Strong representation in award ceremony for Latin American artists, with Del Toro's prizes matched by wins for Pixar's Mexican-themed animation 'Coco' and a big victory for Chilean transgender drama 'A Fantastic Woman.'
Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water won top honours on Sunday at the Oscars including the coveted Best Picture statuette, bringing the curtain down on a Hollywood awards season overshadowed by scandal over sexual misconduct in showbiz.
The Mexican director's fairy-tale romance led the charge going into the show with 13 nominations, and took home Best Picture – the top prize of the night – as well as Best Director and statuettes for Production Design and Best Original Score.
The Cold War-set movie, about a mute woman and a captive fish-man, is del Toro's Technicolor ode to outsiders of all kinds — and species.
"The greatest thing that art does, and that our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand," said del Toro, accepting the Best Director award.
In an night of honours being shared fairly evenly among several candidates, Martin McDonagh's dark crime comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri had to settle for Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell.
Christopher Nolan's World War II thriller Dunkirk also picked up three awards, but in the less glitzy technical categories, while several movies ended the evening with two trophies.
"I am an immigrant," an emotional Del Toro said in collecting his first prize of the night, praising the power of filmmaking to "erase the line in the sand" between people of different countries and cultures.
"I want to dedicate this to every young filmmaker – the youth that is showing us how things are done," he said.
"I thought this could never happen. It happens. And I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of using fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today – you can do it."
Del Toro became the third Mexican-born filmmaker to win the award, joining his friends and countrymen Alejandro Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón — who once were dubbed "the Three Amigos." He dedicated the best picture award to young filmmakers — "the youth who are showing us how things are done."
In Del Toro's native Guadalajara exuberant fans everywhere from swanky parties to street parades celebrated their hometown hero, with one ecstatic crowd chanting, "Ole, ole ole ole! Toro, Toro!"
Hosted for the second straight year by late night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel, the 90th Academy Awards capped 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, describing the disgraced producer's downfall following dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault as "long overdue."
"We can't let bad behaviour slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example," he said.
Gesturing to a giant statue on the stage, he praised Oscar, himself for keeping "his hands where you can see them" and for having "no penis at all." But Kimmel introduced the broadcast as "a night for positivity," and cited, among other things, the box-office success of Black Panther and Wonder Woman.
McDormand, a winner throughout the awards season for her scintillating turn as a grieving, rage-filled mother in Three Billboards, took home her second Oscar, 21 years after winning for Fargo.
In a statement about the need for inclusion in the industry, she got all of the female nominees in the room to stand to highlight their work.
"We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed," she said to enthusiastic applause.
"Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects that need financing," declared McDormand. "I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: Inclusion Rider" — referring to actors signing contracts that mandate a film's gender and racial inclusivity.
Her "Three Billboards" co-star Rockwell kicked off the night by claiming Best Supporting Actor for his acclaimed turn as a racist, violent police officer.
Best Actor went to runaway favourite Gary Oldman, who sat in make-up for three hours a day to disappear entirely into the role of British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour.
Oldman thanked his nearly 99-year-old mother. "Put the kettle on," he told her. "I'm bringing Oscar home."
Allison Janney won Best Supporting Actress 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 sweep the major prizes.
"My fellow nominees, you represent everything that is good and right and human about this profession. You are all extraordinary," the statuesque 58-year-old Janney, the overwhelming favourite, 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 was seen as an opportunity for Tinseltown to support female filmmaking.
Greta Gerwig, only the fifth woman in Oscars history to be nominated for Best Director – for comedy/drama Lady Bird – went home empty-handed, despite other nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
There was also the first nod in history for a female cinematographer – Rachel Morrison, who shot Dee Rees's racial drama Mudbound – although the award ended up going to Roger Deakins on his 14th attempt, for Blade Runner 2049.
The Time's Up initiative was not as visible as at the Golden Globes in January, with no coordinated protest – like the striking Globes red carpet "blackout."
But toward the end of the show, Salma Hayek fronted the presentation of a video of stars advocating for women's rights and racial equality, including Ava DuVernay, Chadwick Boseman, Lee Daniels and Geena Davis.
"This entire fall, (through) the #MeToo, the Time's Up movements, everyone is getting a voice to express something that has been happening forever, not only in Hollywood, but in every walk of life," said Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite").
In another nod to the women's movements, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tapped past winners Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster – on crutches – to present McDormand's Best Actress Oscar.
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.
Presenters atone for 2017 flub
Other winners 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.
And Jordan Peele won the award for best original screenplay for his highly acclaimed début film, horror satire Get Out, becoming the first African-American to win for best original screenplay. Peele said he stopped writing it "20 times," sceptical that it would ever get made.
"But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone would let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it," said Peele. "So I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie."
Organisers were 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 were tapped to present the same prize this time around and the presentation went without a hitch.
"It's so nice seeing you again," joked Beatty, to laughs from the audience.