What to watch out for during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony
Ahead of this year’s star-studded festival of self-congratulation, here are a few of the things that may or may not happen on Sunday night
1 Did anybody actually see these films?
Yes, they did. But this is still the lowest-grossing set of best-picture nominees since 2011.
Dunkirk, which took $525 million worldwide, is by far the most lucrative project. Coming in second place with $254 million, Get Out was a huge hit in the US, but it fared less well in the “rest of the world”. One might reasonably argue that nobody should care about this. We pretend the Oscars are about quality, not commerce (we don’t, really). The organisers certainly give a hoot. When hits are nominated, the viewing figures tend to soar. The most watched ceremony ever named the then highest-grossing film of all time as best picture. It was 1998. “Iceberg! Dead ahead!”
2 Has Hollywood solved its woman problem?
Don’t be ridiculous. A depressing 77 per cent of non-acting nominations went to men. Women are, however, receiving better roles in more Oscar-friendly movies. The best actress race is, for the second year running, more competitive than its male counterpart. Until the last week or so, four actresses seemed like contenders: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins. And the fourth was Meryl “21 noms” Streep. To put this in perspective, it’s only a little over 20 years since Jessica Lange won for Blue Sky. What? Well, exactly. For decades, the voters struggled to complete the category. This year, it’s Denzel Washington, up for the poor Roman J Israel Esq, who represents a making-up-the-numbers release.
3 Will# Me too and# Times up dominate the red carpet? There will certainly be a lot of that about. As at the Golden Globes and Bafta, red carpet presenters will want to acknowledge the campaigns against the abuse of women in the entertainment industries. But Channing Dungey, president of entertainment at ABC, which broadcasts the ceremony, has expressed caution. “We certainly want to honour and respect Time’s Up and allow that message to be heard,” she said. “But we’re trying to make it more planned than spur of the moment — it has its moment and then doesn’t feel like it overshadows the artists and films being honoured.” The Time’s Up campaign told the New York Times it is not asking stars to wear black or bring activists as guests. Make of that what you will.
4 Will brave Gaels be able to wrap themselves in the flag? It depends what you mean by “Gaels”. It is only two years since the great annus mirabilis of Irish cinema – the industry’s 1990 World Cup – when the Irish Film Board managed more nominations than Paramount and Universal combined. We’re still doing fine. But Saoirse Ronan is unlikely to get past the Frances McDormand juggernaut. The Breadwinner, out of Kilkenny, is too compact to beat Pixar’s bossy Coco in animated feature. Costume designer Consalata Boyle, a surprise nominee for Victoria & Abdul, has the misfortune to run up against Daniel Day-Lewis’s frocks in Phantom Thread. Mind you, Martin McDonagh, raised in London to Irish parents, holds the right class of passport.
As a producer, he will take an Oscar if Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri wins best picture. He’s also a contender in the hotly contested best original screenplay race.
5 Could there be another Envelope gate?
To be fair, the bizarre envelope mix-up in 2017 – involving best picture, of all things – required so many weird circumstances that it will surely never happen again. But the Academy has made precautions anyway. Price water house Coopers, the accounting firm that supervises the vote, is throwing staff at the problem. A new procedure demands that the celebrity presenter and a stage manager confirm that they’ve been given the correct envelope. A third PwC “balloting partner” – added to those positioned at either wing – will memorise the results and observe events from the control booth. PwC officials have been banned from using phones or social media. Good job, team. That will ensure the stable door is well and truly closed behind that long-bolted horse.
6 Has the Os cars finally solved its presenter problem? Well, obviously not. Jimmy Kimmel can’t do the show forever. Aside from anything else, in the present era, viewers might like to see somebody other than a white bloke at the Oscar microphone. But Kimmel’s successful outing last year was one of the pleasanter surprises in recent Oscar history. Indeed, after disastrous twin turns by Anne Hathaway and James Franco, a bewildering dud from Awards veteran Neil Patrick Harris and an often funny, but utterly ill-judged, Seth MacFarlane cringeathon, many Oscar veterans decided it was an impossible job. Arriving with modest expectations last year, Kimmel managed to combine light snark with a respect that stopped short of becoming oleaginous. If he succeeds again, he will become the default host of his era. A Bob Hope. A Johnny Carson. A Billy Crystal. Not bad company.
7 Who will be left off the ‘in memoriam’ tribute? It should be a brief, moving respite from the hubbub, but no other section of the show has caused quite so much controversy as the annual tribute to the recently dead. Last year, the segment somehow managed to leave off Doris Roberts, Garry Shandling and Robert Vaughn. Robert Vaughn? He was the last of The Magnificent Seven, for Pete’s sake. Those oversights were, however, overshadowed by the montage including a photograph of the still-living producer Jan Chapman instead of late production designer Janet Patterson. We can surely count on Roger Moore, Jerry Lewis, Jonathan Demme, Martin Landau and George Romero making it in. But somebody’s favourite will undoubtedly have been left off the list. Prepare your angry email.
8 Were the winners always so predictable?
No, they weren’t. There have always been years when a big film marched triumphantly over the little projects cowering before its advance. Nothing was stopping Schindler’s List in 1994 or Gone With the Wind in 1940. But, over the last two decades, the satellite events have increased and the online coverage of those ceremonies has generated whole digital sub-industries. The sanctity of “awards season” was confirmed in 2001 when, for years an amusing Easter afterthought, Bafta moved its gongs back before the Oscars and changed its rules to admit films released in the UK during the early part of the year. In short, we now have too much information. If the Academy were to unilaterally drop its awards into the first week of January then we might get more excitement. That won’t be happening.
9 What records stand to be broken or equalled? Should Meryl Streep take a fourth statuette, she will equal Katharine Hepburn’s record for most wins in acting categories. Should Daniel Day Lewis, allegedly facing retirement, win his fourth best actor Oscar, he will break his own record for most wins in that category and pull ahead of Jack Nicholson and Walter Brennan for most acting wins by a man (the other two have supporting wins in their tally). Should The
Shape of Water convert 11 of its 13 nominations, it will equal the total for most wins. None of these things is going to happen. More realistically, writer James Ivory and documentarian Agnes Varda, both 89, have good chances of becoming the oldest-ever winners. Varda is the senior by a few weeks.
10 Is it you or have the nominees got better? It’s not just you. Increasing the nominees from five to a maximum of 10 and expanding the membership to include younger, more diverse voters has allowed in an array of interesting pictures that would have struggled during the 1980s and 1990s (Oscar’s most boring years). In 1990, Awakenings, Ghost and
Godfather Part III – none classics – were among just five films vying for the best picture won by Dances With Wolves. Thank heavens for Goodfellas. In the last decade we’ve seen such interesting nominees as Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Room, Get Out and Lady Bird. Moonlight really did win last year. So give the Oscars a break.
Far left: Daniel Day-Lewis accepts the Best Actor award for Lincoln in 2013, his third win in the category. Above: La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the card reading last year’s actual best-picture winner Moonlight while Warren Beatty and...