The Shape of Water and the voices of women dominated the 90th annual Academy Awards, capping an awards season marred by career-ending revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood.
Guillermo del Toro’s horror romance claimed four Oscars for best picture, director, musical score and production design, a rare display of academy affection for a genre piece.
But honoring a fantasy wasn’t as important Sunday as confronting hard truths that the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have brought to the forefront of the movie industry and beyond. Several presenters and winners used their time at the microphone to support victims of abuse or harassment, and demand gender equality in Hollywood.
One emotional highlight brought actors Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek - accusers of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein - on stage to introduce a montage of movie scenes dealing with equality and representation.
"This year, many spoke their truth and the journey ahead is long, but slowly a new path has emerged," Sciorra said.
Judd chimed in: "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."
Minutes later, Frances McDormand accepted her second best actress Academy Award, this time for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. After a few remarks McDormand placed her Oscar on the stage, patted its head and asked every woman nominated Sunday night to stand up.
"Look around, ladies and gentlemen," she said, "because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them.
"I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider."
An inclusion rider is a contractual agreement to guarantee an artist’s creative input in certain production decisions. McDormand said backstage that she’d only recently learned about such riders, after 35 years working in Hollywood.
Sunday’s program wasn’t entirely serious, of course. After months of unsavory revelations, celebrities and studio players needed comic relief that returning host Jimmy Kimmel gladly doled out.
Early reports suggested Kimmel would avoid joking about the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, out of respect for victims of abuse and harassment. However, the late-night talk show host came out comically against Hollywood scandals making celebrities like Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and James Franco personas non grata this year.
"Oscar is the most beloved and respected man in Hollywood," Kimmel said in his opening monologue, gesturing to an oversized version onstage.
"Just look at him. He keeps his hands where you can see them. He never says a rude word. And most importantly, no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitation."
The audience appeared to react warmly to Kimmel’s jokes.
"Here’s how clueless Hollywood is about women," Kimmel said. "We made a movie called What Women Want and it starred Mel Gibson."
Kimmel mined irony from the academy only kicking out one member before Weinstein, an obscure actor who shared VHS screeners online. And he pointed out that cleaning up Hollywood isn’t the same as cleaning up everywhere:
"If we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time every other place they go."
While urging winners to say whatever they wished about whatever they liked, Kimmel dangled a comedy carrot to keep acceptance speeches short. A curtain opened, revealing a motorized watercraft (suggested retail price $19,999) to be presented to whomever delivered the night’s briefest remarks.
"Why waste time thanking your Mom when you can take her for the ride of her life on a jet ski?" Kimmel said while Oscar winner Helen Mirren did The Price is Right showcase routine.
Phantom Thread costume designer Mark Bridges took an early lead in the sweepstakes with a 36-second acceptance speech and held on, despite Kimmel sweetening the pot with a weekend trip to Lake Havasu’s Days Inn. Bridges was carted onstage straddling the jet ski as Kimmel closed the show.
In addition to Time’s Up and #MeToo issues, the Oscars stage became a platform to advocate causes like minority inclusion and deaf education, or take issue with President Trump’s immigration policies.
"I am an immigrant," del Toro said while accepting his best director statuette, name-checking Hayek, Gael García Bernal and other Mexican artists present. "And in the last 25 years, I’ve been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it is in Europe, part of it is everywhere.
"Because I think the greatest thing that art does, and that our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand when the world tells us to make them deeper."
Del Toro joined his close friends and fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman) as a best director Oscar winner. Collectively they’re known in film circles as the Three Amigos.
The evening’s most historic selection was Jordan Peele’s Academy Award for Get Out’s original screenplay, making him the first African-American to win in that category.
"This means so much to me," Peele said. "I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work.
"I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie."
Sam Rockwell accepted the evening’s first statuette, a best supporting actor Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Rockwell’s selection capped a nearly perfect streak through awards season including an Independent Spirit Award on Saturday.
Rockwell’s acceptance speech included his recollection of being picked up early from school due to a supposed emergency with his grandmother. "What’s wrong with grandma?" he asked in the car. "Nothing," his father answered. "We’re going to the movies."
As the music swelled, Rockwell dedicated his Oscar to a deceased winner: "This is for my old buddy Phil(ip Seymour) Hoffman."
Another first time nominee, Allison Janney of I, Tonya, walked away with best supporting actress honors.
"I did it all by myself," Janney joked on stage, channeling her character, the me-first mother of disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding. "No, there’s nothing further from the truth."
The Russian sports doping docu-thriller Icarus was named 2017’s best documentary, a surprising yet topical choice with the Winter Olympics recently concluded.
That minor upset — Agnes Varda’s Faces Places was favored — was leavened by expected wins for Phantom Thread’s costume design and Darkest Hour’s makeup and hairstyling, transforming best actor winner Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill.
NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s hoops valentine Dear Basketball was named best animated short, leading to social media complaints about honoring him at an event showcasing the Time’s Up and #MeToo initiatives. Bryant was charged with sexual assault in 2003 but the 19-year-old woman declined to go to trial.
Oscar winners Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence presented McDormand’s best actress Oscar in place of Casey Affleck, last year’s best actor winner who previously settled sexual harassment allegations out of court.
Disney-Pixar’s Mexican family fantasy Coco picked up Oscars for animated feature and original song, Remember Me. The best foreign language film prize was presented to Chile’s A Fantastic Woman, opening Friday at Tampa Theatre.
Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama Dunkirk won three technical crafts Academy Awards for best film editing, sound editing and sound mixing. Blade Runner 2049’s visual effects were named 2017’s finest.
Hollywood’s sexual misconduct scandals threatened to spill onto Oscar’s red carpet where Ryan Seacrest continued his E! hosting duties after claims of sexual misconduct levied by a former personal stylist. E! reportedly considered a 30-second telecast delay to avoid any confrontations. Variety reported fewer A-list celebrities than usual chose to stop and chat with Seacrest.
Director Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle in Time) and ABC network showrunner Shonda Rhimes told the New York Times that shunning Seacrest would be "a disservice to thousands of women around the country dealing with harassment from low- to no-profile men."
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.