What to Expect (and Not Expect) at the Oscars

The Oscars turn 90 on Sunday, which seems about right. After this long, strange awards trip, the Bagger feels like a nonagenarian, too.

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, New York Times

The Oscars turn 90 on Sunday, which seems about right. After this long, strange awards trip, the Bagger feels like a nonagenarian, too.

The awards race was bookended by the demise of Harvey Weinstein at its outset and the apparent implosion of his film company at the end. And it was shaped by the emergence of #MeToo, Time’s Up, black-gown politics, arm-candy activism and a national conversation, as brief and mad as a fever dream, about whether there ought to be a President Oprah Winfrey. The season didn’t just seem extra long, it was extra long, because the Oscars were moved to the first weekend in March to avoid conflicting with the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. Thanks, Pyeongchang.

One big question surrounding this year’s Academy Awards is how or if the ceremony will address #MeToo, especially after the Golden Globes, which became a jubilant coming-out party for Time’s Up, the movement spearheaded by 300 powerful Hollywood women who helped raise millions of dollars to fight sexual harassment around the country.

Signaling their support, Golden Globes attendees swathed themselves in black, sported lapel pins and sounded off about sexist power imbalances from the red carpet and the stage. On the air, E! was called out about pay inequity after its former anchor Catt Sadler quit once she learned that she was making far less than a male co-host, and during the ceremony Natalie Portman took a blunt and satisfying dig at the all-male roster of nominated directors. How could that be topped?

As it turns out, at least in terms of the Oscars, it probably won’t be.

Women involved in Time’s Up said that although the Globes signified the initiative’s launch, they never intended it to be just an awards season campaign, or one that became associated only with red-carpet actions. Instead, a spokeswoman said, the group is working behind closed doors and has since amassed $21 million for its legal defense fund, which, after the Globes, was flooded with thousands of donations of $100 or less from people in some 80 countries.

No call to wear black gowns went out in advance of the Oscars, though the movement will almost certainly be referenced before and during the ceremony — especially since vocal #MeToo supporters like Ashley Judd, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman are scheduled presenters.

Another feature of this season: No one really knows what is going to win best picture. Arguably, this happens a lot. Inarguably, the nail-biter narrative only serves the awards hype machine. But often the people forecasting the race, “Oscarologists,” can make only educated guesses.

The way the academy tabulates the big winner doesn’t help. In every other category, the nominee with the most votes wins, but in the best picture category, voters are asked to list their top movies in preferential order. If a movie gets more than 50 percent of the first-place votes, it wins. When no movie manages that, the one with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and its votes are redistributed to the movies that garnered the eliminated ballots’ second-place votes, and this continues until a winner emerges. It is all terribly confusing, but apparently the consensus favorite comes out ahead in the end. This means that end-of-season awards chatter invariably involves tortured speculation about which film would most likely be voters’ second or third favorite, and then equally tortured conclusions about which film might prevail.

In 2015, it was a tossup between “Boyhood” and the eventual winner, “Birdman.” In 2016, with lots of experts betting on “The Revenant” or “The Big Short,” the prize went to “Spotlight.” Last year, nearly all the forecasters declared “La La Land” the presumptive winner, and for 2 1/2 minutes, they were correct, before an envelope snafu was revealed and the rightful winner, “Moonlight,” was crowned.

This year, awards watchers are unequally divided between “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the favorite, and, “The Shape of Water” (which is the Bagger’s prediction), with a few forecasting a Hail Mary win for “Get Out.”

But all of those films have historical Oscar-voting patterns against them. “The Shape of Water” has 13 nominations, more than any other film, and was named the year’s best by the producers’ and directors’ guilds. Yet it was not nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for best ensemble; and no film has won best picture without previously landing at least the actors’ nomination since “Braveheart,” in 1996. This year, the best ensemble SAG ended up going to “Three Billboards,” which is significant because actors make up the academy’s largest branch; that film, while divisive, also won the best drama Golden Globe and the BAFTA. But its filmmaker, Martin McDonagh, was not nominated for best director, and apart from “Argo,” movies that land best picture without also earning best director nominations are few and far between.

Meanwhile, many viewers feel that the year’s best film was “Get Out.” While the academy’s influx of younger, more diverse members might have helped the film secure nominations for best picture, director, actor and original screenplay, no film has won best picture with fewer than five total nominations since “Cavalcade,” from 1933, according to the movie maven Kristopher Tapley at Variety.

Eclipsed by all of this is Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” which, in terms of worldwide box-office receipts, blew away the rest of the best picture nominee field. It earned $525.6 million worldwide; “Get Out” accounted for the next best haul, with $255 million. (The lowest earner of the bunch was “Call Me by Your Name,” which took in $29 million globally.)

“Dunkirk” ought to have been a coup for Nolan. It was his most Oscar-minded film, told a historically pivotal story, was beautifully shot, and clocked in, mercifully, at two hours. But it didn’t have acting nominations, and on the awards circuit Nolan, who received his first directing nomination for this picture, could not outshine the jovial favorite, Guillermo del Toro, who showed up to at least one party toting a case of tequila. When Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” was snubbed in the best picture and director categories in 2009, that outrage led the academy to expand the top prize to 10 nominees, from five; but it looks like Nolan’s Oscar dreams will, yet again, be deferred. And while the acting categories are pretty much sewn up by baby boomers — Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman and Allison Janney — and one Gen-Xer, Sam Rockwell, this year’s nominations made winners out of a new generation of actors, bringing to the world’s attention the talents of Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), who went on to star in “Black Panther,” and Timothée Chalamet, the young lead of “Call My by Your Name” who, by several accounts, gave the best performance of 2017. Margot Robbie’s nomination cements her graduation from the ingénue holding pen, not that really she needed it; she is starring as Elizabeth I in the forthcoming “Mary Queen of Scots,” across from her fellow best actress nominee, Saoirse Ronan, who, at 23, is already considered a great.

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