Hollywood was sprinkled with stardust Sunday as cinema’s A-list came out for the Oscars, with a photo finish for best picture expected to cap an awards season overshadowed by scandal over sexual misconduct in showbiz.
Dark comedy “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” went into the show in pole position for the most prestigious prizes, although fairy tale romance “The Shape of Water” led the overall charge with 13 nominations on a night expected to highlight Tinseltown’s campaigns against sexual misconduct and gender inequality.
Hosted for the second straight year by late night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel, the 90th Academy Awards is beamed live around the world by ABC from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.
The show caps a difficult few months during which the industry has declared war on the pervasive culture of sexual impropriety unearthed by the downfall of movie mogul and alleged serial sex attacker Harvey Weinstein.
Kimmel set the tone by targeting Weinstein in his opening monologue.
The host said Weinstein’s downfall following dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault “was long overdue,” along with the demise of numerous other Tinseltown figures caught up in scandal.
“We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example,” he said.
“And the truth is, if we are successful here, if we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, if we can do that, women will only have to deal with harassment all the time at every other place they go.”
The first Oscar of the night, for best supporting actor, went to Sam Rockwell for his acclaimed turn as a racist, violent police officer in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Allison Janney won the best supporting actress prize for her turn as the cold, sardonic mother of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya” — capping a sparkling awards season which saw her win all major prizes.
The statuesque 58-year-old Janney, the overwhelming favorite in the category, bested another actress playing a stern mother, Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird,” as well as Octavia Spencer for “The Shape of Water.”
“My fellow nominees, you represent everything that is good and right and human about this profession. You are all extraordinary,” she enthused at the podium.
With the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns against sexual misconduct and gender inequality dominating the 2018 awards circuit, this year’s Oscars gala is seen as an opportunity for Tinseltown to support female filmmaking.
Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman in Oscars history to be nominated for best director — for comedy/drama “Lady Bird” — but she faces tough competition from Guillermo del Toro, the runaway favorite for “The Shape of Water.”
There was also the first nod in history for a female cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, who shot Dee Rees’s racial drama “Mudbound.”
The Time’s Up initiative did not plan a coordinated protest on Sunday — like the striking red carpet “blackout” at the Golden Globes.
But Kimmel highlighted the work of both campaigns, pointing out that only 11 percent of movies are made by women.
“The year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish,” he joked, in a reference to the plot of “The Shape of Water.”
A host of stars — including Jane Fonda, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patrick Stewart and Richard Jenkins — sported Time’s Up badges, civil rights ribbons as well as orange US flags backing gun control.
In another nod to the women’s movements, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has tapped past winners Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster to present the best actress Oscar, according to Variety.
Traditionally, the previous year’s best actor winner would present that statuette, but Casey Affleck, who triumphed in 2017 for “Manchester by the Sea,” withdrew under a cloud of sexual harassment accusations he denies.
Avoiding another flub
Other winners by the halfway stage included Pixar’s “Coco” for best animated feature and “A Fantastic Woman” — a love story from Chilean director Sebastian Lelio with a much-praised star turn from transgender actress Daniela Vega — in the foreign film category.
The documentary race ended with an upset as “Icarus,” a searing expose of Russian drug abuse in sport by Bryan Fogel and Dan Coogan, beat French filmmaker Agnes Varda’s hotly-tipped “Faces Places.”
There were three Oscars in the technical categories for Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” and one each for “Darkest Hour,” “Phantom Thread” and “The Shape of Water.”
Organizers are looking to rebound after last year’s flubbed announcement by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway of the best picture winner — the trophy was initially given to “La La Land,” when the actual winner was “Moonlight.”
In a surprise turn of events, Beatty and Dunaway have been tapped to present the same prize this time around, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards”) and British veteran Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), who have dominated the awards season, are expected to bag the lead acting statuettes.
“This year, the Oscars are really surprisingly and beautifully inclusive,” Luca Guadagnino, director of “Call Me By Your Name,” an outside bet for best picture, told AFP at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards.
“We have films that speak about so many topics and that celebrate so many filmmakers from different parts of the world.”