Jimmy Kimmel was even better in his nine-minute opening Oscar monologue Sunday night than he was five months ago when he was hosting the Emmys.
And that is saying something.
I’m sure Kimmel’s tone at the opening and throughout the program will be debated like everything else these days, but he seemed to strike the right balance of jokes about President Trump, Hollywood and his friend Matt Damon.
He had several biting lines about Trump, but none were below the belt and CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert has said much worse on a nightly basis.
Several of Kimmel’s lines were as good as the gold dresses worn by several actresses. His best early line came when he thanked Trump and added: “Remember last year it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”
Better yet, some of Kimmel’s jokes didn’t even need to mention Trump by name. The audience knew he was talking about Meryl Streep when he repeated Trump’s tweet about the award-winning actress being “overrated” after she slammed him during a speech at the Golden Globes in January.
Even when he made a tasteless joke after ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America” was named best documentary, Kimmel recovered quickly by becoming his own critic and saying “the audience turned on him.”
It was a Johnny Carson-like moment of turning a negative into a positive.
Kimmel also has a Carson-like ability to be likable even when he is saying something that some people would consider to be very mean.
Now on to more highs and lows of the evening:
Best Kick Off: You can’t go wrong with Justin Timberlake kicking off the show with an Oscar-nominated song, even if it made you wonder if you were watching the Oscars or the Grammys. The opening wasn’t terribly original but it was lively and a fun way to start the program before Kimmel arrived to give his monologue.
Best Speech: Viola Davis of “Fences” gave a poetic, moving victory speech as best supporting actress for her role in “Fences” that was tough to beat. She also mentioned Buffalo actor Stephen McKinley Henderson, among others in the “Fences” cast. “Viola Davis just got nominated for an Emmy for that speech,” cracked Kimmel. Agreed.
Best and Most Moving Surprise: Katherine Johnson, one of the real life NASA figures depicted in “Hidden Figures” was brought out on stage to applause.
Best Punching Bag: Mel Gibson, nominated as director of “Hacksaw Ridge” got hit twice by Kimmel. But the funniest Gibson moment came during the ABC preshow when co-host Michael Strahan noted the director just had his latest child, his ninth, with young girlfriend, Rosalind Ross, as she stood by his side. I’m guessing many people thought she was his ninth child.
Classy Speeches: Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight” and director Ezra Edelman of “O.J. Made in America” both had classy speeches early in the broadcast.
Best Political Speech: Fittingly, the Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, of the best foreign film, “The Salesman,” started the political speeches by having a letter condemning the proposed travel ban read for him. Overall, the first two hours of the program weren’t as political as expected, except during acceptance speeches by foreign winners.
Best Idea: It was a great idea to show some of the best thank-you speeches of past Oscars so early in the program and add more periodically through the program.
Worst Idea: The jokes for presenter Kate McKinnon confusing the definitions of makeup and costumes were lame. She should have brought “Saturday Night Live” writers with her.
Best Bus Ride: The love it or hate it bit in which a bus full of tourists were surprised by entering the hall came off better than expected, thanks to Denzel Washingotn playing along and pretending to marry a Chicago couple from the bus.
Best “Mean Tweet”: I can’t repeat any of them in one of Kimmel’s signature features, but I thought the ones read by Ryan Gosling and Robert DeNiro were the funniest.
Best Damon Shot: Kimmel saluted his friend Damon for allowing Casey Affleck to take the lead in “Manchester by the Sea” so he could make “The Great Wall,” “which went on to lose $80 million. Dumb ---.” Later, Damon tripped Kimmel.
Worst Editing: One of the winners of a technical award for “Suicide Squad” was cut off very fast as he started talking about his deceased wife. Rude.
Best Pre-show Line: Ryan Gosling of “La La Land” when asked by Robin Roberts if he still plays the piano: “I can only play the pieces in the film.”
Best Admission: Affleck, nominated for “Manchester by the Sea” about the bearded look he is sporting because of his role in a new film: “I know it is not a good look.”
Best Direction: When pre-show host Michael Strahan went overboard praising John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen, she jokingly said “shut up Michael.” I was thinking the same thing.
Best Comeback: When Strahan told “La La Land” writer-director Damien Chazelle that co-stars Gosling and Emma Stone “kind of owe you something,” Chazelle replied: “I think I owe them.”
Best Quote: After Sting finished his nominated song, a quote from the late journalist James W. Foley was put on the screen without comment. “If we don’t have the moral courage to challenge authority, we don’t have journalism.”
Best Ad: It wasn’t long after the Foley quote, that a New York Times ad about seeking the truth in these fractured times ran. The truth is it is a great ad that is running a year after the journalism movie “Spotlight” was named best movie. And here’s more truth: Like the tour bus bit, Kimmel exceeded expectations.