LOS ANGELES— Comedian Jimmy Kimmel, returning for a third stint as Oscar host, led a back-to-basics show on Sunday that sought to celebrate a moviegoing rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic while avoiding the kind of unscripted 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, unslappable” Oscar 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 it was that category that Rock was presenting for when a joke he made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, prompted Smith’s assault.
READ: Chris Rock unleashes on Will Smith and wife Jada a year after Oscars slap
Otherwise, Kimmel presided over a telecast dedicated largely to hailing the return of film fans to movie 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.
The theme was bolstered by the fact that several of the evening’s Oscar-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.” 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 U.S. 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 made light of the Oscar’s 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 U.S. reverted to daylight saving time was added into Academy Awards telecast.
—Reporting by Steve Gorman; additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis
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