarters of a movie this year.” (Spoiler alert: The racially charged thriller doesn’t end well for the white villains.)
Kimmel also targeted Oscar voters for being out of touch with the movie-going public – repeatedly citing the success of “Black Panther,” which, he noted, already is “the favorite to not get nominated for anything next year.”
And, of course, he mentioned last year’s disaster, in which Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway erroneously announced “La La Land” as Best Picture, over “Moonlight,” the true winner. “This year, when you hear your name called, don’t get up right away,” Kimmel warned during his monologue.
The Oscars ended with another time machine journey: Beatty and Dunaway returned to bestow the Best Picture trophy upon “The Shape of Water.” The two throwback movie stars got a do-over on a night that was most about Hollywood’s last chance to make things right.
As Kimmel observed early on, “The world is watching us. We need to set an example.” It's a lesson Francis McDormand reinforced in her stirring Best Actress acceptance speech when she asked all female Oscar nominees to stand – and called on executives to make good on talk about hiring more women filmmakers.
There’s no turning back now.