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    Ty Burr

    ‘Shape of Water’ rises to the top

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    “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro’s rapturously intense fantasy-romance about a mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins) and a captive aqua-man (Doug Jones), won the Oscar for best picture Sunday night at a 90th Academy Awards ceremony that balanced gowns with gravity. The film won four Oscars, including for del Toro’s direction, Alexandre Desplat’s score, and production design.

    In his acceptance speech, an emotional del Toro dedicated his win to the “youth that is showing us how things are done” and said to an upcoming generation of filmmakers, “this is a door — kick it open and come in.”

    Staged in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles before an audience of Hollywood royalty, the Oscars looked remarkably spry for a nonagenarian. The tenor of the evening was upbeat while remaining grounded in serious social, cultural, and political off-screen issues, but the awards were spread with surprising evenhandedness around a strong slate of 2017 films.


    Surprising no one, Gary Oldman won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” Oldman thanked the Academy for “this glorious prize,” praised Churchill as “marvelous company,” spoke of how, many years ago, the movies sparked the imagination of “a young man from South London,” and told his 99-year-old mother, watching from home, to “put the kettle on, I’m bringing Oscar.”

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    Frances McDormand won her second career best actress Oscar (the first was for “Fargo” in 1996) for playing an embittered small-town matriarch in Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” From the stage, she called on the evening’s collective female nominees to stand in the theater and declared, “We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed.”

    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.” In a happy, charged-up acceptance speech, Rockwell thanked 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.

    Jordan Peele won best original screenplay for his script 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 win surprised prognosticators who expected the Oscar to go to “Three Billboards” and McDonagh; a gratefully overwhelmed Peele — the first African-American to win in this category — thanked his fellow filmmakers and the audiences who turned his first film into an immense hit and cultural talking point.


    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.

    “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 Oldman into Churchill. “Dunkirk” picked up two sound Academy Awards and an Oscar for Lee Smith’s editing. Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman,” starring trans actress Daniela Vega,” won best foreign language film.

    James Ivory won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for his script for “Call Me by Your Name”; the legendary filmmaker had been nominated in the directing category over the years but had never won. That was nothing next to the respected cameraman Roger Deakins, who finally won a cinematography Academy Award, for “Blade Runner 2049,” after 13 previous nominations over 23 years. (The film also won for visual effects.)

    The only two best picture nominees that left empty-handed were Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” (five nominations) and Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” (with two).

    Pixar continued its domination of the animated feature film category with a win for “Coco,” a phantasmagoric family film set in a Mexican Day of the Dead afterlife. The film’s signature tune, “Remember Me,” won the Oscar for best song.


    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 turning point to call abusers to account and to reach out to women in other, less glitzy industries.

    Allegations of past misdeeds have 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.

    Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, and Salma Hayek — all of whom have shared their horror stories about encounters with Weinstein — introduced a segment of clips in which female filmmakers and artists of color spoke with hope and excitement about the opportunities ahead. Best actress presenters Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence spoke of upcoming challenges and role models of the past.

    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