It was somehow fitting that on a night that celebrated the 90th Academy Awards, an Oscar would go to James Ivory, who himself turns 90 in June. The prize makes the 89-year-old the oldest competitive Oscar winner in academy history.
This award for adapted screenplay for “Call Me by Your Name” is Ivory’s first Oscar. He was a three-time nominee for directing, for the films “A Room With a View,” “Howard’s End” and “The Remains of the Day.” Working with producer and life partner Ismael Merchant as Merchant Ivory Productions, often in collaboration with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, they essentially created a genre unto themselves with literate, emotional, finely-tuned dramas that inspired countless lesser imitators.
Adapted from the 2007 novel by André Aciman, “Call Me by Your Name” is a fitting modernization of the Merchant Ivory sensibility. In the film a 17-year-old American (Timothée Chalamet) is spending the summer living with his academic parents at in idyllic 17th century villa in Northern Italy. Into their lives comes a 24-year-old graduate student (Armie Hammer), and the two begin a long flirtation that grows into something intimate and deeper.
Ivory was wearing a custom-made shirt with an illustration of Chalamet’s face when he took the stage to accept the prize. He first acknowledged both Aciman and the film’s delicate subject matter of first love, calling it “a story familiar to most of us whether we are straight or gay or somewhere in between. We’ve all gone through first love, I hope, and come out the other side mostly intact.”
After thanking director Luca Guadagnino and producers Peter Spears and Brian Swardstrom who brought him onto the project, Ivory also thanked the actors in the film.
He then added, “And I wouldn’t be standing up here without the inspired help I received from my life’s partners who are gone. Our writer Ruth Jhabvala, who received this award twice. And our fearless producer Ismael Merchant. Working with him for close to 50 years at Merchant Ivory led me to this award. And my profound thanks to the members of the academy, in voting for me you are remembering them.”
Backstage after his win, Ivory took stock of the moment when he said, “90 years for anything you do is extraordinary. Having won the Oscar at that age seems like a hiccup in nature. It feels good to be holding on to that Oscar. It’s mine.”