LOS ANGELES, March 5, (Agencies): Against all odds, love won out at the 90th Academy Awards.
Guillermo del Toro’s lavish, full-hearted monster romance “The Shape of Water” swam away with best picture at an Oscar ceremony flooded by a sense of a change for a movie business confronting the post-Harvey Weinstein era. The ceremony, held Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, exorcised some demons — like last year’s envelope fiasco — and wrestled with other, deeper problems in Hollywood, like gender equality and diversity.
“The Shape of Water,” which came in with 13 nods, took a leading four awards, including best production design, best score and best director for del Toro. The Cold War-set movie, about a mute woman and a captive fish-man, is del Toro’s Technicolor ode to outsiders of all kinds — and species.
“The greatest thing that art does, and that our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand,” said del Toro, accepting the best director award.
Del Toro became the third Mexican-born filmmaker to win the award, joining his friends and countrymen Alejandro Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron — who once were dubbed “the Three Amigos.” He dedicated the best picture award to young filmmakers — “the youth who are showing us how things are done.”
The night’s final award was handed out again by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, a year after the infamous “Moonlight” – “La La Land” error. “It’s so nice seeing you again,” said Beatty with a grin.
The ceremony was the crescendo of one of Hollywood’s most turbulent awards seasons ever — one that saw cascading allegations of sexual harassment topple movie moguls, upended Oscar campaigns and new movements sparked like Time’s Up.
Much of Sunday’s broadcast, hosted for the second straight year by Jimmy Kimmel, seemed to point a way forward for the industry. “It’s a new day in Hollywood,” said presenter Jennifer Lawrence, who with Jodie Foster, subbed for last year’s best-actor winner, Casey Affleck, in presenting the best-actress award.
The award went to Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a movie about a furious woman out for justice. McDormand asked all the attending female nominees stand up in the theater. There weren’t nearly as many as men, despite the historic nominations for Greta Gerwig (the fifth woman nominated for best director) and Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”), the first woman nominated for best cinematography.
“Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects that need financing,” declared McDormand. “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: Inclusion Rider” — referring to actors signing contracts that mandate a film’s gender and racial inclusivity.
Jordan Peele won for his script to his horror sensation “Get Out,” becoming the first African-American to win for best original screenplay. Peele said he stopped writing it “20 times,” skeptical that it would ever get made.
“But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone would let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it,” said Peele. “So I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie.”
Things went expected in the acting categories, where three widely admired veteran actors won their first Oscars. Gary Oldman won for his Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) took best supporting actress, and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”) won best supporting actor. Oldman thanked his nearly 99-year-old mother. “Put the kettle on,” he told her. “I’m bringing Oscar home.”
But many of the show’s most powerful moments came in between the awards. Ashley Judd, Anabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek — who all made allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein — together assembled for a mid-show segment dedicated to the #MeToo movement that has followed the downfall of Weinstein, long an Oscar heavyweight. They were met by a standing ovation.
“We work together to make sure the next 90 years empower these limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion and intersectionality,” said Judd. “That’s what this year has promised us.”
Kimmel opened with a monologue that mixed Weinstein punchlines with earnest comments about reforming gender equality in Hollywood. And of course, Kimmel — returning to the scene of the flub — dove straight into material about last year’s infamous best-picture mix-up.
In a year lacking a clear front-runner the awards were spread around. Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk” landed three awards, all for its technical craft: editing, sound editing and sound design.
Several cinema legends won their first Oscar. James Ivory, 89, won best adapted screenplay for his script to the coming-of-age drama “Call Me By Your Name,” becoming the oldest winner ever. After 14 nominations, revered cinematographer Roger Deakins finally won for his photography on “Blade Runner 2049.”
Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani joined Kenyan-born Lupita Nyong’o to salute the so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought to the US illegally as children and here without permanent protection from deportation. “Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood and dreams are the foundation of America. And, so, to all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you,” Nanjiani said.
Later, Pixar’s colorful ode to Mexican culture “Coco” won best animated film as well as best song for “Remember Me.”
“The biggest thank you of all to the people of Mexico,” said director Lee Unkrich to loud applause. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”
Netflix scored its first feature-film Oscar, with best documentary going to “Icarus,” Bryan Fogel’s investigation into doping in sports, aided by the assistance of Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory who candidly discussed the doping scheme under Vladimir Putin. Fogel dedicated the award to Rodchenkov, “our fearless whistleblower who now lives in grave danger.”
“Darkest Hour” won for best makeup. The period romance “Phantom Thread” won for costume design.
Gary Oldman’s Oscar win on Sunday for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” is a triumph for a versatile actor more used to playing villains and rogues than heroic statesmen.
The 59-year-old British actor, who famously portrayed Sex Pistols star Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy” (1986), made his name as a bankable movie star playing antagonists.
He goes to great lengths to develop his characters and ploughed through books, newsreel footage and even sat in Churchill’s chair to play the World War II leader as he became Britain’s prime minister in May 1940.
