LOS ANGELES—The 91st Academy Awards have been marked by unpredictability: Who will host? (Kevin Hart, and then, not Kevin Hart.) How many categories will be removed from the live telecast? (Four, and then, none.) Will producers stick to their pledge to keep the show under three hours? (Get real.)
Despite the uncertainty surrounding this year’s show, here are five things to watch for on Sunday.
A Crowded Race
This year’s best-picture race is among the most unpredictable in recent years, with three front-runners considered to have an equal shot at the top prize. Netflix’s “Roma,” the black-and-white drama about a Mexican domestic worker, is the leading favorite. But it will need to overcome Academy resistance to rewarding a movie that played mostly on a streaming service, rather than in theaters.
The race-relations drama “Green Book” is the most traditional of the front-runners and has picked up accolades from the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild of America. The wild card of the lot is Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther,” the critically acclaimed blockbuster that has been gaining momentum since its cast won the best-ensemble prize from the Screen Actors Guild.
Glenn Close in ‘The Wife’ Photo: Graeme Hunter Pictures
The Overdue Oscar
Glenn Close is considered the favorite to win best actress for her role in “The Wife,” a drama about the long-suffering spouse of a Nobel laureate. She has been nominated for six Academy Awards but hasn’t won any, and she is considered the most celebrated actress who doesn’t have a statuette of her own—with Annette Bening and Amy Adams as contenders for that dubious distinction.
Despite a career that includes 1989’s “Do the Right Thing,” director Spike Lee hadn’t been nominated for an Academy Award before this year, though he won an honorary Oscar in 2015. His luck should change this year: Mr. Lee is the favorite to win in the best adapted screenplay category for “BlacKkKlansman,” and a contender for best director, though most prognosticators assume that award will go to Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma.”
The best-picture nominees “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are giving the Academy the chance to stage some major musical numbers. Lady Gaga and her co-star Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow,” considered a favorite to win in the best original song category.
The Academy announced earlier that the surviving members of Queen will perform with singer Adam Lambert, though a rendition of the six-minute title song may not help shortening the show’s running time. Among the other musical highlights: Bette Midler has been tapped to sing “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns.”
The Journal took a stopwatch to the last five years of Oscar broadcasts to breakdown what’s filling up those more than three-and-half hours. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports the findings. Photo Illustration: Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal.
Producers of this year’s telecast have pledged to do the near-impossible: Keep the show under three hours. The Oscars have stretched longer than four hours in the past, and the Academy tried to find ways to trim time leading up to the show.
They announced a plan to move four categories to commercial breaks, only to face such intense criticism from members that they scrapped the idea just days later. Same went for a plan to cut the number of performances of nominated songs—now all five will be sung. ABC, which broadcasts the awards, will be watching the clock: The network has said that viewers start dropping off when it passes 11 p.m. on the East Coast. Expect the orchestra conductor to be playing more winners off the stage than usual.
Rami Malek in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
This year’s crop of nominees present opportunities for the Academy to mark several firsts. A “Roma” win for best picture would be the first foreign-language film to receive the honor and its lead actress nominee, Yalitza Aparicio, is the first indigenous best-actress nominee. Acting wins for Rami Malek, playing Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Mahershala Ali, playing pianist Don Shirley in “Green Book,” would mark the first time two actors receive Oscars in the same year for playing gay characters. According to awards pundits, it seems likely that particular milestone will be achieved, since Messrs. Malek and Ali are considered near-locks on Sunday.
Write to Erich Schwartzel at email@example.com