Kimmel opens Oscars with standing O for Streep, Ali wins

Meryl Streep stands for applause at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 89th Academy Awards kicked off with Justin Timberlake dancing down the Dolby Theatre aisles, Jimmy Kimmel mocking Matt Damon and a standing ovation for the “highly overrated” Meryl Streep.

Timberlake’s ebullient song — “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from the animated film “Trolls” — was an early cue that the Oscars would steer toward festiveness instead of heavy-handed politics. Protests, boycotts and rallies have swirled ahead of Sunday night’s Oscars. But host Kimmel, in his opening monologue, quickly acknowledged that he “was not that guy” to heal a divided America.

Kimmel instead struck an irreverent but sarcastic tone, singling out Streep, whom President Donald Trump derided as “overrated” after her fiery Golden Globes speech last month. Listing some of her credits, Kimmel said Streep has “phoned it in for over 50 films.” He led a standing ovation for the “overrated” actress before adding a pointed punchline: “Nice dress, by the way,” he said. “Is that an Ivanka?”The host then predicted Trump was sure to tweet about the night’s awards at 5 a.m. “during his

The host then predicted Trump was sure to tweet about the night’s awards at 5 a.m. “during his bowl movements.”

As expected, the night’s first winner was Mahershala Ali for best supporting actor. The “Moonlight” co-star glowed on the stage as he informed that crowd that he and his wife, Amatus Sami-Karim, welcomed a daughter four days earlier. He thanked his wife for “being such a soldier through the process.”

Most expect another day of sun for Damien Chazelle’s celebrated musical “La La Land,” up for a record-tying 14 nominations. A best picture upset, while unlikely, isn’t out the question, though. Barry Jenkins’ eight-time nominated “Moonlight” on Saturday took best feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, where “La La Land” wasn’t eligible.

The other films up for best picture are Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water,” Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures,” Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” and Garth Davis’ “Lion.”

The “OscarsSoWhite” crisis of the last two years was largely quelled this season by a richly diverse slate of nominees, thanks to films like “Moonlight,” ”Fences” and “Hidden Figures.” A record six black actors are nominated. For the first time ever, a person of color is nominated in each acting category. And four of the five best documentary nominees were also directed by black filmmakers.

The nominees follow the efforts by Academy of Motions Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to diversify the membership of the largely white, older and male film academy. In June, the academy added 683 new members: 46 percent of them were female; 41-percent were nonwhite; and they pulled from 59 countries.

The academy is hoping to improve on last year’s telecast. The Chris Rock-hosted show drew 34.4 million viewers, an eight-year low.

Politics have taken the spotlight ahead of Hollywood’s big night. On Friday, the United Talent Agency, forgoing its usual Oscar party, instead held a rally protesting Trump over immigration. “We will not tolerate chaos and ineptitude and war-mongering,” Jodie Foster told attendees.

The six directors of the foreign film nominees released a joint statement condemning “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries.” The signees included the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose “The Salesman” is favored to win him his second foreign language Oscar. He isn’t attending the awards in protest of Trump’s proposed travel ban of seven predominantly Muslim nations, including Iran.

U.S. immigration authorities are also barring entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary short nominee “The White Helmets,” about the nation’s civil war.

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