The most unpredictable Oscars season in years finally came into focus Tuesday as the 90th Academy Awards nominations were announced, with nine films representing a wide range of genres earning best picture nods, from a sweeping World War II epic to a hot-button, racially charged horror film to an intimate portrait of a feisty teenage girl growing up in Sacramento.
Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical fable “The Shape of Water,” which fuses an old-fangled love of Hollywood films of yesteryear with a timely message of inclusion and tolerance, led the field with 13 nominations. The story of a mute janitor who falls in love with an aquatic humanoid creature picked up the first directing nod for Del Toro along with nominations for lead actress Sally Hawkins, supporting actor Richard Jenkins and supporting actress Octavia Spencer.
For Del Toro, who co-wrote the film with Vanessa Taylor and was inspired by his boyhood love of classic monster movies like 1954’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” the bonanza of nominations — just one shy of tying the record — was deeply gratifying. “What is beautiful is to get there being faithful to the images you have loved all your life,” he told The Times Tuesday morning. “My 6-year-old self would say, ‘Way to go!’ ”
One of the summer’s biggest box office hits, the World War II thriller “Dunkirk,” followed with eight nominations, including best picture and the first directing nomination for Christopher Nolan. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — a dark morality tale about a mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter — also made a strong showing with seven nods, including for best picture, lead actress Frances McDormand and supporting actors Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson.
Rounding out the best picture category were the romantic drama “Call Me by Your Name,” the Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour,” the coming-of-age dramedy “Lady Bird,” the period romance “Phantom Thread,” the Pentagon Papers drama “The Post” and the smash hybrid of horror and social satire “Get Out,” which picked up four nominations overall, including writing and directing nods for Jordan Peele and a lead actor nomination for Daniel Kaluuya.
The Oscar potency for “Get Out” defied the conventional wisdom that films released early in the year (“Get Out” came out last February) often struggle to get awards love, as do horror films. Then again, it’s only fitting for a film that bent genres and played with cultural taboos to buck norms, said Kaluuya. “There are no rules,” said the first-time nominee. “That’s what I love about this movie. Just tell the truth and give everything.”
In a year that has been dominated by discussions about lingering inequities in the entertainment industry, the nominations in many ways reflected a motion picture academy that has been remaking itself in public view. In the wake of two years of #OscarsSoWhite protests, the academy began taking dramatic steps in 2016 to bring more women and people of color into its historically overwhelmingly white and male membership ranks, and as a result the pool of academy members — now numbering roughly 8,400 — has become younger and more diverse.
Reinforcing those broader trends, “Lady Bird” writer-director Greta Gerwig became only the fifth woman ever to score a nomination for directing, while Peele became the fifth black filmmaker to score a nomination in that category and just the third person to receive best picture, directing and writing nominations for a debut feature. Rachel Morrison became the first woman nominated in the cinematography category for her work on the period drama “Mudbound.”
Against the backdrop of the sexual harassment scandals that have roiled Hollywood in recent months and ignited the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the strong showing for films with female protagonists — including “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards,” “Lady Bird” and “I, Tonya” — was particularly heartening to many. (That said, the most commercially successful female-centric film of 2017, the comic-book blockbuster “Wonder Woman,” came away empty-handed.)
“This film was always going to be successful, because it’s so universal,” said supporting actress nominee Laurie Metcalf, who earned her first Oscar nod for “Lady Bird.” “But in this particular time, it just makes it all the more apparent that women’s stories are really powerful.”
In an era in which hashtag protests can quickly spread like wildfire on social media, the academy avoided a potentially thorny situation when James Franco — who has recently faced accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior from several women — failed to score a lead actor nod for his performance in “The Disaster Artist,” which earned him a Golden Globe award for best actor in a musical or comedy just weeks ago.
The acting nominees included a number of Oscar stalwarts: Meryl Streep earned her 21st Oscar nod for her turn as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” while Denzel Washington picked up his eighth for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” and Daniel Day-Lewis earned his sixth for “Phantom Thread.” (Even their achievements pale, however, in comparison with composer John Williams, who collected his 51st Oscar nomination for his work on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”)
The acting categories also featured eight first-timers, including Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”), Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”) and Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”).
“I can’t stop crying all these happy tears,” Blige said. “It shows that someone recognizes my hard work and the dedication and how serious I’m taking this craft. It just feels really good to run into Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes and have her say, ‘Oh my God. That work you did.’ I’m like, ‘What?!’ ”
As first-timer Gerwig said, barely containing her joy, “I’ve just been yelling on the phone for the last three hours — that’s all I’ve been doing, excitedly yelling and not making any sense. I’m going to stop people in the street and yell in their faces!”
Times staff writers Tre’vell Anderson, Mark Olsen, Yvonne Villarreal and Jen Yamato contributed to this report.