(CNN) — The Oscars compensated for a host-free ceremony with a night of historic firsts, moving briskly through the opening awards — part of a concerted effort to shorten the run time — in a night marked by greater inclusiveness and which spread the wealth among the nominees.
Award voters recognized a number of blockbuster movies, including “Black Panther,” the first superhero movie to gain a bid in the best-picture race; and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biography of Queen and the band’s frontman, Freddie Mercury.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” claimed a pair of early awards, and made history in the process: Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first African-American women to win for costume design and production design, respectively.
Another best-picture contender, “Roma,” was named outstanding foreign-language film, while its director, Alfonso Cuaron, earned best cinematography for the black-and-white period drama, an affectionate look back at the women who raised him.
Mahershala Ali received his second Oscar in three years for “Green Book,” the controversial fact-based story about race in the 1960s. With his prior win for “Moonlight,” Ali becomes only the second African-American actor with multiple Oscars, joining Denzel Washington.A tearful Regina King took the first award of the night, winning supporting actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel.
Marvel’s highlights included “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” swinging off with best animated movie, as the Sony release topped a pair of Disney sequels, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Incredibles 2.” “Free Solo,” a hit documentary about daredevil climber Alex Honnold, topped the documentary feature category, which also included the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biography “RBG.” In their enthusiasm, one of the filmmakers blurted out an expletive that was promptly bleeped.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” — the biography of Queen and its frontman, Freddie Mercury, claimed both of the sound categories as well editing. Notably, none of the “Rhapsody” winners thanked credited director, Bryan Singer, who was accused of sexual abuse in January, allegations that the filmmaker has denied.
In one of the more expected victories, the team that transformed Christian Bale into former Vice President Dick Cheney won in makeup/hairstyling for “Vice.” Visual effects, however, were something a surprise, going to “First Man,” the moon-landing drama about Neil Armstrong.
Lacking a host, the producers relied on music and comedy bits to enliven the evening, including a rousing duet from “A Star is Born” by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, which drew a standing ovation from the Hollywood crowd.
“Saturday Night Live” alums Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler introduced Sunday’s telecast, following Queen and Adam Lambert’s opening performance of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” highlighting the Oscar-nominated hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They riffed off the messy build-up to this year’s awards, with Rudolph quipping in reference to things that wouldn’t be happening, “Mexico is not paying for the wall.”
An abundance of drama surrounded the build-up to this year’s Oscars, even before getting around to the unusually wide-open race for the best-picture prize.
The contenders for that night-capping trophy have set the stage for what could be a night of historic firsts. They run the gamut of an evolving movie industry, with “Roma” — a black-and-white film from Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, for which no box-office data has been made available — vying to become the first Netflix movie to land those honors, as well as the first foreign-language film in an increasingly global business.
On the flip side, “Black Panther” became the first superhero movie to garner a best-picture nomination, representing the sort of blockbusters upon which the studios have come to rely. The Marvel production is the third-highest-grossing US release of all time, at $700 million, and nearly doubled that total worldwide.
A number of individual nominees registered breakthroughs for women and people of color, only a few years after lack of diversity among the acting categories birthed the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.
More broadly, the guilds representing actors, writers, directors and producers all selected different films in the run-up to the Oscars, an unprecedented absence of consensus that has only heightened suspense regarding what might win.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has endured a series of controversies, beginning with the proposal to introduce a “popular film” category. That idea was quickly scuttled, as was a subsequent plan to move four awards into the commercial breaks to help streamline the ceremony, which prompted a rebellion from Academy members.
In between, Kevin Hart was chosen to host the awards, before the resurfacing of homophobic social-media posts prompted the comic to withdraw. After a period of confusion, it was finally confirmed the awards would be mounted without a host, the first time that’s happened in 30 years.
Much of the tumult surrounding the 91st annual Oscars can be traced back to last year’s awards — and more specifically, a precipitous ratings decline, falling to an all-time low. Shortening the ceremony to three hours, or close to it, has been among the solutions that host network ABC has advocated as a means of stopping the bleeding from a Nielsen standpoint.
ABC and the Academy remained secretive about most of the elements in advance of the show, which only added — fairly or not — to a sense of chaos behind the scenes.