Oscars preview: Five big questions ahead of Sunday’s awards show

NEW YORK (AP) — The Oscars have always loved a throwback story. This year, the Oscars are also trying to star in one.

NEW YORK (AP) — The Oscars have always loved a throwback story. This year, the Oscars are also trying to star in one.

On Sunday, the Oscars will try to bounce back from a 2021 ceremony that was plagued by pandemic restrictions, a botched ending and record-breaking ratings. The 94th Academy Awards will return to its usual home, the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, and will air live on ABC beginning at 8 p.m. EDT. (It’s also possible to stream it live on services like Hulu Live TV, YouTubeTV, and on ABC.com with provider authentication.)

How much of the Oscars slowdown should be attributed to COVID-19? How much does the new normal cost? These are just some of the questions hanging over an Oscars ceremony that feels like a crossroads for one of America’s most enduring pop culture institutions, and still the most-watched annual show outside. of the Super Bowl.

Can Will Packer-produced awards shrug off the pandemic, reverse years of declining ratings for network TV awards shows, and merge a big-tent event for a rapidly changing movie landscape? In the endless preparation for the spring Oscars, many industry players have been skeptical. Which brings us to the first of five pre-show questions.


The biggest drama ahead of Sunday revolves around a show that has been significantly revamped to stem falling ratings. As if to make up for several years without a host, this time there are three: Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes. Will their combined star power move the needle at all?

Under pressure from ABC, the academy will also first present eight categories – production design, editing, sound, score, makeup and hair, and the three short film awards – before the start of telecasting. Clips of their victories and speeches will be shown on the show. Critics from across the industry, however, lined up to decry the change. The largest union representing workers behind the scenes, the IATSE, on Monday called the decision undermining the “fundamental purpose” of the Oscars.

So what will Packer do with the extra time? Beyoncé and Billie Eilish will perform their nominated songs. An eclectic cast of presenters has also been announced, including unexpected names like DJ Khaled, Tony Hawk, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Shaun White – so this could finally be the year Judi Dench learns how to perform a ‘McTwist’.


The two favorites are both from streaming services, which have won best picture ever. The main contender, Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the Dog’, up for 12 awards, was the long-time presumptive frontrunner, and perhaps Netflix’s best chance yet at winning Hollywood’s most prestigious award. . But after back-to-back wins with the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild, Sian Heder’s deaf family drama “CODA” may have the edge. The film’s deep-pocketed backer, Apple TV+, has spent big to push a feel-good indie underdog to the front of the pack. If “CODA” wins, it will be the first time since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” that a film with fewer than four nominations (“CODA” has three) wins best picture. Some predictions this year have been wildly wrong, however, other nominees like Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” could still surprise.


Last year’s Oscars decamped to Union Station for an intimate show with small attendance and plenty of social distancing. This year, a full show and red carpet are planned, but with uneven COVID-19 protocols. Participants are required to submit two negative tests and proof of vaccination. Those presenting or performing do not need to be vaccinated but do need recent negative tests. Masks will also be included, for participants seated outside the orchestra at Dolby and for the media on the red carpet. After many attendees contracted the virus after attending the March 13 BAFTAs in London, several nominees were quarantined, including Branagh and “Belfast” co-star Ciarán Hinds. With infection and hospitalization rates dropping, Los Angeles County is set to lift many virus restrictions for indoor events on April 1, five days after the Oscars.


Nominated twice before for Best Actor (for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”), Will Smith seems like a lock to win his first Oscar. Smith’s performance as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in “King Richard” has remained the most likely choice throughout the season. And the speech of the exuberant star of 53 years should be one of the liveliest of the evening. A victory, however, will have to come over formidable competition – including the actor who beat Smith’s ‘Ali’ performance 20 years ago: Denzel Washington, then a winner for ‘Training Day’ and a threat this time to ‘ The Tragedy of Macbeth».


Many of the top prizes could feature major milestones. Ari Wegner, director of photography for “The Power of Dog”, could become the first woman to win this award. Its director, Jane Campion, is also about to make history. Campion, the first woman nominated twice for Best Director, is set to become the third woman to win the category. It would be the first time the directing award has been given to consecutive women, after “Nomadland” filmmaker Chloe Zhao won last year.

Troy Kotsur from “CODA” is on track to be the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. His widely anticipated victory would make him and his “CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin the only deaf actors to win the Oscars. And the supporting actress, who Ariana DeBose apparently sewn up for her breakthrough role in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” could see the first Afro-Latina and openly LGBTQ actor win in the category. A win for DeBose would come 60 years after Rita Moreno won the same role, Anita, in the 1961 original. It would be the third time two actors have won for playing the same role, following Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix in as Joker, and Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro as Vito Corleone. But we’ll have to wait and see if DeBose’s “West Side Story” co-star Rachel Zegler is there to cheer her on.


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP


For more on this year’s Oscars, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/academy-awards

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press