HOLLYWOOD: Host Jimmy Kimmel opened the glitzy Oscars Sunday with a salvo of jokes targeting President Donald Trump on a night expected to be as remarkable for political protest as for its celebration of Hollywood.
Nostalgic musical “La La Land” leads the charge for golden statuettes with 14 nominations at the start of the night, and is the clear frontrunner for the prestigious best picture award.
But, after Justin Timberlake opened the gala with some upbeat music, Kimmel wasted no time putting the A-list audience in a political state of mind.
“This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us,” joked the 49-year-old Kimmel.
The late-night comedian quipped that Trump, who pulled off a political upset win with his campaign that targeted immigration, had taken the heat off Hollywood and its annual gala.
“I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That’s gone, thanks to him,” Kimmel said.
“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle’s glossy tribute to the all-singing, all-dancing Golden Age of Tinseltown’s studio system is vying for more than a dozen statuettes, and many of its nominees are sure-fire winners — if the oddsmakers are right.
The film, which stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician who fall in love in Los Angeles, has charmed critics the world over and returned more than 10 times its $30 million budget.
Gold Derby, a site that collates experts’ awards predictions, had the musical as a clear favorite in many categories, including best film, director, actress, score and song.
Oscar and new baby for Ali
The first prize of the evening went to Mahershala Ali, who bagged the Oscar for best supporting actor for “Moonlight,” a poignant coming of age story about an African American growing up in the tough projects of Miami.
He thanked his wife Amatus Sami-Karim for “being such a soldier” during the awards season and giving birth to their first child, a girl, four days ago.
Earlier, Tinseltown’s A-list arrived on the red carpet under dark, ominous skies at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre for the 89th Academy Awards.
White, cream and champagne quickly emerged as a red carpet favorite with best actress nominee Isabelle Huppert, already a Golden Globe winner for edgy rape-revenge thriller “Elle,” oozing glamour in a glittering long-sleeved, floor-length Armani gown with a demure neckline.
Many of the nominees had family members as their dates, with Dev Patel, Lucas Hedges and Lin Manuel Miranda bringing their moms and Stone stepping out with her brother Spencer, who often accompanies her to awards shows.
‘It’s pretty exciting’
“La La Land” will vie for best picture honors with eight films including “Moonlight,” alien thriller “Arrival” and family drama “Manchester by the Sea.”
The most intriguing race is for best actor, which for weeks looked like a lock for “Manchester by the Sea” star Casey Affleck until a late surge by Denzel Washington (“Fences”), who now has the momentum.
“It’s pretty exciting. I’ve only been once before. I was a lot younger and I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of it,” said Affleck, 41, who was a losing best supporting actor nominee in 2008.
“There are a lot of people in the Academy… who I admire. Denzel Washington is one of the people who taught me how to act and I’ve never met the man.”
Stone is expected to bag her first statuette in the best actress category despite a late push from Huppert, but Gosling is not expected to do the same.
The Oscars is the highlight of the Tinseltown calendar, and wraps up two months of glittering prize galas.
This awards season, the popping of champagne corks has been muted by the tense political situation in the United States.
Trump’s controversial (and now halted) travel ban — which led Iranian director Asghar Farhadi to opt out of attending despite a nomination for “The Salesman” — has sparked much anger.
Directors of the five nominees for best foreign language film, including Farhadi, issued a statement condemning “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism” in the US.
On Sunday, several stars including nominees Ruth Negga and Lin-Manuel Miranda wore blue ribbons in support of the American Civil Liberties Union, a high-profile civil rights organization.
At Saturday’s Spirit Awards, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins and many cast members wore pins symbolizing unity, while Jenkins spoke of his disappointment over the divisions in society that the election had exposed.
The awards season has a long tradition of political activism, from Marlon Brando’s Oscars snub in 1973 to Meryl Streep’s rousing anti-Trump speech at this year’s Golden Globes.
On Sunday, Kimmel made mention of Trump’s retort that Streep was “highly overrated” — by recalling her record 20 nominations, and urging everyone to offer her a standing ovation. The audience willingly complied.
This year’s nominees reflected a push by the Academy to reward diversity after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of the past two years that prompted calls for a boycott of the annual bash.
Ali was a first-time nominee along with “Moonlight” co-star Naomie Harris, while “Fences” hopefuls Washington and his co-star Viola Davis are both old hands, with 11 nominations between them and two wins for Washington.
Davis is seen as a sure bet for her first Academy Award. AFP