Brad Pitt wins his first acting Oscar as awards get underway

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – The 92nd Academy Awards have started off on script: Brad Pitt won his first acting Oscar for his performance in “Once Upon on a Time … In Hollywood.”

Few categories were more certain coming into the Oscars than best supporting actor, which Pitt has had locked down all awards season. Pitt earlier shared in the best picture win for “12 Years a Slave,” for which he was a producer.

“They told me I have 45 seconds to speak, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” said Pitt, alluding to the impeachment hearings.

Pitt said the honor had given him reason to reflect on his fairy-tale journey in the film industry, going back to when he moved to Los Angeles from Missouri. “Once upon a time in Hollywood,” said Pitt. “Ain’t that the truth.”

As it did last year, the annual Dolby Theatre ceremony kicked off without a host. Janelle Monae opened the show entering a Mister Rogers set and singing “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Singing to the front row, Monae dropped her bowler hat on the head of Tom Hanks, who was nominated for his performance as Fred Rogers. A medley continued with Billy Porter joining in, as Monae segued into her song “Come Alive.”

“I’m so proud to be standing here as a black queer artist telling stories,” said Monae. “Happy Black History Month.”

Two former Oscar hosts, Chris Rock and Steve Martin, dropped in to supply an opening monologue. Martin called it “an incredible demotion.” Martin noted that something was missing from this year’s directing nominees. “Vaginas!” Rock replied.

The rainy weather provided some early drama on the red carpet, with workers scrambling to keep water from leaking onto camera crews covering the ceremony. Some outfits spoke loudly. Natalie Portman wore a cape lined with the names of female filmmakers who weren’t nominated for best director, including Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) and Mati Diop (“Atlantics”). Spike Lee, who documented the late Kobe Bryant in the 2009 documentary “Kobe Doin’ Work,” wore a Lakers-colored tuxedo with Bryant’s number, 24, emblazoned on it.

Fittingly for a sped up Oscar race (this year’s awards are being held several weeks earlier), a movie about a mad dash has risen to the top of the heap. After winning nearly every major precursor award, Sam Mendes’ “1917,” about a pair of British soldiers sent with an urgent message to deliver through recently-held enemy territory, is the favorite for best picture. Thanks to its technical dazzle, the seemingly one-continuous-shot “1917” is also likely to come away with the most awards Sunday, even without any acting nominations.

Although the acting favorites — including Joaquin Phoenix, Renée Zellweger and Laura Dern — all appear to be all-but-certain locks, there’s still the potential for a history-making upset. Momentum has swung behind Bong Joon Ho’s South Korean thriller “Parasite,” and some believe it has a chance to become the first non-English language film to win best picture.

Such a win would be a watershed moment for the Academy Awards, which has long been content to relegate international films to their own category. But in an effort to diversify its largely white and male membership, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has inducted more overseas members in recent years. And just about no one has a bad word to say about the widely praised class satire “Parasite,” the Palme d’Or winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and the first foreign language film to win top honors from the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

“Regardless of the outcome, I think the door has been opened,” Bong said on the red carpet. “I think as long as we continue this effort, the door will just open wider and wider.”

ABC, which is broadcasting the show live, is hoping a widely watched field of nominees – including the $1 billion-grossing “Joker,” up for a leading 11 awards – will help viewership. Last year’s show garnered 29.6 million viewers, a 12% uptick.

This year’s Oscars comes amid a streaming overhaul throughout Hollywood. Hurrying to catch up to Netflix and Amazon, most of the major studios are prepping or have already launched their own streaming services, as have new entrants like Apple. Netflix comes into the Oscars with a leading 24 nominations thanks to “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “The Two Popes” and the likely best documentary winner, “American Factory.”

But despite spending heavily through awards season, Netflix may go home with only a few awards. The streamer is still seeking its first best picture win after Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” came up just shy last year.

Instead, this year’s Oscar favorites are largely movies released widely in theaters. They also predominantly feature male characters and come from male directors.

After a year in which women made significant gains behind the camera, no female directors were nominated for best director. The acting categories are also the least diverse since the fallout of #OscarsSoWhite pushed the academy to remake its membership. Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) is the only actor of color nominated. Those results, which have been a topic in speeches through awards season, stand in contrast to research that suggests the most popular movies star more people of color than ever before.

Ticket sales slumped about 4% last year despite Walt Disney Co.’s record $13 billion in worldwide box office. Disney, which acquired 20th Century Fox last spring, accounted for an overwhelming 38% of domestic ticket sales. Yet Disney, aside from owning the network the Oscars are broadcast on, will likely play a minor role at the Academy Awards.

And while Democratic candidates are vying for the presidency and votes are still being counted in Iowa, former President Barack Obama may well notch another win. The first film from his and Michelle Obama’s production company, “American Factory,” is favored to win best documentary.

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The AP’s Amanda Lee Meyers contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Brad Pitt accepts the award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
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