Oldman is known for his signature “big” acting — a very physical, over-the-top style developed for the stage, used to great effect for his villainous cinema characters and retained for other roles.
His portrayal of Churchill in “Darkest Hour” had already landed him the best actor Golden Globe — and the Oscar, which comes on his second nomination, now seals his reputation as one of the finest actors working today.
“I would just like to salute Sir Winston Churchill, who has been marvelous company on what can be described as an incredible journey,” Oldman told the Oscars audience on Sunday.
Previously, he had said he welcomed all the accolades, but that the greatest reward was receiving approval from Churchill’s descendants.
“Randolph just loves the portrayal. And he feels, ‘Oh, you’ve captured my great-grandpapa — the humour, the energy’.
“That’s my Oscar, right there,” he told CNN.
In winning the Academy Award, Oldman defeated a tough field: Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”); Daniel Day-Lewis for “Phantom Thread”; Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out”; and Denzel Washington for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
Oldman’s prior best actor Oscar nomination came in 2012 for his portrayal of melancholy British agent George Smiley in an adaptation of the John le Carre thriller novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.
Building the part of Churchill, Oldman said he first concentrated on the voice, feeling that he physically looked nothing like the great statesman.
“He is such an icon and so mythologised, you wonder, can you get past the marble statue and reach the man?” he told CNN.
He was captivated by newsreel footage, noting the energy in Churchill’s walk and the sparkle in his eyes, revealing an inner sense of humour.
Oldman toured parliament and Churchill’s family homes and sat in the chair he used during World War II.
He noticed fingernail marks on the left arm and scratches from his ring on the right — history recorded in the furniture — which he took as signs of the stress Churchill was under, and incorporated it into his performance.
Guillermo del Toro’s entire, dazzling career has been built around a fantastical world of outlandish creatures — an elaborate universe he says he built by the age of 11.
The Mexican filmmaker — who won best director honors on Sunday for his lush fantasy romance “The Shape of Water” — is known for the monsters, vampires and superheroes that populate his creations.
They have earned him a mantel full of awards, including the Golden Globe, a Directors Guild prize, a Bafta and now the Oscar.
And all of them emerged from the experiences of a young boy growing up in Guadalajara who loved exploring sewers, was fascinated by black magic and had a werewolf for a stuffed animal.
Del Toro, 53, has called “The Shape of Water” his first “grown-up movie.”
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the genre-defying film is a love story between a mute janitor at a top-secret US government research facility and a strange amphibious creature being held captive there.
“It’s his masterwork to date,” said Mexican film critic Leonardo Garcia Tsao, a longtime friend of Del Toro’s.
“There was a very Guillermo element missing (from his previous films), and that was humor,” he told AFP.
Previous Del Toro films such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone” — both filmed in Spain and set during the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath — were darker, with themes like loss and yearning.
“The Shape of Water” is, at its heart, an optimistic movie.
But the connecting thread running through all his films is his magnificent monsters, and the human villains who, as Del Toro himself has put it, turn out to be the real monsters.
Del Toro grew up in a devoutly Catholic family, with a poetry-writing, Tarot card-reading mother, and a father who won the lottery when Guillermo was young and used the jackpot to build a car dealership empire.
As a boy, Del Toro set about turning the family’s gleaming new modernist mansion into a haunted house populated with hundreds of snakes, a crow and rats that he sometimes cuddled with in bed, according to a 2011 profile in The New Yorker.
“All that I am, in the sense of my artistic obsessions and the stories I tell, comes from the first 11 years of my life,” he once told Mexican magazine Gatopardo.
“I think the essence of who we are is formed in those early years. Afterwards, we spend our lives mending what got broken and building what didn’t.”
His grandmother was a major influence, and close relationships between children and the elderly are a hallmark of his films.
His debut film, “Cronos” (1993), tells the story of an elderly vampire who does not want eternal life, and the granddaughter who helps him.
It is the only film he has directed in Mexico, a country he left in 1998 after his father was kidnapped for a $1 million ransom that Del Toro only managed to pay with the help of fellow director James Cameron.
“It’s something we never talk about,” his boyhood friend Mariano Aparicio told AFP.
Del Toro’s first Hollywood movie was “Mimic,” in 1997. He has described it as a hellish project with limited creative control and abusive treatment by producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein.
After that, he insisted on putting “his own signature” on his films, said A.P. Gonzalez, professor emeritus at the film school of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“He’s a true artist,” Gonzalez told AFP.
Del Toro is one of the so-called “three amigos” of Mexican film along with fellow Oscar-winning directors Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman,” “The Revenant”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”).
“They have very different styles, but Guillermo is the only one who has constructed this very recognizable world,” said Garcia Tsao.
He calls his friend a “genius” — but one who is not afraid to tell dirty jokes or go on “gastronomic safaris” with him.
“He’s a very charming person, a generous guy and very friendly,” he said.