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‘The Shape of Water’ wins best picture at awards show laced with social, political statements

Scott Varley | TNS
Scott Varley | TNS
Best Picture and Best Director winner "The Shape of Water," Guillermo del Toro backstage at the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood.

“The Shape of Water,” a Cold War fantasy about a mute woman who falls in love with a humanoid sea creature, won the Oscar for best picture Sunday at the 90th Academy Awards, a ceremony laced with social and political statements, particularly on the issues of diverse representation and sexual assault in the film industry.

“I think that the greatest thing our art does, and our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand,” said the winning film’s creator, Guillermo del Toro, whose victory for best director was the fourth time in the past five years that a Mexican filmmaker took home that prize. “We should continue doing that, when the world tells us to make them deeper.”

[Oscars 2018: Winners list]

The industry confronted its own mistreatment of women, and defied the isolationist and nationalist tone set by President Donald Trump, in between doling out golden statuettes — which went to a wide spectrum of films, including the horror film “Get Out,” whose writer-director Jordan Peele became the first black filmmaker to win best original screenplay, and the World War II action film “Dunkirk,” which scooped up three technical awards.

“We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example,” host Jimmy Kimmel, one of Trump’s celebrity foils, said during his opening monologue. It was the first Oscars since the avalanche of sexual abuse allegations against numerous Hollywood figures — most notably the awards-hungry producer Harvey Weinstein, who was booted from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ rolls in the autumn.

Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman, two respected veterans of the film industry, won the lead acting prizes. His came for playing a ferocious yet vulnerable Winston Churchill in best-picture nominee “Darkest Hour,” which also took home a prize for best makeup and hairstyling. Hers came for playing a revenge-seeking mother in”Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s lacerating and controversial fable about a small town racked by grief and anger, which also won a supporting actor prize for Sam Rockwell as a racist police officer.

A hyperventilating McDormand, who won her first Oscar 21 years ago for “Fargo,” asked all the female nominees in the audience to stand.

“Okay, look around everybody, look around ladies and gentlemen,” McDormand said to a cheering audience. “Because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us at the parties tonight; invite us into your office in a couple days.”

Nearly 2½ hours into the ceremony, three women who’ve accused Weinstein of sexual abuse took the stage: Salma Hayek Pinault, Ashley Judd and Annabella Sciorra.

“The changes we are witnessing are being driven by the powerful sound of new voices, of different voices, of our voices, joining together in a mighty chorus that is finally saying, ‘Time’s up,’” Judd said before introducing a montage of women and minority filmmakers talking about representation and intersectionality in cinema.

Amid other montages celebrating nine decades of the Oscars — including tributes to Eva Marie Saint, Rita Moreno and movies about the military — virtually every hot-button issue was pressed from the stage of the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Kimmel mentioned last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in his monologue.

“All of us need to understand the importance of what is real, what is authentic and what is fact,” presenter Greta Gerwig, the fifth woman ever nominated for best director, said in one of several sly jabs at the president’s “fake news” refrain. Her film, the high-school dramedy “Lady Bird,” was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, but took home zero.

“To all the dreamers out there, we stand with you,” said screenplay nominee and Pakistani American Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”), a not-so-veiled gesture of solidarity to the children of undocumented immigrants.

The best documentary feature award went to “Icarus,” a Netflix film about institutionalized doping in Russian athletics and at the Olympics.

“We hope ‘Icarus’ is a wake up call — yes about Russia, but also about the importance of telling the truth, now more than ever,” director Bryan Fogel said.

“Well, now at least we know Putin didn’t rig this competition,” Kimmel said right after.

There were prominent shoutouts to Haiti, which the president reportedly cited among “shithole countries,” and Puerto Rico, still recovering from Hurricane Maria.

Disney’s “Coco,” about a 12-year-old aspiring musician Mexico, won best animated feature and best original song.

“‘Coco’ would not exist without your endlessly beautiful culture and traditions,” co-director Lee Unkrich said, referring to Mexico. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”

Not all jabs at the Trump administration were subtle.

“We don’t make movies like ‘Call Me by Your Name’ for money,” said Kimmel, referring to the same-sex coming-of-age romance between a teen and a young man in 1980s Italy. “We make them to upset Mike Pence.”

That film yielded the oldest Oscar winner ever: James Ivory, who at 89 picked up a screenplay award for adapting it from the 2007 novel of the same name.

“To everybody who went and saw this movie, everybody who bought a ticket, who told somebody to buy a ticket, thank you,” said Peele, a former sketch comedian now touted as a visionary filmmaker. “I love you for shouting out at the theater, for shouting out at the screen. Let’s keep going.” Worldwide box-office receipts for “Get Out,” his directorial debut, have topped $255 million.

There were a number of Oscar firsts. Chile won its first award for best foreign language film for “A Fantastic Woman,” starring transgender actor and singer Daniela Vega. Kobe Bryant became the first NBA player to win an Oscar, for the animated short “Dear Basketball.”

“As basketball players we’re just supposed to shut up and dribble,” he said, referring to Fox News TV host Laura Ingraham’s demand that LeBron James refrain from talking politics. Almost immediately, Twitter resurfaced reports of a rape allegation against Bryant, whose win embodied the duplicity Hollywood has been trying to overcome. The same happened when Oldman’s name was announced; the actor has denied accusations from ex-wife Donya Fiorentino that he assaulted her.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins won his first Oscar on his 14th nomination, for “Blade Runner 2049,” the kinetic sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi original. It also won best visual effects on Sunday.

“The Shape of Water,” which led with 13 nominations, won two other Oscars besides best picture and director, for best production design and original score.

Mark Bridges won his second Oscar for costume design for the couture gowns of “Phantom Thread,” in which Daniel Day-Lewis plays a perfectionist tailor in mid-century London.

“I did it all by myself,” quipped Allison Janney, who won best supporting actress for playing Tonya Harding’s snarling, chain-smoking mother in “I, Tonya,” adding an Oscar to her seven Emmys (most for her work on the TV show “The West Wing”).

McDormand, in closing her rousing speech, distilled her vision for Hollywood equality into two contractual words, which require a project to have a crew that’s diverse in gender and ethnicity.

“Inclusion rider,” she intoned, just before leaving the stage.

“Frances is going to start a revolution,” said “Shape of Water” producer J. Miles Dale afterward. “I think it started tonight.”

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