In this context, the purely promotional segments on Sunday — a long plug for the Academy museum, a creaky salute to Warner Bros.’ 100th anniversary — felt right at home but also, in their reinforcement of the show’s lumpen unremarkableness, more irritating than ever.
And seemingly harmless attempts to signal virtue can backfire, as in Kimmel’s awkward and eventually condescending exchange with Malala Yousafzai.
As always, there were moments that pierced the veil. The victory of “Navalny” in the documentary feature category, while its subject, the dissident Alexei Navalny, languishes in a Russian prison, was indelible. Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Paul Dano were polished and funny in their presentation of costume design; the award’s winner, Ruth Carter of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” movingly invoked her mother, who had just died at the age of 101, asking the actor Chadwick Boseman to look for her in the afterlife. Yeoh, given carte blanche to emote, showed that feeling could be conveyed in an acceptance speech that was largely polished and non-self-aggrandizing.
David Byrne injected a welcome note of weirdness, if not musicality, in the performance of the best-song nominee “This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The production number “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR,” Lady Gaga’s unplugged performance of “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick” and Rihanna’s rendition of “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” were unimpeachably professional. But the musical highlight of the night was undoubtedly the snatch of the Carpenters’ “Top of the World” sung by the composer M.M. Keeravani when “Naatu Naatu” won best song.
When Kimmel wasn’t forced to ad-lib, he and his writers were generally on point. A call for audience votes on whether Robert Blake should be included in the In Memoriam segment was slyly handled. (He wasn’t.) A joke about the editing of footage from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol didn’t mention Tucker Carlson or Fox News but made its point.
The good moments, however, couldn’t change my sense that the modern Oscars have become something more to be endured than enjoyed. If you wanted a glimpse of the zeitgeist on Sunday night, HBO (“The Last of Us”) and TLC (“MILF Manor”) were the places to look.