The 90th Academy Awards ceremony was full of surprises: Helen Mirren’s jet-ski, questionable outfits, and hotdog cannons, among a whole variety of acceptance speeches, tears, and congratulations. The fifteen awards were distributed with all the usual pomp and circumstance, and while no awards were mistakenly given away this year, the return of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty nevertheless generated a few laughs.
This year’s celebrations were infused with political meaning, from Jimmy Kimmel’s opening focus on the Weinstein scandal to celebrity royalty sporting the Time’s Up emblem. Comments on racial equality and representation were in abundance, as Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph joked about white people with clipboards. Hardly a speech went by without an allusion to the events of the past twelve months, but it all calls for a sea-change in Hollywood and in the film industry worldwide.
After a tense wait in recent weeks, The Shape of Water took the hotly contested Best Picture award, as well as lapping up a further three statuettes (Best Production Design, Score and Director). The other most-anticipated results lay with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which took awards for Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell) and Best Actress (Frances McDormand).
McDormand’s acceptance speech has been widely praised as an inspirational moment of the evening. ‘I’m hyperventilating a little bit so if I fall over, pick me up, because I have some things to say’, she began. She expressed her thanks to her team, and then called on every woman in the room who was involved in the production of movies to stand up, celebrating their achievements. She ended her speech with the infamous words ‘inclusion rider’, an exhortation to pay attention to a clause that stipulates how many women must be involved in a production. (It must also be stated that her briefly-stolen Oscar has been retrieved.)
For his role in Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman was awarded Best Actor (he thanked his 98-year-old mother) – the film also took Best Makeup and Hair, while Phantom Thread achieved Best Costume Design. Perhaps it should have gone to James Ivory instead, whose Timothée Chalamet shirt stole the show, much to the delight of fans. Instead, Ivory was awarded for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name, while Best Original Screenplay went to Jordan Peele for Get Out.
Much talk has been circulated about the fate of Peele’s film — he became the first African-American recipient of the award, as well as the first celebrity of the night to tweet his bemused response. His touching acceptance speech spoke about his mother, ‘teaching me to love in the face of hate’ and about the possibility of his impossible screenplay. He acknowledged the fans that had called out in theatres and encouraged them to continue to cause a stir on issues of race in cinema.
I just won an Oscar. WTF?!?
— Jordan Peele (@JordanPeele) March 5, 2018
Best Visual Effects went to Blade Runner 2049, while Dunkirk swept up Best Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in a winning streak. Best Animated Short was awarded to Dear Basketball, making NBA star Kobe Bryant possibly one of the most qualified winners of the ceremony.
The Silent Child was awarded Best Live Action Short, capturing the life of a deaf 6-year-old Swindon girl. On collecting the award, Rachel Shenton signed her speech, expressing her gratitude to the Academy for allowing her to raise the profile of the disability and to put it into wider circulation. Best Documentary Short went to Heaven Is A Traffic Jam on the 405, and Best Documentary Feature was awarded to Icarus.
The set design, on another note, has not escaped notice. Consisting of 45 million Swarovski crystals, it took 3250 hours to complete and weighed 15,000 pounds. Jimmy Kimmel made sure to denounce claims of Hollywood elitism, claiming that ‘each of the 45 million crystals on set represents humility’, to ripples of laughter.
The evening was broken up with stunning performances of songs from Mudbound, Call Me By Your Name, The Greatest Showman and Coco. Coco itself won Best Animation and Best Original Song (‘Remember Me’), which was performed beautifully by Gael García Bernal & co. On collecting the award, its producers commented that they wanted to ensure that children of all cultures ‘could grow up seeing people that talk, look and live like them’ on screen. This was later echoed by the winner of Best Foreign Language film, A Fantastic Woman, a Chilean drama featuring the representation of a marginalised transgender woman.
However, as exhilarating as the highs were, there were losers too. Despite presenting awards, Margot Robbie went away empty-handed (although Robbie’s co-star Alison Janney did receive an award for Best Supporting Actress in I, Tonya). Among others that lost out were Lady Bird, The Post and Black Panther, which received no nominations this year, despite the presence of stars Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o throughout the evening. It may be that racial representation still needs to progress in Hollywood — as has been commented regarding the BAFTAs, it is an old system that won’t change overnight.
While things are not yet perfect in Hollywood, change is happening. Certainly the issues brought up have indicated that the US industry is trying to become more progressive and representative. And although hailed by many as self-congratulatory, the ceremony nevertheless recognizes the hard work of thousands of individuals in the film industry both in the US and across the globe. In a time of mounting political instability, cinema offers the balance between realism and entertainment that we need, and the Oscars simply provide an outlet to exhibit the messages that filmmakers are shouting out today.