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The 89th Academy Awards featured a bizarre twist: Best Picture was accidentally awarded to the wrong film. Here’s what you missed from the Oscars in 3 minutes.
USA TODAY NETWORK


When it comes to awards shows this season, Jimmy Kimmel is batting a thousand.

Kimmel’s stand-up always navigates that treacherous line between mean-but-funny and flat-out mean, which makes him a risky choice as an awards show host. Yet it’s a balancing act he hit just right in September, when he hosted the Emmys for ABC, and again on Sunday’s wild Oscar broadcast. Well, he was a hit unless you’re a Trump fan — for you, the message was “if you watch, you’re in for a long night.”

Even so, it was a gentler Kimmel than you sometimes see, but that’s probably just what the crowd and the occasion demand. For the people nominated, this is a big night, and for some, the biggest of their lives. They have the right to expect that the jabs at them will sting, but not maim.

They also have a right to expect that the right winner will be announced — and that the broadcast will not collapse in what is sure-to-be legendary chaos, after Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway gave the Oscar for Best Picture to the wrong movie. Repeat after us: You had one job. (“I knew I would screw this show up, I really did,” joked Kimmel, who was not the one who screwed it up.)

The sad thing is, up to that last moment the show had been well-produced and the host had been both comfortable and confident — so confident, he didn’t feel the need to be the first person you saw or heard from. That honor went to Justin Timberlake and a horde of dancers, entering through the crowd while singing a nominated song from Trolls — which might have been more exciting if the sound was better, and the song was better. Oh, and if the director had actually let us see Timberlake, rather than losing him in backlighting and cuts to the crowd.

When Kimmel did come out, he came out swinging. He joked that he was not the kind of host who can unite people, and then proceeded to make jokes about reconciling with Matt Damon (whose We Bought A Zoo would later trigger one of Kimmel’s best bits).  “It’s so easy to reach out and heal,” he said, as he took digs at Damon’s Great Wall bomb and President Trump, whom he thanked for making Hollywood look less racist by comparison.

That was one of many references to the president, both by Kimmel and by winners in their acceptance speeches. Obviously, those people all had the right to express their opinions, but some of them might have wanted to consider whether the people watching the Oscars wanted to hear them. My own guess is that viewers on both sides are Trumped out and looking for some small safe harbor that is president-free — and that viewers on both sides knew the Oscars would not provide one.

It did, however, provide a few moments of uplift, starting with the introduction of Katherine Johnson, the real-life NASA mathematician played by Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures, and including the moving acceptance speech by best supporting-actress winner Viola Davis.  There were also multiple nice touches, such as the previous-winner montages that introduced each acting category; the salute to actors by other actors; and Kimmel’s hilarious (if divisive) bit inviting a tour bus full of people into the theater — a celebration of actors as good sports.

No host, no matter how good, can save the Oscars if you have no interest in the films and the nominees, or if you’re allergic to self-congratulation. Unlike the Grammys, which is a variety show with awards attached, the Oscars are a flat-out awards show, and the prizes — 24 of them, dribbled out slowly throughout a very long evening — are what dominate.

But a host can make matters better or worse, and on that scale, Kimmel definitely fell on the “better” side. He was a consistently amusing, good-natured presence who usually hit the mark, and who was able to recover quickly when he didn’t.

“We’re going to have fun tonight,” Kimmel said early on, a statement he instantly qualified with “I hope we’re going to have fun tonight.”

If you didn’t, and the producers of La La Land probably didn’t, don’t blame Kimmel.