Despite offering a surprisingly eclectic spread of nominees — including films as experimental as “Dunkirk,” as genre-driven as “Get Out” and as emotionally raw as “Lady Bird” — the 90th Academy Awards proved to be utterly, boringly predictable. Unlike last year, where “Moonlight” upset “La La Land,” this year’s Oscars played out beat by beat like a half-baked first draft of a screenplay.
The Oscars and activism
This year’s Oscars included several moments that highlighted the current relevance of activism and representation in Hollywood and on the awards circuit.
By acknowledging the academy’s decision to expel Harvey Weinstein, Greta Gerwig’s nomination in the Best Director category and social movements such as #MeToo and “Time’s Up” in his opening monologue, returning host Jimmy Kimmel shed light on the need for progress for women in the film industry.
Later on in the night, a segment directly addressed the sexual harassment allegations that surfaced throughout late 2017 and early 2018. Mira Sorvino, one of the women who accused Weinstein of sexual violence, spoke of the #MeToo moment — “It’s the possibility of the status quo not being the status quo anymore.” Additionally, directors Ava DuVernay and Gerwig encouraged young female filmmakers to pave the way forward for cinema.
But in a well-intentioned but poorly articulated speech, Frances McDormand stressed recognition for female artists and asked every female nominee to stand — but failed to acknowledge the remaining lack of academy recognition for LGBTQ+ women and women of color.
However, the evening still included several other uplifting moments. Japanese artist Kazuhiro Tsuji was awarded Best Makeup and Hairstyling, a widely anticipated recognition for his work with Gary Oldman’s prosthetics in “Darkest Hour.” More notably, though, Tsuji also became the first Asian artist to win the award. Daniela Vega of Chile’s “A Fantastic Woman” became the Oscars’ first openly transgender presenter, introducing Sufjan Stevens’ resplendent performance of “Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name.” Additionally, Jordan Peele’s script for “Get Out” won Best Original Screenplay, making him the first Black screenwriter to win the award.
“I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie,” Peele said.
Later, in his acceptance speech for Best Director, Guillermo del Toro urged viewers to “erase the lines in the sand,” echoing the inclusive message of his film “The Shape of Water.” In a night that lacked any controversial moments, his rallying statement is emblematic of the message of unity that carried on throughout this year’s ceremony.
A night of career wins
The Oscars have always been a system to forward and recognize careers — this year, they decided to do more of the latter.
Three of the four acting categories went to performers that have quietly built up a respectable body of work over the years. Sam Rockwell won the first award of the night for his supporting performance as a doofus racist cop in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Later, Allison Janney took home Best Supporting Actress for her turn as a ferocious, cigarette-chomping mother in “I, Tonya.” Both are well-liked character actors relishing in their prickliest roles yet. After proving to be charismatic favorites on the awards circuit, both victories were no-brainers.
In perhaps the most predictable win of the night, Gary Oldman won the Best Actor award for his blustery performance as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” — despite domestic abuse allegations, according to The Independent. The actor has a penchant for playing deranged men, but the addition of prosthetics and period dressing have finally lent him a vehicle “classy” enough for awards recognition.
Finally, two industry veterans that have been long robbed of awards recognition finally got their due. James Ivory, who came close to gold with dramas such as “A Room With a View” and “Howards End,” finally won for his adaptation of “Call Me by Your Name.” And Roger Deakins, the cinematographer who has come to inherit the “no Oscars” meme previously held by Leonardo DiCaprio, was finally awarded for the first time for his mesmerizing, crisp lensing on “Blade Runner 2049.”
Mostly predictable moments
As expected, “Dunkirk” won awards for both Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, a testament to the large-scale, layered, absorbing soundscapes that elevate Christopher Nolan’s war drama. “Dunkirk” continued its hot streak for the night, taking home the award for achievement in Best Film Editing; a fitting win for such a remarkably nimble war film that manages to stay coherent while juggling three different timelines.
Guillermo del Toro took the Best Director award for “The Shape of Water,” beating out a particularly worthy batch of directors, including Gerwig, Peele, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson. The film also took home awards for Best Original Score and Best Production Design — stepping stones toward its later Best Picture win.
To introduce the night’s most anticipated moment, Kimmel introduced Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who famously named “La La Land” last year’s Best Picture winner, instead of “Moonlight.” To everyone’s relief but to no one’s surprise, Beatty and Dunaway correctly named “The Shape of Water” the night’s big winner.
“Well that’s how it was supposed to go right?” Kimmel asked rhetorically, addressing in a meta way the night’s overwhelming predictability.
Kimmel plays it safe as host
The night kicked off with a quick and simple black-and-white ode to classic Hollywood, after
which Kimmel acknowledged and apologized for last year’s infamous envelope mix-up. Kimmel’s opening monologue was a direct, to-the-point celebration of Oscars history.
In a bit that unnecessarily extended the already nearly four-hour show, Kimmel, del Toro, Mark Hamill, Ansel Elgort, Emily Blunt, Gal Gadot, Lupita Nyong’o, Armie Hammer and Margot Robbie surprised moviegoers at the TCL Chinese Theatre with snacks fired out of hot-dog-shaped cannons. Throughout the ceremony, Kimmel thanked the moviegoing public, as if to encourage viewers to support the film industry itself in a time of dwindling box office sales.
Supplemented by lengthy montages celebrating Hollywood in the past 90 years, Kimmel’s straightforward hosting gig felt frustratingly lukewarm at a time when progress and change in the industry has been so publicly emphasized. While the ceremony proceeded without any major hiccups, Kimmel’s hosting, the predictability of the winners and absence of spectacle made the show’s nearly four-hour run time feel especially drawn out.