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Oscars 2018: a night of no frontrunners led to unexpected milestones

A look at all the notable milestones from the 2018 Oscars — and some that didn’t happen.

90th Annual Academy Awards - Press Room Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The 2018 Oscars had delightful moments, predictable wins, notable firsts, and major upsets (though none as major as last year’s). But perhaps most notably, it had suspense. After several years of adding more women and people of color to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ membership in response to criticism about its lack of diversity, this year’s crop of nominees, while lacking a clear frontrunner, were full of accolades for women and minorities; they also represented a host of new milestones and “firsts” that indicated the Academy’s efforts to diversify were paying off in interesting ways.

How many of these nominations would result in Oscar gold was anyone’s guess going into the ceremony. But as the dust settles on the 2018 Oscars, the jumble of nominations and wins and records indicates an Academy in flux — and some truly unexpected milestones.

The Shape of Water became only the second movie with a credited woman screenwriter to win Best Picture since World War II

Among the many astonishing stats surrounding women at the Oscars — for example, no woman has ever won for cinematography, or had even been nominated until this year — one of the more befuddling is the surprising dearth of women screenwriters following the Second World War.

In fact, more movies with credited women screenwriters won the Best Picture prize in the 13 years before World War II than in all of the years since the war.

The only other film since then to hold this dubious honor is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003, which was co-written by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. On Sunday night, Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor took home the prize for The Shape of Water.

Jordan Peele became the first black writer to win for Original Screenplay

90th Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Peele’s Oscar nomination was already historic: He was the first black director to be nominated for a trifecta of writing, directing, and producing all in the same year. He was also the first black director to have his debut film nominated in all three categories. Ultimately, he walked away with only one of those wins — the award for Best Original Screenplay.

Astonishing as it may seem, no black filmmaker has ever won the Oscar for Best Director. Incredibly, though he was bestowed with an Academy Honorary Award in 2015, Spike Lee was never even nominated in the Best Director category. Last year, though Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight was the surprise Best Picture winner, Jenkins lost the Best Director category to Damien Chazelle — himself a milestone winner for La La Land.

The three oldest Oscar nominees were all nominated this year — and one of them won.

2018 is a good year to be an octogenarian at the Oscars. James Ivory won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name at the age of 89, making him the oldest Oscar winner in history. With his late partner Ismail Merchant, Ivory formed the renowned British studio Merchant Ivory, known for its sumptuous period dramas.

(Ivory’s win prevented another first from being made, however: Dee Rees, director of Mudbound, was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. She was the first black woman ever nominated for the honor.)

Legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda was also nominated this year for her moving documentary Faces Places. Though she lost to the sports doping documentary Icarus, she still made history by becoming, at 89, the oldest person ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. Varda just ekes out this honor: She’s older than Ivory by just eight days.

Christopher Plummer also received a much-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor after stepping in to replace Kevin Spacey for reshoots on All the Money In the World. At 88, this makes him the oldest actor ever nominated. Although he didn’t win — he lost to Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards — don’t feel too sorry for him: Plummer is already the oldest actor to win, having walked away with the Supporting Actor award for his performance in the movie Beginners at the age of 82.

Daniela Vega was the first openly trans presenter

Vega’s powerful lead role in the Chilean film A Fantastic Woman, which was nominated for and ultimately won Best Foreign Language Film, had led to buzz that she might become the first transgender actress ever nominated for an Academy Award. Though that ultimately didn’t happen, on Sunday night, she still got to make history by becoming the first transgender woman ever to present one. Vega introduced the night’s performance of the nominated song “Mystery of Love,” written and performed by Sufjan Stevens, from Call Me by Your Name.

Roger Deakins finally broke his Oscar curse

90th Annual Academy Awards - Press Room Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Roger Deakins had been nominated 13 times for an Oscar for Best Cinematography without a win — an Academy record. That finally changed Sunday, when he at last took home the prize for Blade Runner 2049 (a win we handily predicted) on his 14th try.

Deakins’s win prevented another historic first from being made: Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison is, astonishingly, the first woman ever nominated for the cinematography award. With Deakins’s win, the shutout of women in this category continues.

Netflix nabbed its first win for a feature-length film

Netflix picked up its first Oscar last year for the short film “The White Helmets.” But it hadn’t won an award for a feature film until Icarus, Bryan Fogel’s investigation into doping in sports, scored the 2018 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

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