Jimmy Kimmel kicked off the 95th annual Oscars by nothing that Tom Cruise and James Cameron — the two people arguably the most responsible for reviving the theatrical experience after Covid shutdowns — weren’t present.
“The two guys who insisted we go to the theater didn’t go to the theater,” Kimmel joked.
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It was one of the best jokes in an opening monologue that also addressed Will Smith smacking Chris Rock last year. Kimmel noted that if anyone commits an act of violence this year, “they will immediately be awarded the Oscar for Best Actor and permitted to give a 19-minute long speech.”
Kimmel also noted that the 95th annual Academy Awards mark the first ceremony since COVID, and that 2022 was “when the world finally got out of the house.” Much of the credit for that went to Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, which he held for months to ensure it would be seen in theaters, and Cameron’s 13 years-in-the-making sequel to Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water.
Kimmel said there was cynical speculation that Cameron may have skipped the ceremony because he didn’t receive a Best Director nomination for The Way of Water, which received several other nominations, including Best Picture.
“I find that very hard to believe about a man of such humility,” joked Kimmel, before adding: “He does have a point. I mean, how does the Academy not nominate the guy who directed Avatar? What do they think he is, a woman? (It was a reference to the shutout of female directors this year.)
He also snuck in a joke about Cruise’s embrace of Scientology. After calling Top Gun: Maverick, “”the movie that saved the movies,” he turned to “Tom Cruise with his shirt off in the beach football scene — L. Ron Hubba Hubba!”
Joking aside, the absence of Cruise and Cameron is a letdown given the Academy’s hopes that the nominations for Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water — which is now the third highest grossing film of all time, between Avengers: Endgame and the original Avatar — might lure in a larger audience.
The Oscars had their smallest viewership ever in 2021 after rebounding a bit last year, so the stakes are high this year.
He also got in a good joke about the fact that five Irish actors were up for acting awards this year — “which means the odds of another fight on stage just went way up.”
And he snuck in a terrific joke about Encino Man.