LOS ANGELES | ‘Black Panther’ takes 2 awards early in Oscars, King wins

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Black Panther,” which is aiming to become the first superhero film to win best picture, won two awards early at 91st Academy Awards for the lush, big-budget craft of Ryan Coogler‘s Marvel epic.

“Black Panther” won for Ruth Carter’s costume design and Hannah Beachler’s production design at Sunday’s Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Beachler had been the first African-American to ever be nominated in the category. In a teary acceptance speech, she thanked Coogler for his faith and support.

Carter, a veteran costume designer, also won her first Academy Award following two previous nominations.

“Wow. Wow,” Carter said. “I got this. This has been a longtime coming.”

Queen launched Sunday’s Oscars with a medley of hits that gave the hostless awards a distinctly Grammy-like flavor as Hollywood’s most prestigious ceremony sought to prove that it’s still “champion of the world” after last year’s record-low ratings.

Singer Adam Lambert, who has been touring with the band, replaced the late Freddie Mercury, the subject of the best-picture nominee “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Though the opening number was known, the feel of an Oscars without a host for only the second time in decades had been a mystery.

Following Queen, the motion picture academy ran of montage of the year’s movies before Tina Fey — alongside Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph — welcomed the Dolby Theatre audience to “the one-millionth Academy Awards.” The trio ran through the kind of jokes, they said, they would have said if they were, in fact, hosting.

Rudolph summarized the situation: “There is no host, there won’t be a popular movie category and Mexico is not paying for the wall.”

They then presented best supporting actress to Regina King for her pained matriarch in Barry Jenkins’ James Baldwin adaptation “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The crowd gave King a standing ovation for her first Oscar.

“To be standing here representing one of the greatest artist of our time, James Baldwin, is a little surreal,” said King. “James Baldwin birthed this baby.”

The night’s co-lead nominee, “Roma,” won best cinematography for Alfonso Cuaron, who also wrote and directed his personal black-and-white epic based on his Mexican childhood. Cuaron became the first director to ever win for serving has his own director of photography. He thanked his regular cinematographer, the much-honored Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. Cuaron said he hung a sign that read “What would Chivo do.”

Best documentary went to Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Free Solo,” which chronicles rock climber Alex Honnold’s famed, free solo ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3,000-foot wall of sheer granite, without ropes or climbing equipment. “Free Solo” was among a handful of hugely successful documentaries last year including the nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary “RBG” and the snubbed Fred Rogers doc “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”

“Thank you Alex Holland for teaching us to believe in the impossible,” said Vasarhelyi. “This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible.”

Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice” won makeup and hairstyling for its extensive physical transformations. The category was one of the four that the academy initially planned to present during a commercial break and as its winners — Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney — dragged on in a litany of thank-yous, they were the first to have their microphone cut off.

The run-up to this year’s Academy Awards was a series of missteps and backtracks by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A new best “popular film” category was in, and then it was out . Kevin Hart was host and then he wasn’t . Some categories were removed from the live broadcast, and then they were back.

But if the script this Oscar season has been constantly rewritten, the film academy is hoping for a Hollywood ending (and much better ratings than the all-time low viewership last year .)

After some unlikely Los Angeles weather — to much local fanfare, it snowed in parts of the city on Thursday — sunny skies greeted red carpet arrivals. Screams of “Spiiiiiike” were heard along the red carpet when “BlacKkKlansman” director Spike Lee arrived to some of the biggest applause of the afternoon.

Glenn Close, wearing a gold-draped dress that she said weighed more than 40 pounds, said she was worried all day that she won’t be able to stop crying. Close, who has been nominated seven times, is expected to win her first Oscar — though she has said she doesn’t want “a pity Oscar.”

Producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss have pledged that the show will be speedier this year , even though its initial goal of a three-hour broadcast has faded.

In the academy’s favor is a popular crop of nominees: “Bohemian Rhapsody,” ”A Star Is Born” and, most of all, “Black Panther” have all amassed huge sums in ticket sales. Typically, when there are box-office hits (like “Titanic”), more people watch the Oscars.

But just how many people have seen one of the top nominees and the film favored to win best picture — Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” — remains unknown. Netflix has declined to give box-office results or steaming viewership. It remains a nominee unlike any other. Should “Roma” — a black-and-white, Spanish and Mixtec language film about a domestic worker in a Mexican family — win, it will be both the first Netflix movie to win best picture and the first foreign language film to do so.

Yet this year’s race has been maddeningly unpredictable , with the usual predictive awards being spread across contenders such as Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” a divisive period dramedy about a black pianist (Mahershala Ali) and his white chauffer (Viggo Mortensen); the royal romp “The Favourite; and “Black Panther,” which could become the first superhero film ever to win Hollywood’s top award.

Other milestones are possible, too. Though Cuaron is favored for best director, a win for Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”) would make him the first black filmmaker to ever win the award. Lee has said he likes his film’s underdog position as a “dark horse — pun intended.” Lee and his fellow screenwriters are also up for best screenplay, which would give the 61-year-old Lee his first competitive Oscar.

Many also expect Close to finally win one. She’s the front-runner for best actress for her performance in “The Wife,” a film about the overlooked and under-honored spouse of an acclaimed novelist.

Though Lady Gaga began the season as the favorite, Close has won a string of awards leading up to the Oscars, including at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards where she brought her dog, Pip, along as a date.

By JAKE COYLE , Associated Press