The 90th Academy Awards was an evening of celebration and milestones, along with some surprises and snubs. Jimmy Kimmel's hilarious opening speech highlighted some of the Oscar's incredible firsts, including Rachel Morrison, the first woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography. Kimmel noted that Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele is one of only three people to be nominated for three major categories in his directorial debut, and Peele also became the first black writer to win the award for Best Original Screenplay.
Some categories had clear front-runners based on the awards season so far. Each of the acting categories, for instance, had favorites who turned out to be winners: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) for Best Actor, Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) for Best Actress, Allison Janney (I, Tonya) for Best Supporting Actress, and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) for Best Supporting Actor. Likewise, the category of Best Animated Feature Length Film was Coco's to lose, but Coco swept up both Best Animated Film and Best Original Song for "Remember Me".
Other categories, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director, promised to be a closer race, with Guillermo del Toro's unconventional monster film The Shape of Water leading with the greatest number of nominations. At the same time, del Toro's unusual film could hardly be called a front runner against traditional historic films like Dunkirk or The Post. Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, bolstered by its strong performances from McDormand and Rockwell, also seemed to be a likely contender for Best Picture.
While surprises come in all shapes and sizes, this article focuses on the the surprises, snubs, and upsets related to the awards only. Other incredible surprises - including the emotional montages, the #Timesup moment, Jimmy Kimmel's best jokes, and Rita Moreno's dress - will only be acknowledged and appreciated here.
Film Editing - Baby Driver
While Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, considered the conventional front runner, won Best Film Editing, many fans felt that Edgar Wright's Baby Driver deserved the top award. Baby Driver, which was nominated for three Oscars, also lost out to Dunkirk for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. Baby Driver offered original and inventive editing, but Dunkirk is a more typical Oscar film and was likely seen by more Academy voters.
Both Baby Driver and Dunkirk are excellent films, but Baby Driver offered a unique editing process and product. Baby Driver is a high-speed action film set to the main character's personal soundtrack. Because the film is perfectly timed to protagonist's playlist, editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos would cut the film "live" on set. Machliss' and Amos' more active roles ensured that the film fit perfectly with the music, a difficult and award-worthy feat.
Best Original Screenplay - Get Out
Best Original Screenplay was a competitive category, featuring Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water), and Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri). The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri appeared to be the two competing front runners for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.
However, it was Jordan Peele's unconventional Get Out that took home the award for Best Original Screenplay. This historic win made Peele the first African-American writer ever to win Best Original Screenplay. Despite some older Academy voters allegedly refusing to see, much less vote for, Get Out, Peele's directorial debut won. An incredibly creative critique, Get Out weaves together tropes from horror and comedy to make a chilling "social thriller" that explores racism in 21st-century America. The script of Get Out also effortlessly switched between crescendos of tension and unexpected moments of drama and humor.
In his acceptance speech, Peele said:
"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 knew if someone let me make this movie, then people would see it, and people would hear it."
Related: Netflix has Won Its First Oscar
Best Director & Best Picture - The Shape of Water
The best surprise of the evening was saved for last. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway presented the award for Best Picture for the second time in a row, but this time, they correctly announced the winner: The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro won both Best Director and Best Picture, the two highest honors of the night. In a moving speech, del Toro remarked:
"I think the greatest thing our industry does is erase the lines in the sand, we should keep doing that as the world tries to make them deeper."
While The Shape of Water came into the Academy Awards with the most nominations of the year, it still felt like the odds were stacked against it. As a "genre film", The Shape of Water was a less typical Oscar winner compared to the likes of Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri, Dunkirk, or even The Post. Additionally, The Shape of Water did not win any acting or writing awards, which usually pave the way for the biggest award of the night. However, the film did win Best Production Design and Best Original Score.
The Shape of Water is a brilliant and fantastical love story between a mute woman and a mysterious sea creature. Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Sally Hawkins were all nominated for their performances; their costars Doug Jones and Michael Shannon, while not formally recognized, brought compelling characters to live. The film was clearly a labor of love for writer-director Guillermo del Toro, and that labor and love was rewarded at the 90th Academy Awards.
Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro's wins could signal the end to the Oscar bait film. As the make-up of the Academy changes to include more young and diverse voices, future award ceremonies may include more surprising and historic wins.