From that moment Justin Timberlake broke into his extremely catchy nominated song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” we, indeed, could not fight the feeling. And that feeling was utter exuberance.
And while it kept the feeling flush for a while, the uncontrollable building blocks of the Oscars eventually brought things back down to earth.
The speeches weren’t all that surprising, save for a few, and the winners weren’t particularly shocking in the major categories — except for that shocking Best Picture error. (Thanks be to Warren Beatty, by the way, for having the presence to explain the error immediately.)
Whoever oversaw handing out the envelopes made the first major mistake of the night. But beyond that eye-opening ending, the opening set a perfect tone, and Kimmel kept things light without disrespecting Oscar history…save for one surprisingly off-key moment.
But we’ll get to that in a bit. The show could have been a lean, anti-mean, joyful machine had it not been for the repeated nods to film history. Showing a montage of former winners in the acting categories did little to build up the prestige for those about to win, and Charlize Theron’s tribute-from-a-theatre-seat to “The Apartment” dragged things down.
Seth Rogen’s salute to “Back to the Future” was a little livelier, but none of these moments did much to motivate young audience members to watch the films (unless you’re that big of a Theron fan, which is fine) and thus felt like forced patronage to older viewers at home (likely the ones who, as Kimmel pointed out, haven’t seen “Moonlight”).
Still, the 89th Academy Awards won’t go down in the bottom half based on pure entertainment. Below, we’ve broken down the key elements of the show to better analyze the best and worst moments of the night. Kimmel did the virtually impossible: He matched the euphoric tone set by a joyful opening performance by Justin Timberlake.
Let’s face it, Kimmel has always been clever, but I doubt anyone expected him to nail the monologue with both planned and off-the-cuff jokes, smart and casual references fit for every cinephile at home, and even creating a few touching moments without losing steam.
His tribute to Meryl Streep would not have worked without such a clever build up beforehand. Many other hosts would have simply created an awkward few seconds of forced applause, but he’d whipped them into a frenzy by mentioning Donald Trump’s infamous tweet labeling the world’s most nominated actor “overrated” and repeatedly citing her “mediocre” and “underwhelming” performances in iconic films.
By building up the crowd to a peak they didn’t know was coming, Kimmel unleashed a heartwarming moment Streep herself happily took part in, standing up and turning around to acknowledge a wave of support that doubled as resistance to the president.
Earlier, Kimmel acknowledged the elephant in the room by pretending to make nice with Matt Damon. Though such a momentous occasion — for both men, a host and nominee — would have proved fitting for a true reconciliation, Kimmel slowly reversed his promise and gleefully ribbed the beloved Cambridge native. “When I first met Matt, I was the fat one,” Kimmel said of their longstanding faux dispute before concluding with an effective tear-down of “The Great Wall” and calling Damon a dumbass (who gamely played along by pulling Affleck’s hair at the mention of a ponytail).
Later in the show, he did even better: Mocking Damon’s “We Bought a Zoo” performance (by pretending to honor it as other actors honored classic films throughout the telecast) and then trying to play Damon off the stage when he was only up there to present an Oscar.
Another Cambridge native, Casey Affleck, won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “Manchester-by-the-Sea.” Affleck’s nomination was overshadowed by two sexual harassment suits brought against him in 2010, which received renewed coverage when he was nominated.
Overall, the Oscars telecast was an entertaining, mostly propulsive experience. Kimmel took risks, and that’s to be applauded. There are more than enough moments to remember — including a finale for the ages — and these incredible notes should more than make up for the extra-long running time.
That being said: Bring in Kate McKinnon next year.
The following is the list of the big winners of the evening:
Best Director: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (“Manchester By The Sea”)