Oscars: Why 'The Shape of Water' Won Best Picture (and Other Speculation)

THE SHAPE OF WATER Still 5 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Last year's 89th Oscars ended in chaos and confusion, making it the talk of the world. Conversely, Sunday night's 90th Oscars — which was hosted, directed, produced and even stage managed by the exact same people — went about as smoothly as the Academy could have hoped, but it, too, deserves its own chapter in the history books.

This was an Oscars ceremony that had a lot going for it. Humor and charm (Jimmy Kimmel is the Bob Hope of his generation, and this year, as best I can recall, President Donald Trump's name never came up). Memorable presenters (it was lovely to see Golden Age legends like Eva Marie Saint and Rita Moreno receive standing ovations, and surreal to see Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway present best picture again). Diverse and popular winners (I had never seen a standing ovation for a cinematographer until Roger Deakins' first win on his 14th nomination, or a quicker standing ovation than the one accorded Jordan Peele's best original screenplay win or any standing ovation during a commercial break until Guillermo del Toro returned to his seat with his best director Oscar). And truly special moments (including Kimmel and friends' trip across Hollywood Boulevard to thank the moviegoing public, and the performances of the five impressive best original song nominees, one of which featured 10 people who "stood up for something").

Sure, some of the montages and presenters were a bit random, but overall, the show played really well.

But they don't keep me around to review Oscar telecasts (that's Daniel Fienberg's domain!); instead, I'm here to try to dissect how we got the results that we got — even though we'll obviously never know just how close the vote totals were because of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which had a great ceremony relative to last year's — so here we go.

How did The Shape of Water, a genre-blending movie about an unlikely romance between a mute cleaning woman and a hunted fish man, with nary a household name in its cast and a director heretofore best known for a Mexican monster movie, not only win best picture, but do so in the age of the preferential ballot, which is designed to find a consensus choice?

Well, because people — at least in the business — loved it, of course.