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Oscar host Kimmel keeps it simple, not too stupid

By ELLEN GRAY | Philadelphia Daily News | Published: February 27, 2017

Sometimes the best thing an Oscar host can do is to keep it simple. And not too stupid.

And to be ready with an explanation when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are given the wrong envelope, and “Moonlight’s” best picture Oscar is, oh so briefly, awarded to “La La Land.”

“I blame myself for this. ... The good news is that we got to see some extra speeches,” ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel said around 12:15 a.m., after a stunning mistake made Oscars history.

Up until then, Kimmel had mostly hit his marks Feb. 26 at the 89th Academy Awards, which didn’t need the furious funny that Chris Rock brought last year to deal with the awkwardness of #OscarsSoWhite, because these Oscars weren’t.

Kimmel, not even attempting a Billy Crystal-style opening, ceded the first five minutes to Justin Timberlake, who kicked things off with the nominated “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls. (Did Jimmy Fallon know Justin would be cheating on him with another Jimmy?)

Kimmel’s opening monologue walked the line between sincerity and cynicism, if not Republican and Democrat.

“I’m not the man to unite this country,” the ABC late-night host said. “There’s only one Braveheart in this room (Mel Gibson), and he’s not going to unite us, either.” But if everyone watching were to have a conversation with someone with whom they disagreed, Kimmel suggested, “We could make America great again.”

And then he resumed his fake fight with Matt Damon, a bit of shtick probably lost on anyone who doesn’t watch “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Not that Kimmel was avoiding politics. Sample quotes:

“I want to say thank you to President Trump. I mean, remember last year when people thought the Oscars were racist?”

“We don’t discriminate against people based on what country they come from. We discriminate against them based on their age and weight.”

And then, refusing to quit while he was ahead: “Some of you will get to come up to this stage and give a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about during his 5 a.m. bowel movement tomorrow.”

Put a fork in it: This year’s food-related gimmick was tiny parachutes delivering Junior Mints to the audience below. (At 11:36 p.m., cookies and doughnuts were added.) Three years ago, Ellen DeGeneres brought in pizza. Last year, Chris Rock had Girl Scouts in to sell cookies. Maybe next year, everyone could just pack a snack?

More fun: Kimmel’s escorting a group of tourists in to meet (and get selfies with) the stars.

Time-wasters: Yes, I like Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets,” too, but coming at 11 p.m. I knew it meant that some winners probably would be rushed through the biggest moments of their lives. And at 11:28, we shouldn’t have been watching Damon’s “We Bought a Zoo” with Kimmel.

It was a good night for moving speeches, the tone set by supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and supporting actress winner Viola Davis (“Fences”), who schooled her fellow performers in how to deliver a meaningful speech through tears. (The secret, I’m guessing, is learning your lines so that emotion doesn’t cause you to lose the thread.)

Some presenters found a way to politely inject politics into the proceedings. British actor Mark Rylance, talking about the difference between opposition and support in the supporting actress category, said that it was “something women seem to be better at than men ... opposing without hatred.”

“As an actor, as a migrant worker, as a Mexican, as a human being, I’m against any kind of wall that separates us,” Gael Garcia Bernal said.

As always, there were a few awards the academy didn’t have time for, including:

Most inspiring plus-one: Katherine Johnson, the 98-year-old NASA pioneer, who received a standing ovation as she was wheeled out on stage to join Taraji P. Henson, who played her in “Hidden Figures,” and Henson’s costars Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.

Well-timed spot: The New York Times’ “Truth is hard” commercial was placed in the break after Sting’s performance of “The Empty Chair,” the original song nominee from “Jim, the James Foley Story,” the documentary about the American journalist killed by ISIS.

Maybe too well-timed spot: Rolex’s celebration of cinema, which included a “Titanic” clip featuring Bill Paxton, whose death following complications of surgery was announced on Sunday. Jennifer Aniston, introducing the In Memoriam sequence later, mentioned Paxton before it began.

The Jenna Bush Hager red carpet red face: People editor-in-chief Jess Cagle managed to repeat Hager’s and Michael Keaton’s Golden Globes flubs with a reference to that not-exactly nominated film, “Hidden Fences,” while working the Oscars red carpet for ABC.

Oddest pre-show presentation: From E!’s Ryan Seacrest, who gave Pharrell Williams, “Hidden Figures” producer and co-composer, three crocheted rockets in honor of both his NASA-themed film and the triplets Williams and his wife, Helen Lasichanh, welcomed in January. The recipient seemed touched. And at least they weren’t crocheted fences.

Host Jimmy Kimmel, left, raises "Lion" actor Sunny Pawar in a parody of a scene from "The Lion King" at the Oscars on Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
CHRIS PIZZELLO, INVISION/AP

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