Comedian Jimmy Kimmel, hosting the Oscars for a third time, led a back-to-basics show on Sunday that celebrated a moviegoing rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic while avoiding - and making light of - the kind of ugly outburst that marred the 2022 telecast.
Kimmel opened the 95th Academy Awards with a monologue that jokingly admonished the stars filling the Dolby Theatre to behave, a year after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage but was allowed to remain in the venue to accept the award for best actor minutes later.
"We know this is a special night for you,” Kimmel told the crowd of Hollywood luminaries. “We want you to have fun, we want you to feel safe, and, most important, we want me to feel safe.”
Kimmel, who was cheekily promoted ahead of Sunday's telecast as an “unflappable and unslappable” Oscars host, then went on to give a mock recitation of “strict policies in place” to prevent a repeat of last year's incident.
"If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during this show, you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor and permitted to give a 19-minute speech,” he deadpanned to hearty but somewhat awkward laughter.
If anything unpredictable or violent happens during the ceremony, just sit there and do what you did last year, nothing,” Kimmel added. “Maybe even give the assailant a hug.”
As punishment for his behavior, Smith was later banned from attending the ceremony for 10 years.
Later on, when introducing presenters for the documentary feature award, Kimmel reminded viewers Rock was presenting the award for that category when a joke he made about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, prompted Smith's assault.
The unprecedented altercation during a live awards show so unnerved the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that the group created a special “crisis team” designed to respond to any such mishaps. There were none.
Otherwise, Kimmel presided over a telecast dedicated largely to hailing the return of film fans to theaters, following a long estrangement from the multiplex that many in the industry worried might never be broken once streaming services took hold during the pandemic.
Movie that 'saved the movies'
The theme was bolstered by the fact that several of the evening's nominated films were also among 2022's biggest box office hits, including “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Elvis,” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, the last of which won seven Oscars, including best picture. It was a departure from many years in which relatively little-seen, but critically acclaimed, films have dominated the Academy Awards.
Kimmel seized on the power of popular films in his own grand entrance on Sunday, appearing to parachute to the Oscar stage following a real-life Hollywood flyover by two US fighter jets shown at the very top of the telecast in an obvious nod to “Top Gun,” which the host later saluted as “the movie that saved the movies.”
The late-night ABC television comedian repeatedly mocked the Oscars' notorious history of exceeding its designated three-hour running time, joking at one point that the hour of sleep Americans lost on Sunday as the US reverted to daylight saving time was added into the Academy Awards telecast.
Among highlights of producers' bid to reinvigorate the show's roots as a forum for big-moment musical numbers, the telecast featured recording stars Lady Gaga and Rihanna singing two of the best original song nominees - “Hold My Hand” from "Top Gun” and “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The cast of the Indian superhero-like spectacle “RRR” performed that movie's winning best song “Naatu Naatu” with a rousing dance number.
The telecast was notable for a number of sight gags that drew major laughs - including two appearances by an unknown performer in costume making a faux impersonation of the furry title character from the popular wildlife thriller “Cocaine Bear.”
Earlier, an actual donkey wearing an “emotional support” vest was led on stage by Kimmel and introduced to the audience as Jenny, the mini-donkey from the best picture contender “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
The ABC telecast ran about 3-1/2 hours, prompting Kimmel to joke in the show's closing seconds, “Sorry we ran a little long” and telling viewers to stay tuned for the network's “Good Morning America” program, “already in progress.”
Kimmel previously hosted in 2017, the year of the "Moonlight” best-picture mixup, and in 2018, the first Oscars of the #MeToo era.
In a final gag of the night, he stepped up to a sign that read: “Number of Oscar shows without incident,” and replaced a placard marked “0” with a “1.”