The Oscars Offered A Refreshing Return To Predictability

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We knew going in that this year’s Oscars probably wasn’t going to have a huge twist ending like last year’s La La Land/Moonlight switcheroo. In a year of nothing much good happening, that one moment of confusion and spontaneity surely saved us from a lot of bad takes. Nothing like that happened this year, and aside from the fact that you can’t really plan something like that, the stage wasn’t set for it. There weren’t two clear Best Picture favorites going head to head to give everyone a rooting interest.

The potential for unpredictability was low and the night played out mostly predictably. When the biggest upset is Icarus winning Best Documentary Feature you know it was a night of few surprises. On the plus side, there also wasn’t much to be that upset about*. The most disappointing snub (for me, anyway) was watching Lady Bird get shut out completely, but even that was more of a cumulative disappointment than an acute one. I would’ve loved to see it win something, but I can’t be too upset with Allison Janney beating Laurie Metcalf in the Best Supporting Actress category (Janney was a great, and she gives a fun speech), or Jordan Peele beating Gerwig for Best Original Screenplay (we would’ve missed that handshake with Daniel Kaluuya if he hadn’t won). Guillermo Del Toro winning Best Director… eh… it wouldn’t be my choice, but I like to hear him talk, and I enjoy the stat that a Mexican director has won Best Director four out of the last five years. Do we need an inclusion rider for American directors?

[*At least, not counting wins for alleged rapist Kobe Bryant and accused domestic abuser Gary Oldman. Guess we still haven’t figured out that whole separating-the-art-from-the-artist thing. Probably we never will? Given the opportunity to address the controversy directly, Kobe… uh… thanked Verizon.]

Even with Best Picture, where Lady Bird seemed most deserving (to me, stop yelling), the win went to The Shape of Water. Which, again, wouldn’t be my choice (the movie is fine), but since I had mentally prepared myself for a Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri win (it was the Vegas favorite) Shape of Water‘s slight upset felt almost like a win. And anyway, isn’t it kind of better when your favorite movie doesn’t win? Then you can continue to shout about it and congratulate yourself for championing the underappreciated. As opposed to when your favorite movie that year wins and you spend the next five years feeling defensive about the inherent accusation that it’s overrated. See: The Artist or Birdman (they were great, do no @ me).

And what of second-time host Jimmy Kimmel? He did a fine job and “fine” is a high compliment for an Oscars host. People forget what a thankless and impossible job hosting the Oscars is. Remember James Franco and Anne Hathaway? Remember Sean Penn yelling at Chris Rock because he made a joke about Jude Law being in lots of movies? Remember Billy Crystal? That’s a trick question, no one remembers Billy Crystal.

My point is, if you aren’t cursing the host’s name the next morning they probably did great. The opening monologue was so-so. We saw the Oscar-has-no-penis joke getting into a cab at its hotel 10 blocks away, though the joke about how the only other guy to get kicked out of the Academy besides Harvey Weinstein was a guy who had illegally shared Academy screeners was solid. (“Carmine Caridi got the same punishment as Harvey Weinstein for giving his neighbor a copy of Seabiscuit on VHS”). That’s about the funniest bit you could do with that subject, and Kimmel wisely ended it on a non-joke. It’s a tough time for comedy. Reality is so ridiculous that it makes parody difficult.

Conversely, earnestness plays. Some of the most memorable moments were Frances McDormand’s kind of manic (but, again, earnest) plea for inclusion riders and Common calling out the NRA in a freestyle. (I have a strict rule that Common is the only one allowed to do poetry at me.) It’s just that kind of time. Things aren’t that fun.

But even if Kimmel maybe isn’t as good a straight comedian as a Dave Letterman or a Chris Rock, he’s one of our strongest bit writers (assuming they were his ideas). Helen Mirren presenting the Jet Ski for shortest speech was inspired, and it gave all the winners something to talk about throughout the night. What more can you ask for in an Oscars bit? Likewise, taking some of the stars across the street to shoot hot dogs at tourists and having a normie present an award… sure, it was a bit of a repeat of last year’s tourist surprise, but it’s the kind of bit you want to repeat. Kimmel has a certain genius at setting up man-on-the-street bits.

It was a night where spontaneity was confined to certain, pre-defined spaces for it. And that’s just fine. In a ceremony that’s generally defined by being pompous, or nauseatingly self-congratulatory, where Jared Leto can dedicate his award to the brave people of the Ukraine, it was nice to have a crop of nice people mostly being genuinely happy, expressing concern for things worthy of it, even if it didn’t make for Earth-shattering television. The more reality comes to resemble the crappy future from Back the Future Part II the more I appreciate not being surprised. Being mostly predictable with a few moments of unexpected whimsy — like Darkest Hour make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji thanking his cat or The Shape of Water set decorator Shane Vieau attempting to redefine sleeves — feels like something to be thankful for.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.