Oscar turned 90 Sunday night looking remarkably spry for a nonagenarian. The Academy Awards were handed out in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to an audience of Hollywood royalty and up-and-coming filmmakers in a ceremony that balanced gowns with gravity. The tenor of the evening was upbeat while remaining grounded in serious social, cultural, and political off-screen issues. Meanwhile, the awards looked to be spread evenly with no obvious front-runner emerging during the early going.
Sam Rockwell won best supporting actor for his performance as a dim-witted, bigoted deputy sheriff who undergoes a change of heart in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” In a happy, charged-up acceptance speech, Rockwell thanked his writer-director Martin McDonagh, his fellow nominees and cast members, his parents, and “everybody who ever looked at a billboard.”
The Oscar for best supporting actress went to Allison Janney for her fearsome portrayal of disgraced Olympic skater Tonya Harding’s mother in “I, Tonya.” Janney thanked her fellow cast and crew members, her family — and the pet parrot that sat on her shoulder during the film’s interview scenes.
The best documentary feature Oscar went to “Icarus,” co-produced by Impact Partners, whose principals are Harvard University graduates with deep ties to Boston. The film, directed by Bryan Fogel and detailing the secret Russian sports doping program, won out in a strong field that included “Faces Places,” by Agnes Varda, the French New Wave filmmaker who, at 89, is the oldest-ever Oscar nominee.
“The Shape of Water” won the Academy Award for production design for its alternately fantastical and grim sets and visuals. “Phantom Thread” won the costume design Oscar for Mark Bridges’s deluxe and slightly de trop period 1950s couture. “Darkest Hour” won best makeup and hairstyling for transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill. “Dunkirk” picked up two sound Academy Awards. Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman,” starring trans actress Daniela Vega,” won best foreign language film.
“The Shape of Water” entered the night leading the field with nominations for 13 Academy Awards, including best picture, an unusual feat for a film that straddles genres of fantasy, romance, science fiction, and horror. Guillermo del Toro’s story of the love between a mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins) and a captive aqua-man (Doug Jones) saw nods for star Hawkins, supporting players Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, del Toro’s direction and screenwriting (with Vanessa Taylor), and a host of behind the scenes crafts categories.
Just as unusual were the multiple nominations, including best picture, for “Get Out,” a sly box office smash from early in 2017 in which horror-movie clichés are turned inside out, spoofed, and reinvigorated, all in the service of a biting message about race and racism in America.
The film’s writer-director, former sketch show comedian Jordan Peele, was nominated in both those categories, twin feathers in the cap of a first-time filmmaker, and Daniel Kaluuya was nominated for best actor. It was a good year for newcomers, with actress Greta Gerwig going behind the camera to write and direct “Lady Bird,” a wry coming-of-age drama that went into Oscar night with nominations for lead actress Saoirse Ronan, supporting actress Laurie Metcalf, Gerwig’s direction and original screenplay, and best picture.
Timothée Chalamet, at 22, stood a chance of becoming the youngest best actor winner ever, for his lead performance as a young man involved in a passionate romance with another man in “Call Me by Your Name.” And comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, were nominated for their first feature screenplay, “The Big Sick.”
But there were plenty of old pros in the mix as well, including Gary Oldman, who went into the evening the heavy favorite to win best actor for his performance as Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour.” Frances McDormand, a five-time nominee and one-time winner (“Fargo”), looked likely to take home an Oscar for her role of an embattled small-town matriarch in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Written and directed by Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker McDonagh, “Three Billboards” saw nominations in a number of categories, including best picture, original screenplay, actress, and two supporting actors (Rockwell and Woody Harrelson) — but not director. By contrast, Christopher Nolan was nominated for directing the epic war film “Dunkirk,” and the film picked up a slate of technical nominations as well as a best picture nod, but nothing for the film’s cast.
The 90th Academy Awards took place against a backdrop of renewed Hollywood activism. For the past five months, the entertainment industry has been roiled by revelations of sexual assault and bad behavior, kicked off by the fall of producer Harvey Weinstein under multiple accusations of harassment and rape and rapidly snowballing into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as victims finally felt empowered by the cultural moment to call abusers to account and to reach out to women in other, less glitzy industries.
Allegations of past misdeeds dogged such performers as James Franco, who was nominated for adapting the screenplay of “The Disaster Artist” but wasn’t nominated as the film’s director or star; 2017 best actor winner Casey Affleck, who after a wave of social media criticism declined to present this year’s best actress Oscar, as is tradition (Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster stepped in to replace him); and even E! interviewer Ryan Seacrest, who was avoided by some celebrities as he worked the red carpet for his network.
Honorary Oscars were presented in November to directors Varda and Charles Burnett (“To Sleep With Anger”), actor Donald Sutherland, and cinematographer Owen Roizman.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of nearly 7,000 members of the film industry, with branches representing all major crafts, from acting and directing to sound and costume design.Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.