Review: 90th Academy Awards show speaks up yet keeps the smiles coming

Jimmy Kimmel during the telecast of the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, 2018 in the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, CA.
Jimmy Kimmel during the telecast of the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, 2018 in the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, CA.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Television Critic

The 90th edition of the Academy Awards came and went Sunday evening, filling its nearly four hours with laughter and tears, self-mocking and self-celebration and more than a usual amount of music. Jimmy Kimmel hosted for a second time, handily.

It was, as always, a long flight, stimulating in its scenic views, enervating in its length. Compared to some earlier years, there was a decided lack of turbulence.

There were two main narrative thrusts to the evening, one looking backward, one looking ahead — looking ahead was also looking outward, to a more inclusive film industry.


The 90th Oscars ceremony was the reason for the first, which announced itself with a faux-historical, black-and-white newsreel opening and continued through the evening with well-edited montages featuring past winners of major categories. The message seemed to be that movies may have a long way to go in terms of diversity and representation but were always kind of woke: We have much to do, but we have done much.

FULL COVERAGE: Academy Awards 2018 | Red carpet | Winners room

The second had to do with Harvey Weinstein and the ugliness his exposure has revealed about the business, both sexual predators and insidious structural inequities. There were direct references to #MeToo and #TimesUp. Most direct of all was the appearance together of three women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd and Annabella Sciorra.

“This year many spoke their truth,” said Sciorra. “Slowly a new path has emerged.”

It was a theme throughout the night: “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year,” said Emma Stone presenting the award for directing. Frances McDormand, accepting an award for lead actress, asked all the evening’s female nominees to stand.

Popular culture drives social change. Unlike, say, Washington, D.C., Hollywood in recent years, or anyway months, has become a community where there are consequences not just to bad action but to inaction. Sometimes this is just lip service, but one can argue that lip service performed on such a massive public scale amounts to a change in the conversation.


This year’s Oscars felt especially diverse — diverse enough for Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph to joke about the number of performers of color. (Haddish: “When we came out together, you were thinking, ‘Are the Oscars too black now?’” Rudolph promised more white people to come.)

It is a show in which men thank their husbands and women thank their wives, and it goes out around the world.

Age too was on display: Christopher Plummer, 88, nominated as a supporting actor for “All the Money in the World,” was the subject of more than one joke. But there were also James Ivory, 89, winning in the adapted screenplay category for “Call Me by Your Name”; presenters Rita Moreno, 86, wearing her 1962 Oscar dress, still and always the dancer; and Eva Marie Saint, a spritely 93, older than Oscars themselves.

Kimmel, for his part, seems made for this job — a mainstream performer who is sensitive to the winds of change, he is equally adept calling out injustice and calling for a party. He introduced the broadcast as a night for “positivity” and though this was on the way to a joke about “Black Panther” crushing a host of inspiring films at the box office that weekend, “Black Panther” crushing at the box office was itself part of the narrative of positivity.

But there was also a running bit about the giver of the shortest acceptance speech winning a jet ski. It was awarded to “Phantom Thread” costume designer Mark Bridges, who rode in on it at the end, accompanied by Helen Mirren (“not included”).

“This is the home stretch,” said Kimmel as best picture hoved into view, at which point, “nothing could possibly go wrong.” Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, victims of last year’s envelope mixup, were invited back for a do-over. They resisted any impulse to announce “La La Land” as the winner — it was “The Shape of Water.” I would not have been that strong.

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd