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The Shape of Water creates Oscar waves
Saibal Chatterjee March 06, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Hollywood glitz and glamour were, as always, on unbridled display on US showbiz’s biggest night, but what this year’s Academy Awards stood out for was the history that it made in more ways than one. Not only was this the 90th edition of the Oscars, the ceremony also saw many significant firsts being registered on both the awards roster and on the stage of the Dolby Theatre.

Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which had as many 13 nominations, was the big winner of the night, bagging four Oscars – Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Production Design and Best Original Score.

The evening witnessed no major upsets in the acting categories, with all the four front-runners – Gary Oldman (Best Actor for Darkest Hour), Frances McDormand (Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Sam Rockwell (Best Supporting Actor for Three Billboards…) and Allison Janney (Best Supporting Actress for         I, Tonya) – winning in their categories.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, as expected, bagged three of the major technical awards – editing, sound editing and sound mixing. Mark Bridges, the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar for Costume Design for Phantom Thread, did not disappoint.     

Several of the major honorees of the evening were first-time winners, including 89-year-old James Ivory, one half of the fabled Merchant-Ivory duo who set many benchmarks of excellence with their celebrated literary adaptations.

Ivory, donning a T-shirt with the face of the 22-year-old Call Me By Your Name lead actor Timothee Chalamet, became the oldest-ever personality to take home the coveted statuette.

Among the other major winners, director Guillermo Del Toro won his first Oscar and lead actor Gary Oldman, too, bagged his first (for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour). 

That apart, Jordan Peele became the first-ever African American writer to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (for the film Get Out, which he also produced and directed) and legendary English cinematographer Roger A. Deakins ended his 13-film losing run with his 14th Oscar nomination – for Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.

In 90 years of the Oscars, only a quartet of black writers have been nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category. John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood, 1991), Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, 1989) and Suzanne de Passe  (Lady Sings the Blues, 1972) had been here before, but none of them went back victorious.

The kick-off to Peele’s acceptance speech was, therefore, absolutely on cue: “This means so much to me. I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work. I thought no one would ever make this movie. But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it.”

Karachi-born stand-up comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani, nominated for an Best Original Screenplay Oscar along with his spouse Emily V. Gordon for the semi-autobiographical romantic comedy The Big Sick, lost out to Peele, but he stole the thunder of many a more fancied presenter with his laconic wisecracks as he stood alongside the luminous Lupita Nyong’o, with whom he handed out the Oscar for the Best Production Design.

Earlier in the evening, Nanjiani drew applause from the crowd during the airing of a video highlighting the need for diversity, equality and inclusion in the movie industry.

“Some of my favourite movies are movies by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. Now, straight white dudes can watch movies starring me, and you relate to that. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it my whole life,” he quipped with measured emphasis.

While Deakins, nominated for his magnificent lensing in the past for as diverse a slate of films as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Skyfall, The Reader, Kundun, No Country for Old Men and  Sicario, finally won his maiden Oscar, Mudbound (and Black Panther) cinematographer Rachel Morrison went down as the first woman to be nominated in the category.

On bagging the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his adaptation of Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name for Luca Guadagnino’s critically acclaimed  Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory made it a point to give a shout out to his deceased collaborators – Ruth Praver Jhabvala and Ismail Merchant, with whom he formed a spectacularly fecund creative partnership in 1961.

Ivory had earned the first of his previous three Oscar nominations – all for directing – 31 years ago, for A Room With a View. Thereafter, he was nominated in the Best Director category in two successive years – for         Howard’s End (1993) and The Remains of the Day (1994).

Among the acceptance speeches, it was Best Actress Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) that had the greatest impact. She stormed on to the stage, kept her Oscar on the floor and launched into a strong speech calling for Hollywood to create room for a “wider array of stories.”

She thundered: “Look around, ladies and gentlemen, 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, whatever 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.”

Daniela Vega, the first openly transgender presenter in the history of the Oscars and star of/inspiration for the Chilean film         A Fantastic Woman (which won the award for Best Foreign Language Film), introduced a performance by Sufjan Stevens, whose Mystery of Love (in the film Call me By Your Name) was nominated for Best Original Song. Vega thanked the Academy for “this moment.”

It was certainly a night of many such breakthrough moments.

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