The 90th Academy Awards Ceremony, Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles
By Richard Fitzwilliams
Oscar celebrated its 90th birthday and balanced its customary glamour and razzmatazz, which is synonymous with the world’s most prestigious and oldest film awards ceremony, with the serious messages it needed to convey. After the controversy of #OscarSoWhite, the nominees were more diverse. There was no dress code to support the #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements as there had been at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. However, the powerful message that activists in the entertainment industry are campaigning for equality and against harassment and abuse, as well as helping victims in other spheres of human activity, was forcefully conveyed on several occasions during the ceremony.
Jimmy Kimmel proved an adroit and witty host, even taking some of the audience on an impromptu visit to a nearby theatre, and he should host it again. The set fascinated me as it resembled a Renaissance palace and it contained one of the most spectacular backdrops I’ve ever seen on stage. The Academy illustrated their nine decades with a series of admirably compiled clips containing film highlights and the musical interludes were skilfully handled as well.
The Academy’s alternative voting system for Best Picture makes predictions far harder but this sustained the tension as no one knew whether The Shape of Water or the comedy-drama Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri or even Jordan Peele’s much praised horror film Get Out, which won for Best Original Screenplay, would also win Best Picture. In the end, The Shape of Water, an imaginative and colourful film set during the Cold War about the love of a mute cleaner for a sea creature, triumphed – the first fantasy film ever to do so.
All the other awards went as predicted. Unforgettably, Frances McDormand, who won Best Actress for playing a brutally bereaved mother who seeks revenge in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, urged women in the audience to pressurise the industry for real equality and to emphasise this by standing up in the auditorium. Gary Oldman deservedly won Best Actor for his brilliant portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour and gave a touching acceptance speech. As anticipated, Sam Rockwell won Best Supporting Actor as a racist cop in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Allison Janney won Best Supporting Actress for playing the monstrous mother in I, Tonya. Also expected was Guillermo del Toro’s win for Best Director for The Shape of Water. Thankfully there was a woman, Greta Gerwig, among the nominees but sadly only 11 per cent of films are helmed by female directors, another injustice that needs changing.
It was wonderful to see the 89-year-old James Ivory win Best Adapted Screenplay for the superb gay romantic drama Call Me by Your Name. Best Foreign Language Film was won by A Fantastic Woman from Chile, an absorbing story of a transgender woman played wonderfully well by Daniela Vega, who was also the first transgender Oscar presenter. The Best Animated Feature Film was Coco which also won for Best Original Song. Among the technical awards, as anticipated Dunkirk won three, Darkest Hour won for Best Make Up and Hairstyling, Blade Runner 2049 for Best Cinematography and Phantom Thread for Best Costume Design.
The streaming service Netflix, a rival to the established Hollywood studios, got eight nominations for the first time, including four for the excellent feature-length race-relations drama Mudbound. This is a recognition of its increased popularity as it has over 100 million subscribers worldwide.
Nostalgia was everywhere from the appearance of three members of the Star Wars cast with the robot BB-8 to that of Eva Marie Saint, Rita Moreno and Christopher Walken who are all famous faces from past years. Climactically, there was a repeat of last year’s pairing of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who were fatefully handed the wrong envelope for Best Picture which caused the most chaotic mix-up in Oscar’s history. They announced the correct winner this year and this was an endearing mea culpa from the Academy.
As it faces its centenary in a decade, the Oscars has many challenges to overcome before it truly reflects contemporary society. However it has no challengers anywhere when it comes to putting on a ceremony as sublimely spectacular as this.