The Shape Of Water is a deserving Best Picture Oscar winner

There was no envelope controversy, but Guillermo Del Toro’s monster love story took the top prize (and a few others) in what felt like a genuine upset


The Shape Of Water, Guillermo Del Toro’s Toronto-produced love story about a mute custodial worker who rescues the amphibious beast with whom she’s developed a profound emotional connection, was the big winner at the 90th Academy Awards last night, taking four prizes including best picture, best director, best production design and best original score.

Although the film was Oscar’s front-runner, with a total of 13 nominations, few industry-watchers thought it would take the top prize Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Jordan Peele’s Get Out all had more buzz for a best picture win, with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird positioned as a possible consensus winner. Everyone was sure Del Toro would win best director (and he did), but the film was deemed too weird, too odd, too different to make it all the way to the top prize.

Well, nobody knows anything. Del Toro’s delicate, beautiful, strange little movie created its own wave, and brought a genuine thrill to the exhausting ceremony when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – brought back for a do-over after last year’s disastrous La La Land/Moonlight mix-up – announced the winner.

Watch the playback, and you’ll see Del Toro take a quick glance at the envelope to make sure his movie really won – he did it as a gag, I’m sure, but you can see real joy flood his face the moment he reads the title and knows it’s true. The Shape Of Water is a film about love and acceptance by a man who wears his heart on his sleeve in all of his films, and seeing it embraced by the Academy provided the best kind of surprise at the end of a very long night.

Because for the first three hours and 40 minutes – an endless march of overlong montages, production numbers, salutes and Jimmy Kimmel’s increasingly desperate shtick – the 90th Academy Awards played it pretty safe.

The distribution of the awards went pretty much as expected. Gary Oldman won best actor for Darkest Hour, Allison Janney won best supporting actress for I, Tonya, Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell won best actress and best supporting actor for Three Billboards, Jordan Peele won original screenplay for Get Out and James Ivory took adapted screenplay for Call Me By Your Name.

Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 took most of the technical awards, with Nolan’s elaborately constructed war film taking film editing, sound mixing and sound editing while Denis Villeneuve’s gorgeous sci-fi sequel brought home the visual-effects prize and a long-awaited cinematography Oscar for Roger Deakins, who’d been nominated (and lost) 13 times before.

The Netflix documentary Icarus winning best doc feature and Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman winning foreign-language film (over Ruben Östlund’s more heavily promoted The Square) offered minor surprises, with Lelio’s film making Oscar history as the first Academy Award winner to feature a trans actor in a leading role. (Star Daniela Vega was onstage to share the award with Lelio and the producers, and returned later to be Oscar’s first trans presenter, introducing Sufjan Stevens’s performance of his original-song nominee Mystery Of Love.)

The evening did offer a couple of powerful moments that were nonetheless stage-crafted to be as uncontroversial as possible, as though the Academy preferred to make gestures rather than statements.

If Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey were mentioned by name, I didn’t catch it, though the sight of three of his most public victims – Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek – appearing together to speak to the Me Too and Time’s Up moment was a powerful image on its own.

And sure, Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster’s double act presenting best actress was fun, but it also reminded us that last year’s best actor winner Casey Affleck had to withdraw under his own cloud of harassment allegations. Foster and Lawrence never explained why they were there, and viewers unaware of the Affleck story might simply have thought it nice to see the two stars goofing around. I’m sure that was the point. Keep it light, keep it symbolic, move the show along.

Well, the show didn’t move, but that wasn’t any one person’s fault – except maybe Kimmel, who ate up time with dopey gimmick bits like promising a Jet-Ski to the winner who delivered the shortest acceptance speech – a gag that went on longer than any of the speeches, but never mind – or rounding up a bunch of famous people to interrupt a sneak preview of A Wrinkle In Time in a nearby auditorium to throw candy and hot dogs at the regular folk in the audience.

Like the bit last year where Kimmel invited a tour group into the Dolby Theater to gawk at famous people, it was a stunt designed to go viral, but in real time it was excruciating – and I can only imagine Ava DuVernay, a filmmaker so protective of her work, gritting her teeth as she agreed to the casual disregard for a project she’s spent years of her life on. But hey, ratings, right?

Somewhere around three and a half hours in – after Del Toro won best director and Oldman took best actor – Denzel Washington (who had also been up for best actor for Roman J. Israel, Esq.) checked his watch. Denzel Washington was all of us, cranky and disappointed and ready for the whole thing to be over. But then Frances McDormand won best actress, and Frances McDormand will wake you up whether you needed it or not.

Clearly nervous, she got through her acceptance speech and called for all the nominated women in the room – actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, producers – to stand up and be recognized, and to recognize one another.

“We all have stories to tell,” she said. “Invite us to your offices – or come to ours – and we’ll tell you all about them.” She was shaking as she said it, and if someone as formidable as Frances McDormand can feel intimidated simply by asking other women to stand up and be seen, well, that’s what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood. 

And it’s time that changed.

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