7:14pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Critic's Notebook: Jimmy Kimmel's Laundry-List Oscars Monologue Tackles Everything From Weinstein to Trump
Jimmy Kimmel took the stage Sunday night at the 90th Annual Academy Awards with a lot of ground that America knew he needed to cover.
The returning host had to deal with last year's titanic best picture screw-up, an autumn and winter of Hollywood's #MeToo and Time's Up revolution, all of the year's various Oscar-nominated movies, whatever Donald Trump jokes he wanted to tell and more.
And with all of that low-hanging fruit just waiting to be scathingly plucked, it's no wonder that Kimmel's Oscars monologue felt like a decently written, decently delivered laundry list.
The writing was actually sharper in the pre-monologue old time-y Hollywood newsreel that began by joking about the preempting of the regularly scheduled Celebrity Street Fights With Mario Lopez, an entirely plausible piece of programming that Fox has already put into development for after the Disney deal goes through. I also chuckled at the Gary Oldman joke, "If you loved Gary in Forrest Gump, you're thinking of Gary Sinise"; the Armie Hammer crack, "Armie was born when a witch put a curse on a Ken Doll"; and a reference to the years Meryl Streep was in jail and therefore didn't receive any Oscar nods.
Once the monologue began, Kimmel had a checklist and went through it with almost ruthless efficiency, which isn't the same as absolute ruthlessness.
The host actually started sincere.
"It is a great honor to be invited back a second time," Kimmel noted, and told the crowd that some of them would be lucky enough to go home with Oscars at the end of the night.
"This year when you hear your name called, don't get up right away. Give us a minute," he cracked.
Kimmel explained that he'd been asked last year to do comedy with the accountants, but he declined. "So then the accountants went ahead and did comedy on their own," he said.
Heh. The exclusive scapegoating of the accountants has been part of the narrative since last year, and since Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were expected to present later in the show, that's unlikely to change. I still completely understand why the writers focused the humor in this direction. You had to joke, but better not to joke in a way drawing attention to the specifics of the La La Land-Moonlight awkwardness.
After the too-easy, "Oscar is 90 years old tonight, which means he's probably at home watching Fox News," Kimmel moved directly into the recently exposed underbelly of Hollywood (and countless other industries) by addressing the giant statue to his right.
"Oscar is the most beloved and respected man in Hollywood and there's a very good reason why. Just look at him. Keeps his hands where you can see them. Never says a rude word. And most importantly, no penis at all," the host said.
In probably the best line in the monologue, he added, "He is literally a statue of limitations."
Kimmel celebrated Harvey Weinstein's eviction from the Academy and urged Hollywood to continue to set an example for all other workforces.
"If we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time everywhere they go," he said.
Celebrating the year's progressive and groundbreaking nominees — "If you’re a nominee not making history this year, shame on you!" — Kimmel also referenced one film that wasn't nominated for anything (Wonder Woman) and one film that can't be nominated for anything until next year (Black Panther) as breaking from a time not too distant when Hollywood believed movies fronted by women or minorities couldn't make money. He added, "The reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year."
There were easy, semi-funny jokes directed at the president ("None other than President Trump called Get Out the best three-quarters of a movie this year") and the vice president ("We don't make films like Call Me by Your Name for the money. We make them to upset Mike Pence"), but Kimmel really saved his toughest lines for Hollywood itself when he went several punchlines deep on the pay disparity between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg for All The Money in the World's reshoots. It was a pointed enough commentary that it deserved a better capping punchline than, "This one shook me, because if we can't trust agents — who can we trust?"
In general, Kimmel was tough, but without cutting too deep, because before anything threatened to get painful, he was off to the next gag. The result was something that felt less dangerous than Seth Meyers' Golden Globes take on #MeToo, but also less single-minded. Kimmel didn't want to go the Chris Rock single-topic route, and probably that was for the best.
There was, of course, so much to discuss. It was, as Kimmel observed, "The year men screwed up so badly women started dating fish."
That doesn't mean he got everything right. It's super to make much of your monologue about feminism and empowerment and equal pay, but then maybe don't toss in a joke about Tonya Harding being ugly? Some of us had quite a crush on Harding back in the day!
And for heaven's sake, if you're going to make a joke relating to Christopher Plummer, whose very attendance/nomination was predicated on director Ridley Scott getting a huge amount of money to eliminate a two-time Oscar winner from his film, why would you go with a stale joke about Plummer being old? And why would you follow it up with another stale joke about Plummer being old? There has to be something funnier you can do with Plummer. He's Christopher Plummer!
Having Helen Mirren as a Price Is Right girl associated with the Shortest Speech Wins a Jet-Ski contest straddled the middle ground between those cringe-y points. Like, if you get Margot Robbie to do that joke, it's basically that time the Emmys had Sofia Vergara as a spinning prop, and that was awful, but you can have Mirren doing it both because she's Helen Freakin' Mirren, the most revered of the revered, but Mirren being "venerable" is part of the joke as well — a bad part of the joke given how much red-carpet time was spent genuflecting in the direction of Mirren, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and other women beyond what Hollywood has long considered "A Certain Age."
I laughed at the Mirren appearance. I did not laugh at the Harding or Plummer jokes. But that was probably what was best about Kimmel's monologue. It was fast and if you didn't like one topic, angle or approach, he was on to the next in seconds.
And now, I'm on to watching the rest of the show to review what came after the monologue!