Everything You Need to Know About This Year’s Oscars Race

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For those with any interest in, say, celebrities, red carpets, glamour, or, you know, movies, all of the above and more will come to a head at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday, airing live at 8:00 p.m. EST from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. If you haven’t been keeping up with all of the scandals, surprises, snubs, and general inside-baseball of this year’s ceremony, that’s understandable. There are journalists whose entire jobs are devoted to covering it year-round. But whether you’re an avid Oscarologist or simply leaving the punditry to the pundits, you can be the life of your Oscar party by catching up on a few hot topics sure to be on everyone’s lips come this weekend. Uninformed? No problem! Un-opinionated? …Never.

1. This is rumored to be the dirtiest Oscar fight in modern memory.

It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago exactly that disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein changed the playing field when it came to awards campaigning, launching a ruthless operation that propelled Shakespeare In Love to its upset Best Picture victory over Spielberg’s critically favorable epic, Saving Private Ryan. Now, post-Harvey, the bloodbath of awards campaigning shows no signs of abetting. Scandals have befallen every Best Picture nominee except for The Favourite, with new narratives emerging by the day. When A Star Is Born broke out as an early frontrunner, stories of its adjunct producer’s sketchy past made headlines. After winning the highly predictive People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, Green Book was besieged by negative press, amassing no fewer than five major scandals in as many months. While no awards publicist has been outwardly implicated in peddling negative stories, admissions of improper negging to major outlets have pervaded trade papers and popular film podcasts to the degree that you have to wonder if there will ever be an end to Hollywood’s bloodlust for Oscar gold.

2. There’s no host—and that’s not all

They can’t all be Whoopi Goldberg. When Kevin Hart was announced as ABC’s host for the 91st ceremony, the Internet quickly resurfaced many of his past homophobic remarks, sending him to veritable TV jail until further notice. (His star may not be irredeemably dimmed; his middling dramedy The Upside managed to earn triple its budget at the box office.) While a host-less Oscars might not be such a big deal (do we really need a watered-down stand-up monologue at the top of the broadcast?), it’s come to symbolize a culmination of a year of missteps on the part of the Motion Picture Academy. First, the powers that be announced a Best Popular Film Oscar that ignited fury among film lovers, leading them to revoke the suggestion. Then, ABC announced its plans to cut the show to three hours, leading the Academy to ration off four categories to the commercial breaks, which led to more ire from the industry. Again, they reversed course. Finally, it was revealed that not all Best Original Song nominees were invited to perform, although a performance from Queen featuring Adam Lambert was added to the production. Cue uproar. Cue retraction—although Kendrick Lamar and SZA, who are nominated for their Black Panther song „All The Stars,“ aren’t playing at the ceremony due to „logistics and timing.“ The question remains: Do the Oscars need a host? A dream scenario could be to invite all the past Oscar hosts to the stage for a bit about who had the worst experience steering the show (David Letterman and James Franco, duke it out!) and who had the best (Whoopi? Billy Crystal? Hugh Jackman?). The most memorable Oscar moments were born in chaos. When Moonlight’s Best Picture award was mistakenly handed out to La La Land, it became a moment etched in Oscar history. Maybe the worse this production is, the more entertaining it will be.

3. Netflix could buy—*cough*—win its first Best Picture Oscar.

The fight for the future of Hollywood could be won (or lost) on Sunday night if Netflix takes home the Best Picture statuette for Roma, director Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white, ’70s-set, visual love letter to his Mexico City upbringing and his family’s long-suffering housekeeper. Tying Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite for the most nominations this year (10), Roma rode an initial wave of critical adoration before Netflix released it in select theaters outside customary distribution channels, and ultimately sent it directly to streaming. The entertainment juggernaut has the benefit of 150 million pairs of eyeballs already, but even the most modest estimates—ranging anywhere from to 0 million depending on who you ask—make it clear that the streamer has also mounted the most expensive Oscar campaign in history. Despite being perhaps the most critically acclaimed film of the year, does a win count if the studio isn’t playing fair? Could a foreign, black-and-white, slow-moving domestic drama have stood a chance without spending more money than the entire production of most big studio movies on its big push? It would be cool to see a foreign language film score the top prize for the first time in Oscar history, especially one that demonstrates an appreciation for Mexican culture during a time when the government is shutting down to fight over a proposed border wall, but it could also mean an even greater acceleration toward having all content streamed (a film die-hard’s worst nightmare).

4. Major upsets are practically guaranteed.

The verdict is out on more categories this year than at any time in the past several years. As the Academy has mobilized to include more new members than ever before—928 in 2018 alone—the demographic of the voting body is shifting considerably. Past wisdom no longer seems to apply: You don’t have to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award to make it into the Oscar pool, as evidenced by Regina King, who’s nominated for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. You don’t have to win a WGA to be a lock for screenplay, as shown by recent winner Eighth Grade, which failed to make it into the nominations. This makes betting on predictions a wilder time than ever. Will Glenn Close finally clinch her career win for her understated performance in The Wife, a film many people haven’t actually seen? Or will Olivia Colman sail past her on the heels of her BAFTA win? Or, will the voting body opt for the drama of Lady Gaga or the surprise of Melissa McCarthy or Yalitza Aparicio? The supporting categories are just as open, many feel they’ve seen one too many speeches by perceived frontrunner Mahershala Ali, and he just won for Moonlight. Could Richard E. Grant sneak through? King has been campaigning her heart out, but was Rachel Weisz’s performance for The Favourite just too unforgettable to ignore? Many are set on Rami Malek for Best Actor, but maybe when comparing him with Bradley Cooper, Cooper comes out on top. For the first time in a long time, it feels like it’s virtually anyone’s game.

