If you’re looking for a sure thing at the Oscars this year, here’s something you can count on even more than multiple wins for “La La Land” or a best supporting actress win for Viola Davis or some timely quips from Jimmy Kimmel:
Somebody’s going to get political.
It would be a monumental upset if one or more of the winners DIDN’T use the occasion as a springboard for a rant against one or more of President Donald J. Trump’s policies, a call for activism, a reminder that now more than ever, artists need to exercise their rights to freedom of speech.
This will result in close-up shots of some actors tearing up in agreement, a standing ovation from the crowd — and decidedly mixed reaction on social media, with millions applauding the speech, and millions more saying they don’t want to hear “elite” actors and filmmakers lecturing us about politics, and this is why Hillary lost, etc., etc., etc.
And everyone will have a point.
Since at least the early 1970s, the Oscars have served as a platform for controversial social commentary.
When Jane Fonda won the best actress Oscar for “Klute” at the 44th annual Academy Awards, she was already a deeply polarizing figure. Many expected Fonda to use the occasion to protest the Vietnam War, but Fonda simply said:
“Thank you. Thank you very much, members of the Academy, and thank all of you who applauded. There’s a great deal to say, and I’m not going to say it tonight. I would just like to really thank you very much.”
(Backstage, Fonda was much more forthcoming about her opposition to the war.)
A year later, when Marlon Brando won best actor for “The Godfather,” an activist calling herself “Sacheen Littlefeather” read a speech from Brando explaining he was turning down the Oscar as a protest of treatment of Native Americans in the film industry.
Since then, presents and winners from Vanessa Redgrave to Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon to Richard Gere to Sean Penn have voiced their political opinions at the Oscars.
I was there in 2003 when Michael Moore gave his impassioned speech about a “fictitious president … sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” It was met with equal parts applause and boos from those in attendance.
It’s likely very few in the crowd on Sunday would boo anyone ripping Trump. It’s an easy play to bash him.
But to what purpose? If these Oscars turn into a Trump-bashing festival, it will make for tedious, self-congratulatory television. Even as someone who has been ripping the Donald for more than a quarter-century, I wouldn’t mind if the Academy Awards were a Trump-Free Zone.
After all, it would drive him crazy if he was ignored.
• • •
As for the telecast itself:
• Jimmy Kimmel is the perfect choice to host. Kimmel always knows how to straddle the line between irreverent and respectful. He’ll have some fun at the expense of the megastars in attendance — but he knows it’s also a career-defining night for the nominees in all the categories, and he won’t mess with that too much.
• Allow me to make my annual plea for the Academy to reduce the number of featured categories from 24 to 12, and to shorten the telecast to two hours. It’s absolutely ludicrous to allocate nearly the same amount of time to live action short films and animated short films as to the major categories. Every time the Oscars showcase people we’ve never heard of talking about films we’ll never see, it’s an open invitation to click over to “The Walking Dead” or “Billions” or your local news.
• The moment when the In Memoriam, aka the “Medley of Dead People,” ends is the moment we see protests on Twitter about the exclusion of … somebody. The Academy can’t win.
But regardless of who’s in and who’s out, they should cut the mike to the live audience, so we’re spared hearing how the big stars get big applause, while character actors and 90-something costume designers elicit a mere smattering of claps.
• Instead of having the orchestra “play off” the winners, resulting in all those awkward standoffs, how about this:
Tell all the nominees in advance they have exactly 90 seconds, tops, to give their speeches. If they go beyond that, they can yell over the orchestra all they want as the music swells, but it won’t matter, because their mikes will be killed.
ROEPER PREDICTS THE WINNERS
BEST PICTURE: “La La Land”
ACTOR: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
ACTRESS: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis, “Fences”
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: “Moonlight”
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: “Manchester by the Sea”
CINEMATOGRAPHY: “La La Land”
COSTUME DESIGN: “Jackie”
EDITING: “La La Land”
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: “Suicide Squad”
PRODUCTION DESIGN: “La La Land”
SCORE: “La La Land”
SONG: “City of Stars” from “La La Land”
SOUND EDITING: “Hacksaw Ridge”
SOUND MIXING: “La La Land”
VISUAL EFFECTS: “The Jungle Book”
ANIMATED FEATURE: “Zootopia”
DOCUMENTARY: “O.J.: Made in America”
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: “Toni Erdmann”
ANIMATED SHORT: “Piper”
DOCUMENTARY SHORT: “The White Helmets”
LIVE ACTION SHORT: “Ennemis Interieurs”