8:24am PT by Scott Feinberg
Oscars Primer: Hollywood Reporter Experts Tell You What You Need to Know
The big day has arrived! Some six months after unofficially launching at the Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals, the 2019-2020 awards season will come to an end on Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood with the 92nd Academy Awards. I will be in the room during the proceedings tweeting fun facts, crazy stats and details about things that are not being shown on TV, so follow along at Twitter.com/ScottFeinberg!
Ahead of the show, I sat down with five of The Hollywood Reporter's other in-house experts to recap the season that was and to preview the telecast that will be: editorial director Matt Belloni, executive editor Stephen Galloway, tech editor Carolyn Giardina, senior editor of film Rebecca Keegan and senior film editor Piya Sinha-Roy. I encourage you to listen to our half-hour conversation here.
A few additional thoughts …
Saturday's Spirit Awards, presented by Film Independent in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, were, as always, a lot of fun — but this year did little to clarify the Oscar race, as several of the big winners were not even Oscar-nominated. Among them: best feature The Farewell, which went to director Lulu Wang a year after her boyfriend Barry Jenkins won the same prize for If Beale Street Could Talk; best director(s) Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie (Uncut Gems); best actor Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems), who gave one of the funniest acceptance speeches I have ever heard; best supporting actor Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse); and best supporting actress Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell), who topped Hustlers' Jennifer Lopez, among others, but was unable to get out of China to attend the ceremony due to the coronavirus crisis.
Several other Spirit Award winners — best actress winner Renée Zellweger (Judy) and best screenplay winner Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) and Bong Joon Ho's best international feature winner Parasite — may well have the opportunity to repeat their acceptance speeches on Sunday.
Which way is the wind blowing heading in to the Oscars, based on my conversations with a lot of Academy members and other industry insiders over the last few days? Most seem to feel, as I do, that 1917 is the smart bet for best picture, based on the precursor indicators that have always pointed the way, including but not limited to the top DGA, PGA, Critics' Choice, Golden Globe (drama) and BAFTA awards.
But nobody, including me, is particularly confident about that pick because of the nature of the preferential voting system that the Academy uses to determine the winner of its best picture category. There is widespread respect for 1917, but unmistakable passion for Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Jojo Rabbit, and one can talk oneself into a tizzy trying to figure out how that will play on a weighted ballot.
Another indication that people are hedging their bets is the fact that there are far fewer Oscar afterparties on the books than usual — people may be reluctant to host a party unless they are confident that they will actually have a reason to celebrate. Several operations, including Universal (1917) and Netflix (The Irishman and Marriage Story), did their celebrating ahead of the big night. The highest-profile gathering on Sunday night — apart from the Governors Ball, the Vanity Fair Party and Jay-Z and Beyonce's exclusive gathering — will be Neon's for Parasite, which is all-but-assured of one big win, best international feature, at the very least.
As for the Oscars ceremony itself? I'm hearing that it will be a rainy afternoon — which makes me think the gods must be angry about something, considering how rarely it rains in L.A. — but the Academy, in such situations, covers the red carpet with a tent, and things will proceed as usual.
Without a big-name host or many mega-blockbusters in the running for top awards (pretty much just Joker), the telecast — under the oversight of rookie producers Stephanie Allain and Lynette Howell Taylor and veteran director Glenn Weiss — will be hard-pressed to deliver better ratings than Donna Gigliotti and Weiss attained last year, when she had no host but several mega-blockbusters in the running for major prizes, including Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born.
I'm hearing that, unsurprisingly, the production is banking on music to provide some of the night's biggest moments. We'll hear performances by nominees such as Elton John and Cynthia Erivo, as well as by non-nominees such as Billie Eilish — the teenage sensation who swept the Grammys two weekends ago and will be heard at the Oscars over the In Memoriam montage, which will include Kobe Bryant, Kirk Douglas and hopefully Catherine Burns — and Janelle Monae.
I would also look for the production to frontload its ceremony with star power, hoping to quickly hook in viewers — specifically, an early presentation of the best supporting actor award by last year's best supporting actress winner, Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), to, in all likelihood, Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).
And I expect that there will be plenty of other neatly manufactured moments. For example, my friend Dave Karger has suggested that John Travolta could be brought back to introduce Idina Menzel — whose name he butchered as "Adele Dazeem" when he introduced her performance of the nominated tune "Let It Go" six years ago — allowing him a chance to joke about that ahead of her performance of this year's nominated tune "Into the Unknown," which she will sing alongside the voices of other Elsas from other parts of the world.
If things go as expected, you can expect standing ovations for all four acting winners — Pitt; Joaquin Phoenix (Joker); Laura Dern (Marriage Story); and comeback kid Zellweger (Judy), the only one of the four frontrunners who has won before (16 years ago, for Cold Mountain). I'm not sure if 1917 or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would get a standing ovation if they win best picture, but I can assure you that Parasite, as the first-ever non-English-language winner of the top prize, would, and the optics of that moment — a stage filled with Asian talent, as it was at the SAG Awards — would certainly help the standing of the constantly beleaguered Academy.
If you are looking for Oscar-related things to do during the day leading up to the telecast, may I encourage you to check out The Hollywood Reporter's Oscars Issue, which is one of the best we have ever put out? My own contributions to it are an investigative piece about Catherine Burns, an actress who was Oscar-nominated 50 years ago and subsequently vanished; a profile of Ashley Boone, a trailblazing but largely forgotten black marketing/distribution executive who contributed greatly to the success of Star Wars; a conversation with David Letterman about the infamous 'Oprah/Uma' Oscars that he hosted 25 years ago; the "will wins" — as opposed to the "should wins," which were handled by THR's chief film critic Todd McCarthy — in our annual "Will Win vs. Should Win" piece; and this season's first "Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot" conversation with an Academy member granted anonymity in return for honesty about how she filled out her ballot. (You can also read the second one here.)
Also, if you have the time, take a listen to my Awards Chatter podcast conversations with 18 nominees: Pedro Almodovar (Pain and Glory), best international feature; Bonnie Arnold (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World), best animated feature; Robert De Niro (The Irishman), best picture; Adam Driver (Marriage Story), best actor; Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), best actress and best original song; Greta Gerwig (Little Women), best original screenplay; Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), best supporting actor; Elton John (Rocketman), best original song; Randy Newman, best original score (Marriage Story) and best original song (Toy Story); Al Pacino (The Irishman), best supporting actor; Sandy Powell (The Irishman), best costume design; Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), best actor; Florence Pugh (Little Women), best supporting actress; Margot Robbie (Bombshell), best supporting actress; Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), best actress; Jane Rosenthal (The Irishman), best picture; Diane Warren (Breakthrough), best original song; and Renée Zellweger (Judy), best actress.
Finally, before the orchestra starts to play me off, a few thank-yous: everyone at THR, but especially my bosses, Matt Belloni and Lynne Segall, and my colleagues in the awards trenches, Rebecca Ford and the aforementioned Piya Sinha-Roy, and in the podcast trenches, Matt Whitehurst and Josh Farnham; the unsung publicists and film fest workers who serve as the middle-men and -women on all of the screenings, interviews and events that comprise the awards season; the Academy members who share their thoughts with me not only on "Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots" but throughout the year; the filmmakers responsible for this season's Oscar-caliber movies, especially those who joined me on my podcast; my family and friends, who tolerate the weird lifestyle that comes with me doing a job I love; and especially you, our readers and listeners, without whom none of this would be possible.
Enjoy the show, and see you back here soon — as in, later this month — for the kickoff of my Emmy season coverage!