At the end of what has now become the annual hashtag awards, it was #LatinsLeftOut that won it over #OscarsSoWhite, #TimesUp, #MeToo and whatever other cause pinned itself to the red carpet.
Four prizes for The Shape of Water was something of a surprise, although the film did lead on the way in with 13 nominations. It was a triumph for its Mexican director Guillermo del Toro who joins his amigos Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Innaritu as recent directing winners from south of the Californian border, or just over the wall…
Its win as Best Picture signals a victory for a unique directorial vision, of a piece with earlier films of his such as Pan’s Labyrinth where an innocent outsider’s fantasy relationship with strange creatures combats the harshness of war. It’s also the film most in love with cinema itself, a film pastiche that takes place partly above a fading picture palace – Hollywood was always going to love that.
And where perceived front-runner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri offends deliberately across the board, The Shape of Water offers solace to all comers, with its warm embrace storylines of a mute cleaner, her racially sidelined friend and her closet homosexual guardian – and of course the maligned aquatic creature in the tank.
Or as host Jimmy Kimmel said in one of his better lines, it was a year men in Hollywood screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.
He had a decent night but not one for the ages, although he did have a neat running joke of giving a prize of a jet ski to the shortest acceptance speech – a prize modelled gamely game show style by Dame Helen Mirren – in the end it went to costume designer Mark Bridges from Phantom Thread, who got it sewed up in 39 seconds.
There was an empowered feminist triumph for Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes from Three Billboards, a great character and a woman who takes small-town law into her own hands seeking to avenge her daughter’s murder. McDormand channelled the defiant spirit of her character by getting all her female co-nominees to stand during her acceptance speech and instructed Hollywood’s producers to knock on these women’ office doors for their next projects…. it was the standout, stand up moment of the night.
In truth there weren’t that many female nominees and even fewer winners, proving much work needs to be done, although it is underway and women dominated the presenting, with Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster a neat double act joshing Jodie Foster, as were Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, whom many on Twitter wished would host the next awards ceremony…
Brits could cheer Winston Churchill of course, Gary Oldman predictably but emotionally carrying off the Oscar for his portrayal of the wartime premier in Darkest Hour. and he signalled with a very British call for a cup of tea with his 98 year old Mum. It’s a V-for victory on a great career of maverick characters from Sid Vicious to Dracula to Lee Harvey Oswald, and a fine physical performance to shine through the layers of prosthetics – themselves a winner of the Oscar for hair and make-up – incidentally, that downy stuff on Winston’s bonce was made of baby hair – quite where you get that from, I don’t want to really know.
As I say, it was a night for Latin America – the Shape of Water was joined by two wins for the Pixar film Coco set on Mexico Day of the Dead,winning for Best Animation and Best Song, a number delivered in a riot of twirling dancers in sombreros and traditional dress that looked about as authentically ‘Mehicano’ as bag of Doritos.
A good win but not the best animation ever – my review: Coco? So-so – do I get the jet ski?
More edifying was the Latin triumph in the Foreign film category for Chile’s A Fantastic Woman, a terrific film about a trans nightclub singer played luminously by newcomer Daniela Vega, who also became the Oscars’ first transgender presenter when she introduced one of the night’s songs, from Italy-set gay summer romance Call Me By Your Name, one of my favourites, and which itself earned another significant award for its writer James Ivory, of Merchant Ivory, who at 89, became the oldest ever Oscar winner, for his Adapted Screenplay.
You can always rely on the Brits to pull out the most heartwarming underdog success story of all, and that came in the Best Short Film category, when the winners Rachel Shenton and Clive Overton went from Hollyoaks to Hollywood – the former soap actors wrote and directed The Silent Child, a lovely short about a profoundly deaf little girl – Maisie Sly, 6, from Swindon – and Shenton partly signed her acceptance speech so that Maisie in the audience could understand – the first time signing had been done at the Oscars since Marlee Maitlin for Children of a Lesser God in 1987.
Which brings us back to The Shape of Water, with its lead of a mute, all SIGNING , all dancing performance from Brit Sally Hawkins, and its message of outsider triumph over Cold War and cold hearts.
If the Oscars’ mission is to make Hollywood look good, then after an annus horribilis of revelations and embarrassments, it was clearly on message to get back to a film with the message that, in the end, the movies can save us all, even the fish. #OscarsSoOscary….