'The Shape of Water' wins best picture at the 90th Academy Awards

Bringing an end to one of the most wide open best picture races in years, “The Shape of Water” — a fantastical fable about a mute woman who falls in love with an aquatic creature — claimed the top prize Sunday night at the 90th Academy Awards, beating out a strong field of eight rivals that included box office hits like “Dunkirk” and “Get Out” as well as smaller, more intimate fare such as “Call Me By Your Name” and “Lady Bird.”

Marking a moment of redemption for the Academy Awards themselves, the award was presented by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, central players in last year’s shocking mix-up, in which the musical “La La Land” was mistakenly named best picture over the actual winner, “Moonlight.” (“This year, when you hear your name called, don’t get up right away,” returning host Jimmy Kimmel joked in one of several nods to the bungle throughout the night. “Give us a minute. We don’t want another thing.”)

In contrast to last year’s chaos, this year’s wins proceeded in an orderly fashion, with many awards going to first-timers.

OSCARS 2018 FULL COVERAGE »

Leading the night with 13 nominations, “The Shape of Water” won four prizes, including Guillermo del Toro’s first Oscar for directing, as well as for the film’s production design and score. But it was a year in which no single film ever emerged as front-runner, and academy members spread their affection accordingly, if predictably.

Gary Oldman, who has swept virtually every acting prize this season, won his first Oscar in the lead actor category for his turn as Winston Churchill in the period drama “Darkest Hour.” Frances McDormand followed her wins at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards with the lead actress prize for her performance as a grieving mother trying to spur the police to solve her daughter’s murder in the dark morality play “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

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The adapted screenplay prize went to James Ivory for “Call Me By Your Name.” It is his first Oscar, and at 89, he is the oldest winner in history. Original screenplay went to Jordan Peele, the first African American to win the award, for his racially charged horror smash “Get Out.”

Sam Rockwell took home the supporting actor award for his turn as a racist small-town cop in “Three Billboards,” while Allison Janney earned the supporting actress award for playing the foul-mouthed, emotionally abusive mother of figure skater Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya.” Both first-time winners, Rockwell and Janney had been considered the favorites in their categories.

Ironically, in a year that has been dominated by discussions of how women are treated and represented in Hollywood, the female-centric coming-of-age story “Lady Bird,” written and directed by Greta Gerwig — the first woman nominated in the directing category since 2010 — came away empty-handed, as did Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers drama “The Post,” which starred Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and carried the sort of pedigree that in earlier years was considered catnip to Oscar voters.

But for the academy, a group that has weathered a string of public-relations crises in recent years — including the bitter #OscarsSoWhite controversy and last year’s embarrassing climactic blunder — the show offered a much-needed chance to turn the page.

“We can’t ruin this one,” Kimmel said in his opening monologue. “This is a special year. This is a big one…. Oscar is 90 years old tonight, which means he’s probably at home watching Fox News.”

In recognition of that 90th anniversary, returning producers Jennifer Todd and Michael De Luca stuffed the show with the sort of classic-film highlight reels and extravagant musical numbers that have often been a hallmark of the Oscars throughout its history. In a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to trim the show’s typically bloated running time, Kimmel offered a brand-new jet ski to the winner who delivered the evening’s shortest acceptance speech.

But beneath the warm veneer of nostalgia, there were major land mines to navigate involving issues of representation and inclusion, lending the evening a sometimes uneasy push-and-pull between an upbeat celebration of all that Hollywood stands for and a sober critique of where it falls short of its own lofty ideals.

In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, many speculated about how the show — the very purpose of which is to present the film industry in the best possible light — would address the sexual harassment scandals that have roiled Hollywood in recent months and dominated earlier awards ceremonies this season. In October, the academy expelled disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, a man who for a time was virtually synonymous with the Oscars, and announced new standards of conduct that its members are expected to uphold.

In his opening monologue, Kimmel sought to walk a fine line, calling out the industry for its intractable ills — from misconduct toward women to its lingering blind spots in terms of representation — while insisting that the Oscars are “a night for positivity.”

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Going relatively easy on President Trump compared with his first time hosting last year, Kimmel instead devoted a large portion of his opening monologue to the industry’s treatment of women. With the exception of Weinstein, he didn’t call out any of the other men who’ve been accused of sexual harassment in recent months by name. Instead, he took a broader swipe at Hollywood’s men as a whole.

“Oscar is the most beloved and respected man in Hollywood, and there’s a very good reason why,” Kimmel cracked. “Just look at him: Keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word and, most importantly, no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitations — and that’s the kind of men we need more of in this town.”

Turning more serious, he continued, “What happened with Harvey and what’s happening all over was long overdue. We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example.”

Three of the dozens of women whose accusations against Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement — Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek — took the stage to speak of their hopes that this year will be a watershed for the industry.

“We work together to make sure that the next 90 years empower these limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality,” Judd said. “That’s what this year has promised us.”

Yet even as the academy has taken dramatic steps in recent years to diversify its historically overwhelmingly white and male ranks, Kimmel noted that only 11% of films are directed by women, which, he said, is just “nuts.”

Pointing to two of the past year’s biggest box office hits, “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman,” he cracked, “I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie — and the reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year.”

Among the night’s other winners, Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for cinematography 14 times, finally won, for the sci-fi film “Blade Runner 2049,” beating out a field that included Rachel Morrison, who became the first woman ever nominated in the category, for “Mudbound.”

Accepting his award for directing “The Shape of Water,” the Mexican-born Del Toro cited his immigrant roots to reinforce the show’s dominant theme of inclusion, offering what amounted to a kind of mission statement for the academy as it looks ahead to its centennial and beyond.

“I think the greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand,” he said. “We should continue doing that when the world makes them deeper.”

But it was McDormand who truly captured the spirit of the evening — and the shifting power dynamics in Hollywood — when, accepting her award, she asked all of her fellow female nominees in every category to stand in recognition.

“Look around, everybody, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” McDormand said. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple of days, or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them.”

josh.rottenberg@latimes.com

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

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