Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Was Jimmy Kimmel a Good Oscar Host?

Jimmy Kimmel
Now that the ceremony has passed and the tension of what will win has been resolved, there is one issue that needs to be answered: was Jimmy Kimmel a good host? It's the most interpretive question for one of Hollywood's most thankless job. An Oscar host almost solely exists to keep a show moving. The best can add their own bit of personality into the mix, but it's a job meant to honor others, As a whole, there is a couple benefits that make Kimmel stand out: he's probably interviewed everyone in the audience on his late night talk show across the street. He has gained a routine over the years to know how to do live events. Even during the night's most disastrous moment, he managed to keep things breezy. Is he a good Oscar host? Most definitely. In fact, he might secretly be one of the best.

Along with the nominees and viewer ratings, the Oscars have had a public battle with finding a host that could possibly keep people's interests. There was the notorious "youth vote" flop of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, the sad familiarity of Billy Crystal, and a string of talent that have fallen all over the spectrum as terrible (Ellen Degeneres), uneven (Seth MacFarlane), and awkward (Neil Patrick Harris). With all of that said, the issue in finding a host that will produce memorable bits has been a conflict of interest for years now. It is a confusing position, if just because most people will remember the winners more than the hosts come 20 years from now. 

Yet the one thing that will likely be remembered by the contemporary generation is Jimmy Kimmel Live!'s post-Oscar show. It has been going for years now and has served as a nice wrap-up party with Oscar attendees being interviewed or participating in silly viral stunts. It's a show not unlike Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show. However, it has the added benefit of being across the street from the Dolby Theater as well as being edgier and in the heartland of movie culture. Right outside Kimmel's headquarters is the Grauman's Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There's something passionate about the sheer location of Jimmy Kimmel Live! that makes him almost have to appeal to Hollywood mentality.

Having hosted a few other awards shows, he has experience with the format. However, what made him the perfect host for the Oscars was that his deadpan style of comedy was able to not draw attention to himself while keeping the show focused on film. Even at his most lackadaisical, he managed to read the room on Oscar Sunday and keep the mood light. One of his most ingenious moves was his ability to infuse political humor into the evening without being overbearing. While many found last year's host Chris Rock too confrontational, having Kimmel casually call Meryl Streep "overrated" or mention the fake Swedish massacre, he managed to remind audiences of how ridiculous modern politics were without ever making it a soapbox moment for himself. Anyone who would be more forthright would be giving speeches.

There was even a method to Kimmel's madness, as he seemed to top previous Oscar hosts at their own game. Where Harris famously had a prediction box watched over by Octavia Spencer, Kimmel had recurring gags that may be inside baseball to general audiences, but were longstanding features of his show. There was the feud with Matt Damon - of which was made more enjoyable by how convincingly silly it all was. There was even a cute series of segments in which actors watched their idols in famous movies before presenting with them. Of course, it was ended by Kimmel sarcastically praising Damon's work in We Bought a Zoo. To make matters better, the presentation that followed was more ribbing at Damon as he participated in a Good Will Hunting reunion that featured him - as presenter - being played off and Ben Affleck joining in on the fun. 

The issue with punchy humor is that it can be addictive or toxic. The last time that Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes, he infamously insulted Hollywood to the point that every last presenter and winner classlessly (possibly drunkenly) made insults of themselves. Yes, Kimmel had winking humor meant to poke holes in Hollywood pretentiousness. However, he still had a healthy sense of inclusiveness and was able to read the room. He wanted everyone to have fun and would try to find random ways to keep people on their toes. He even outdid Ellen Degeneres' horrible performance as host by showing how to do crowd interaction without grinding the show to a halt. He brought a tour group through and managed to do something no host before had. He made it clear how the home audience felt watching these stars. He made jokes that made the Oscars seem almost like an exhibit, capturing the wonder than any outsider would have. Likewise, he outdid Degeneres' career low point by turning a moment where he handed out food into a gag lasting no more than a few minutes. Compare that to Degeneres, who horribly padded the already too long running time.

Whether it was his idea or the producers, even the way that the show was set up had a stronger core. Save for the abbreviated In Memoriam section, the whole thing lacked the novelty cards of previous years. Every category had clips that showed the home audience what was being nominated. While I enjoy the art design, I admit that the more conventional style gives off a better impression of the film. I'm not as wild about the presenters returning to the days of ad lib introductions, but it did lead to some solid moments. What is most important is that everything was fun. While the show's opening was a little underwhelming (it wasn't so much an opening that emphasized the themes, as it was a moment that had to be done at some point), it did stay at a steady pace. 

Most of all, Kimmel will be remembered for that final bit where he managed to riff with Warren Beatty during the Best Picture snafu. His ability to riff was a thing of beauty and managed to shine above other improvisational Oscar humor, such as Harris having to deal with awkward racial jokes. He may not be the funniest, but he has a knack for live gigs that probably stems from the fact that he hosts a live show, and that he's probably chummy with everyone in the room. There's a welcoming to it all that few hosts could dare achieve. He also manages to have segments that are touching and subversive. If he's not the best host since 2010, he's at least one of the most prepared to host again. I hope he does consider it. If not, he'll be back with the post-Oscars special to make everything better.

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