These days, no matter how hard one may try to keep politics out of an evening, they have a way of seeping in.
That’s how it was at the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday night, when The Shape of Water took the Best Picture award at the end of an evening that was studiously not about the issues that have dominated Hollywood over the course of the past few months—except when it was. That film, a love letter to classic cinema’s romances and creature features—that is or is not a statement on divisions in contemporary society, depending on the light through which one sees it—seemed like the perfect winner for a ceremony that felt at odds with itself. After all, at times this year’s Oscars seemed a tribute to an imagined past Oscars of the mind, and then at times they seemed something radical and new.
The fundamentals of the ceremony, despite dashes of energy that felt risky and daring, had changed little even as the industry the ceremony honored had begun to change a lot. Jimmy Kimmel—who’d seemed outmatched last year by an envelope mix-up before the evening’s most anticipated award—had months to prepare for a show in the wake of the culture-shaking Harvey Weinstein revelations. And he seemed to have spent those months brainstorming how not to address anything at all. Kimmel, a talk show host who has been inspiring and catalyzing in the past year while discussing issues personally connected to him, seemed flat and uninspired in his monologue when dealing with topics that demanded laceration. I missed the relentless satiric mind of past Oscar host Chris Rock as Kimmel made a joke about the 2000 film What Women Want, or joked about a “tweetstorm from the President’s toilet.”
Read more: See All the Winners of the 2018 Oscars
His most urgently beat drum was the idea that the deliverer of the shortest Oscar speech would win a Jet-Ski. It wasn’t that the reveal of the Jet-Ski wasn’t cute. It was that this year of all years, Oscar viewers wanted to hear a sharper host’s better jokes—and they wanted to hear what those accepting the prizes had to say. Kimmel was largely absent from the middle portion of the broadcast (he reappeared, weirdly, at the end, to cut short the Best Picture acceptance speech by a Shape of Water producer). His absence may have been a good thing: Kimmel’s mid-awards-show sojourn across the street with a team of celebrities to “interrupt moviegoers” and give them candy was a time-consuming tease-the-normies stunt, much like one he performed last year. It kept him off the premises teasing and provoking “movie fans” while others at the Oscars got to work delighting and stimulating actual movie fans.
Shortly after Kimmel had left the building, a trio of presenters—Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, and Salma Hayek…