Between bits of wackiness, Oscars manage to touch on meaningful issues

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Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty present the Oscar for Best Film during the 90th Annual Academy Awards show on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. | Getty Images

This time they got it right.

But I wish they’d been wrong.

Some 51 years after playing notorious criminals in “Bonnie and Clyde,” Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway returned to the scene of last year’s Academy Awards “crime,” when they were caught in the crossfire of the biggest mistake in Oscar history, as “La La Land” enjoyed the briefest of reigns as best picture winner before “Moonlight” was given its rightful due.

There were no snafus this time around, as “The Shape of Water” was announced as best picture.

It was a film I admired but did not love. I was a bigger fan of “Three Billboards…” and at least a dozen other 2017 films, but even though I predicted “Three Billboards” would win, I wasn’t surprised by the win for “Shape of Water.”


90th Oscars dance between honoring and correcting the past

4 Oscars, including best picture, go to ‘The Shape of Water’

Oscars 2018: The list of winners

In the acting categories, there were no surprises. Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Allison Janey and Sam Rockwell ran the table in virtually every awards show leading up to the Oscars, and they completed the sweep at the Oscars.

Oldman delivered a lovely tribute to his mother, telling her to put the kettle on for a pot of tea. (His father left the family when he was just 7 years old.)

Last fall, I did a Q-and-A with Oldman in Chicago after a screening of “Darkest Hour,” and I congratulated him on his upcoming Oscar win. It was that obvious he was destined to win.

“I did it all by myself!” said Janney to kick off her acceptance speech. Of course she was kidding, but that was kind of great.

Best actress winner McDormand was her typical blunt and straightforward and endearing-as-heck self. Her “Three Billboards” co-star Sam Rockwell was one of several winners who actually prepared a few remarks. Good on you! There’s nothing more frustrating than watching an Oscar winner fumbling through a speech while professing utter shock about the award. (Come on. Of the 6 billion-plus people in the world, only five were nominated in your category. It couldn’t have been THAT much of a surprise.)

“If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category to stand with me in every category,” said McDormand. “Look around ladies and gentlemen, we all have stories to tell and projects we need to finance.”

Legendary actresses Eva Marie Saint, Rita Moreno and Jane Fonda killed it in their respective moments onstage.

As usual, the “In Memoriam” tribute led to instant (and justified) social media criticism, with complaints about Tobe Hooper, Dorothy Malone, Della Reese and Bill Paxton, among others, not making the cut, but it’s a nearly impossible task for the Academy to include everyone that deserves a mention. Complaints noted, Eddie Vedder’s performance of Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top” made for one of the most moving “In Memoriam” segments ever.

Overall, the 90th Academy Awards felt like a tightrope act.

For every serious moment, there was a wacky comedic bit. For every slow moment, there was a terrific tribute to the power of movies.

On the one hand, host Jimmy Kimmel, a number of red carpet attendees and some winners and presenters didn’t shy away from making social and political statements.

Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino spoke with strength and clarity and resolve on the red carpet. Taraji P. Henson tossed a little verbal shade at Ryan Seacrest (recently accussed by a former stylist of harassment.)

“You know, the universe has a way of taking care of the good people,” Henson said to Seacrest. “You know what I mean?”

In an old-timey, newsreel type opening montage, an off-camera announcer (who turned out to be Kimmel) said of Lupito Nyong’o: “She was born in Mexico and raised in Kenya. Let the tweetstorm from the president’s toilet begin!”

Onstage, Kimmel quickly acknowledged last year’s “La La Land”/”Moonlight” snafu, saying: “When you hear your name called, don’t get up right away. Give us a moment.”

And he referenced the Scandal in the Room, saying of the Oscar statue, “He keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and most importantly, no penis at all. Literally a statue of limitations.”

Last year at the Oscars, Kimmel welcomed a group of tourists that happened to be near the Dolby Theater at the time. The likable “Gary from Chicago” was the breakout star from the group — but the interview and endorsement opportunities quickly disappeared when we learned Gary had been released from prison only a few days earlier.

This year, Kimmel flipped the script by bringing the stars to the fans instead of the other way around. They walked across the street to the theater where an audience was watching a preview of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Gal Gadot, Mark Hamill and Lupita Nyong’o were among the stars handing out snacks. Ansel Elgort worked the hot dog launcher machine.

Some trolls on Twitter found it condescending and calculated. I thought it was pretty great.

And what a lovely grace note for the Academy to include Roger Ebert in that beautifully edited montage about the magic and power of movies.

“The purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a bit with other people,” said Roger. “And for, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.”

“My whole party sighed with sadness when @ebertchicago popped up on this #Oscar2018 montage,” Tweeted @bellwak.

I hear you.

But it was also a joyous and really cool moment, and yet another reminder of how Roger’s spirit and his words and his love of the movies continue to live and will continue to resonate for generations to come.

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