5. Spike Lee could become the first black person to win the Best Director Oscar.

Until now, Cuarón, a previous winner in this category, has felt like a sure thing. However, the new Academy voting body could opt for something that will feel much more meaningful, sending a powerful message while rewarding one of the most influential and deserving directors of modern cinema. Could a speech by one of the industry’s most beloved provocateurs be too juicy an opportunity to pass up? BlacKkKlansman may not have been his best-directed film, but it achieved a level of popularity he hasn’t experienced in years, and his nomination itself feels long overdue. Imagine that historic moment at the end of a three-hour slog and it becomes almost compulsive to root for him. That alone should be reason enough to tune in to the wee hours.

6. Are people discounting love for The Favourite?

You don’t have to sell us. The Favourite capped our year-end tally of 2018’s best films. With 10 nominations, rivaling Roma’s dominance, the darkly comic, deeply pathological period film from indie auteur Lanthimos has broad support among the branches and could emerge as either this year’s most decorated winner, or its least. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography does feel the most progressive and exciting among its category, Weisz and Colman have strong champions among the acting branch, and Sandy Powell’s costumes play a big role in the gender dynamics of the story, while also appealing to the fashionable costume guild for their simplicity and audacious send-up of historical dress. It might not win production design, but screenplay is nearly a lock, and editing is anyone’s game. Given the preferential balloting system the Academy uses to vote for Best Picture, if enough naysayers protest Netflix by voting down Roma, and if Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody are tanked by their own scandals, it’s possible the biggest trophy of the night could go to the film that many pundits have overlooked.

7. Could Lady Gaga lose Best Original Song?

There has been no Original Song entry this year more ubiquitous than Lady Gaga and Cooper’s anthem „The Shallow,“ first catching fire when the movie’s trailer hit and since becoming both a Grammy-winner and a meme. Being attached to an early frontrunner always has its risks: Gaga has been campaigning for award season the longest and the most relentlessly, receiving flack for repeating some of her more rehearsed comments (“There can be 100 people in a room…”) while also winning over the fickle Hollywood elite, as evidenced by her Critics‘ Choice Award. While the song itself is virtually unrivaled in its place in the culture, one could see an avenue where Academy members want to see Lamar win an Oscar, and if it happens to be during the same year he’s threatened not to perform, that becomes a powerful political statement in itself, and we know Hollywood lives for those.

8. And what will everybody be wearing?

For every devoted movie freak looking forward to parsing the surprises, the speeches, the questionable humor, and most importantly (and least predictably) the audience reaction shots, there are probably a dozen more who are mainly interested in the fashion. You can trace a path many have followed all award-season long for at least a few hints. Supporting Actress nominee Emma Stone, currently a face of Louis Vuitton, will no doubt turn to Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière to craft her Oscar look, and we can expect another killer Dior moment from the brand’s muse Charlize Theron. But apart from only a few instances, most of the other nominees and presenters are refreshingly contract-free. Gucci has been making exciting choices, dressing Lee in purple velvet, for instance. Olivia Colman favors Stella McCartney, as shown by her jewel-encrusted mesh ensemble at the Globes. Younger actors like Rami Malek, Timothée Chalamet, and Michael B. Jordan have been favoring labels like Givenchy, Dior, and Louis Vuitton (have we seen our last sparkly harness this season? Only time will tell). Meanwhile, frontrunner Rachel Weisz has kept us guessing, wearing frilly Celine to the Golden Globes and Gucci to the BAFTAs. It might be a big season for Prada and Riccardo Tisci’s Burberry, which have been popping up more and more throughout award season on stars including Amy Adams, Saoirse Ronan, and Jessica Chastain. On the men’s side, we expect a big presence from Kim Jones’s Dior, which felt like peak elegance when it walked—scratch that—posed down the conveyor-belt catwalk in Paris. Hedi’s Celine menswear was also slick and red-carpet ready, and will certainly crop up on someone (Bradley Cooper, perhaps?). Rumored to also be wearing Celine is Lady Gaga, but given that she is performing, we could see her in a few looks Sunday night, and she may even opt to pay tribute to Karl Lagerfeld in Chanel. There could be a serious run on some of Lagerfeld’s final Chanel creations, especially given that there are multiple new style stars who would represent them well, from Amandla Stenberg to Awkwafina to Kiki Layne. Claire Waight Keller’s Givenchy couture show felt like a true arrival, and would be a welcome surprise in a sea of typical mermaid gowns. But of course, don’t count out Valentino, whose voluminous couture creations stole the show in Paris.

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