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Diverse Oscars has a night of firsts
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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The Academy Awards turned 90 on March 4 at Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre, with host Jimmy Kimmel keeping things moving from the jump and humorously offering a jet ski for shortest acceptance speech (and Dame Helen Mirren presenting the item, with Phantom Thread costume designer Mark Bridges eventually winning it). White House jokes, animal stories about Barbra Streisand's clones and the award statue not having a penis (in this #MeToo era) were all part of the fun presented by the late-night talk-show host.

Once again, Kimmel tried to humanize the star power sitting in the room, this time by awkwardly interrupting A Wrinkle in Time screening in a neighboring theater. The crowd was spontaneously fed snacks by celebs including Gal Gadot, and Armie Hammer shot hot dogs into the air with a cannon, to the delight of the attendees.

Locally, people left their couches for two packed sold-out screenings of the Academy Awards in Chicago, one at the Gene Siskel Film Center and the other at Park West.

"Hollywood on State: Where You're the Star" held one of two annual fundraisers for the Siskel Center in the cinema space. B96 Radio's Showbiz Shelly and J Niice were the hosts for the evening that included telecasts in the various theaters, plus delicious food from Hutch and Fogo de Chao, among others. Chicago filmmakers were honored that evening, including Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim, Nicole Bernardi-Reis, Kelly Richmond Pope and Dinesh Sabu.

"A Night with Oscar" raised money for Center on Halsted, with the event returning again to the Park West. "This year we're celebrating the Academy Awards, but also the relevant impact our programs and services have on the LGBTQ community," said Center on Halsted CEO Modesto Tico Valle. Rebecca O'Neal from Netflix's Easy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Tom Lenk were on hand to host the event and give speeches during the commercial breaks.

The televised award ceremony ran over as usual, but kept viewers engaged with variety and inclusion throughout the four-hour timespan.

Sam Rockwell was an early winner for Best Supporting Actor, and Allison Janney beat the competition for I, Tonya in the Best Supporting Actress group.

While Strong Island did not win Documentary Feature, Yance Ford already made history as the first openly transgender filmmaker to be nominated. A Fantastic Woman—the story a Chilean trans waitress and singer—took home the prize for Best Foreign Film. Windy City Times recently interviewed director Sebastian Lelio who accepted the trophy and called star Daniela Vega an inspiration. Vega then became the first openly transgender Oscars presenter by introducing Call Me By Your Name's song nomination, "Mystery of Love," which Sufjan Stevens performed.

Ford and Una Mujer Fantastica were both spotlighted in one segment about diversity. Gay director Lee Daniels, Ava DuVernay and Kumail Nanjiani all spoke in the montage about the future of cinema, with Daniels mentioning Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, specifically. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins talked about watching Wonder Woman in the theater to finish the piece.

Speaking of diversity, Keala Settle's performance of Greatest Showman song "This Is Me" earned a standing ovation and was backed by singers from unique backgrounds. Also, transgender author Janet Mock was one of 10 activists who stood behind Common and Andra Day as the musicians performed "Stand Up for Something," from the film Marshall.

While Coco had a shaky live performance of "Remember Me," it snatched the award in that category for Original Song. Coco also won Best Animated Feature, with two of the winners thanking same-sex spouses, and the people of Mexico in general.

Best Director Gulliermo del Toro used his win from The Shape of Water to emotionally talk about immigration. It is the fourth time in the last five years that a Mexican filmmaker wins Best Director, then his film went on to win Best Picture.

Frances McDormand had all the women nominees in all categories stand in honor of their accomplishments after rightfully wining the Best Actress Award. In dark contrast, Gary Oldman won Best Actor but is already facing online heat for his beating a wife with a telephone in the past.

Call Me By Your Name's James Ivory won Best Screenplay and is also the oldest Oscar winner ever, at 89. Jordan Peele was the first Black winner of the Original Screenplay category. Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 won several technical awards, as expected, with Dunkirk taking the Original Score Oscar thanks to the talented Hans Zimmer.

Jodie Foster, on crutches, joined Jennifer Lawrence in presenting an award late in the show.

Things closed with the return of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty to present Best Picture again, this time with the correct envelope results.

Now, can the comedy team Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph just co-host the entire show next year? Haddish can even wear the same dress one more time!

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