Oscars Embrace 'The Shape of Water' in a Consciously Inclusive Ceremony

The Fox Searchlight film's victory culminated a purposefully "woke" evening, whose host Jimmy Kimmel set the stage from the very beginning.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making every effort to put past Hollywood sins behind it and present a new, more evolved face to the world, on Sunday embraced The Shape of Water, crowning it as best picture at the 90th annual Academy Awards. Director Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy — the ultimate fish-out-of-water story, which unapologetically owes a debt to B-movies — appeared to fit the present moment, telling as it does the tale of a mute woman, a depressed gay man and a supportive black cleaning woman who all team up to save the life of a threatened sea creature.

The Mexico-born del Toro was singled out as best director. “I am an immigrant,” he proudly proclaimed as he accepted the first of his two awards for the Fox Searchlight film. But noting that he now travels among countries, he added, "The greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that."

The Shape of Water’s victory culminated a purposefully "woke" evening, whose host Jimmy Kimmel set the stage from the very beginning. In his opening monologue, he began by acknowledging last year’s envelope fiasco (“So then the accountants went ahead and did comedy of their own!”) and the Academy’s expulsion of Harvey Weinstein (“Harvey deserved it the most!”). Kimmel noted several firsts among this year’s nominees — like Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever nominated in the cinematography category. And he invited winners to use their moment in the spotlight to address issues like #MeToo, Time’s Up and the March 24 march on Washington being organized by students from Parkland, Florida.

Annabella Sciorra, flanked by Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek — just three of the women who have spoken out against Weinstein — introduced a video package about new voices, filmmakers shaking up Hollywood and challenging straight, white male dominance. Said a visibly emotional Sciorra, “This year, many spoke their truth, and the journey ahead is long, but slowly a new path has emerged.”

Others who picked up the theme included Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani, who, while presenting the best production design Oscar, cast their lot with immigrants and, especially, the Dreamers. “Dreams are the foundation of America,” said Nyong’o, with Nanjiani adding, “To all the dreamers out there, we stand with you.” In his rap for the best song nominee “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, Common referenced women’s rights, the people of Parkland and the Dreamers to a standing ovation. And, covering all bases, Native American actor Wes Studi appeared to pay tribute to veterans of the Armed Forces.

When Pixar’s Coco, which celebrates Mexico’s Day of the Dead, was named best animated film, director Lee Unkrich offered “the biggest thank you of all to the people of Mexico. Coco would not exist without your endlessly beautiful culture and traditions.” He concluded, “Representation matters."

And the awards show’s producers, Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, couldn’t have scripted a better moment that Frances McDormand’s best actress win for playing a grieving mother bent on vengeance and justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. As she accepted the second Oscar of her career, a hyperventilating McDormand, after thanking those with whom she worked as well as her husband and son, set her award down on the floor of the Dolby Theatre. “If I may be so honored,” the actress said as she called upon “all the female nominees in every category [to] stand with me tonight.” As women stood throughout the room, McDormand continued, “Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need to financed.”

Completing his awards-season trajectory, Gary Oldman was named best actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill at the start of World War II in Darkest Hour. “I would just like to salute Sir Winston Churchill, who has been marvelous company,” he testified. Observing that his mother will soon celebrate her 99th birthday, the actor thanked her for love and support, saying, “Put the kettle on, I’m bringing Oscar home.”

As expected, Allison Janney was called to the stage to collect the trophy for best supporting actress for her role as a fearsome stage mom in I, Tonya. She began with a joke, “I did it all by myself,” before launching into her own thank-yous, offering a shout-out to actress Joanne Woodward for her encouragement and concluding by citing her late brother Hal, who struggled with addiction and depression, saying, “You are always in my heart.”

Sam Rockwell capped off his own winning awards-season run by receiving the best supporting actor Oscar, his first, for his dim-witted, small-town cop in Three Billboards. “I’d like to thank the Academy — I never thought I’d say those words,” he began his acceptance, thanking his parents for teaching him to love movies, his fellow cast and director Martin McDonagh and “everyone involved in Three Billboards, anyone who’s ever looked at a billboard.” Before surrendering the mike, Rockwell also dedicated the award to “my old buddy Phil Hoffman,” acknowledging the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Veteran filmmaker James Ivory received his first Oscar, and at 89 became the oldest winner, when he received the honor for best adapted screenplay for Call Me by Your Name. After first thanking the source novel’s author Andre Aciman and the film’s director Luca Guadagnino, Ivory recalled his frequent collaborators, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and producer, and his life partner, Ismail Merchant, who have both passed away. “In voting for me, you remember them,” he said.

Jordan Peele proved victorious when the envelope for best original screenplay was opened. Speaking of his film, the horror hit Get Out, he said, “I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn't going to work. I thought no one would ever make this movie. But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it."

The best foreign-language film winner A Fantastic Woman brought the country of Chile its first-ever Oscar. Director Sebastian Lelio was accompanied to the stage by Daniela Vega, the transgender actress who stars in the film as a transgender singer mourning the loss of a lover, and Lelio recognized her as “the inspiration for the movie.”

The Oscar for best documentary struck another political note when it went to Icarus, which explored Russia’s doping program. Brian Fogel, who directed the Netflix doc, dedicated the award to Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who figures prominently in the film and who headed Russia’s anti-doping agency before fleeing to America, where he is now in hiding. Fogel hailed him as “our fearless whistle-blower who now lives in grave danger.” And Kimmel followed up by cracking wise: “Well, now we know Putin didn’t rig the show.”

After 14 nominations, celebrated cinematographer Richard A. Deakins finally won the best cinematography Oscar for the futuristic Blade Runner 2049. “I really love my job. I’ve been doing it for a long time, as you can see,” he said.

Alexandre Desplat earned his second Oscar for the score of The Shape of Water, and in doing so thanked del Toro “for letting the music be the voice of your characters and convey the beautiful melancholy of love.” The husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez also earned their second Oscar for the song “Remember Me” from Coco.

In other categories, a splendid-looking and -sounding Eva Marie Saint — “I just realized something, I’m older than the Academy,” she smiled — presented the award for best costume design to Mark Bridges, who earned his second Oscar for the couture gowns in Phantom Thread. The evening’s first win for The Shape of Water went to its designers who collected the statuette for best production design. Honors for best visual effects were given to Blade Runner 2049. The team that transformed Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour won the award for makeup and hairstyling. And Dunkirk took the award for film editing as well as for sound editing and sound mixing.

Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant made his debut as an Oscar winner as he shared the prize for best animated short with animation veteran Glen Keane, with whom he collaborated on Dear Basketball. Keane thanked Bryant “for writing Dear Basketball. It’s a message for all of us, whatever form your dream may take — it’s through passion and perseverance that the impossible is possible.”

The Oscar for best documentary short went to Frank Stiefel’s Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, which focuses on the troubled artist Mindy Alper. Said Stiefel, “I always knew the only reason people would care about it is we all care about you.” And the prize for best live-action short was given to Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton’s The Silent Child, which is about a young deaf girl. Shenton signed her acceptance by way of thanking the movie’s young star.

By the time the marathon ceremony reached its conclusion — with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway getting a mulligan as they returned to announce this year’s best picture winner without any confusion — the prizes had been spread out among a number of the top contenders. While Shape of Water started the evening with 13 nominations, it took home just four awards. And among distributors, Fox Searchlight, which released both Shape of Water and Three Billboards, led with six trophies, followed by Warner Bros., which handled Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049, with five.