Oscars change angers Hollywood—but will make the show better

Predictions: Will Smith and Jessica Chastain will win, and viewers will get to bed sooner.

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This year’s three fantastically talented Oscar hosts—Amy Schumer (from left), Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes—should ensure some great comedic moments.

ABC

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it would pre-record eight of the Oscar categories and air edited versions of those presentations during the live broadcast ceremony so as to tighten the notoriously long running time, reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative from industry professionals, including dozens of big-name filmmakers and artists who signed a letter urging the Academy to reconsider their decision.

No doubt their concern was legitimate, but come on. It’s not as if any high-profile director or producer is going to step forward in support of this change. They depend on those musicians and editors and production design folks and makeup and hairstyling artists and their invaluable contributions to the art of filmmaking. Nobody is disputing that.

Here’s the thing though: We’re talking about a prime-time television show, and the harsh reality is, watching greatly talented but largely anonymous behind-the-scenes crafts-persons ambling up to the stage to deliver their thank-you speeches just doesn’t make for compelling TV, and chips away at the ratings. As long ago as 2001, I was writing, “Tell the recipients for makeup, short film, documentary, et al., to come to the podium and accept their awards with nothing but a bow and a wave,” and in 2011, I suggested: “Stop televising the ‘lesser’ categories and trim the running time from nearly four hours to two hours.”

Beat the Critic

BEAT THE CRITIC

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Beat the Critic competition is taking entries now through March 27 from readers submitting their picks for the Academy Award winners. For details, go to suntimes.com/beatthecritic.

In a related event, readers are invited to request a free link to watch the Oscar-nominated film “Belfast” and join Richard Roeper for a live conversation about the movie. Sign up at suntimes.com/beatthecriticevent.

Not that anybody ever listens to me, but again: With all due and great respect to the categories of original score, makeup and hairstyling, documentary short, film editing, production design, animated short, live action short and sound, it doesn’t diminish the achievement in any way if those presentations take place before the official start of the March 27 ABC broadcast and are later incorporated into the show. If you ask the perennial viewer of the Oscars if they’d rather have a three-hour show or a four-hour show, I find it difficult to fathom most would opt for the marathon.

Other changes this year: there will be 800 fewer seats in the Dolby Theater to facilitate social distancing, which isn’t a terrible idea but seems a bit out of step with the current climate. We’ve been seeing fans pack sports arenas for months now, even as some coaches wear masks and some don’t, and some fans wear masks but most don’t.

And all I can say for sure is I’m glad we’re not going to have another deeply strange Oscars like we had last year, when a relatively small crowd convened at Union Station in Los Angeles while an even smaller group gathered at the “international hub” in the BFI Southbank repertory cinema in London, and Anthony Hopkins had already fallen asleep in Wales by the time he was announced as best actor winner and he delivered a gracious thank you speech the following morning and posted it on Instagram.

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Will Smith’s string of awards for his “King Richard” work — most recently from the National Board of Review on Tuesday — could culminate in an Oscar win.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

We’re also returning to real live hosts this year, with the fantastically talented Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes tri-hosting, and that should make for some entertaining comedic moments amidst the presentations of the awards—and how refreshing is it the races are so tight in virtually every major category? Usually by now, we have clear frontrunners in at least three of the acting divisions and the best picture race has been pretty much decided, but this time around, one could make the case for at least three of the 10 best picture contenders—and there’s a real chance for an upset in all of the acting categories.

As of this writing, it appears as if “The Power of the Dog” is gaining momentum as the favorite for best picture and Jane Campion is in line to win best director. Still, it’s not inconceivable that the almost universally beloved “Coda” or Kenneth Branagh’s masterful “Belfast” could take home the gold. This could be one of those years in which best picture and best director don’t go hand in hand, a la 2016, when “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle won but the best picture Oscar went to “Moonlight.” (As you might recall, there was a little confusion about that at the time.)

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Jessica Chastain, a best actress nominee for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” attends the Oscars Nominees Luncheon on March 7.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

I have Will Smith winning for best actor, Jessica Chastain for best actress and Kodi Smit-McPhee as best supporting actor — but while Ariana DeBose is the favorite for best supporting actress and would be a most deserving recipient, I’m going with Dame Judi Dench, because you can never count out Dame Judi Dench.

This much is certain: The ceremony will be shorter this year, and ratings will go up. Just you watch.

Roeper’s Oscar predictions

ROEPER’S OSCAR PREDICTIONS

Best picture – “The Power of the Dog”

Actor – Will Smith, “King Richard”

Actress – Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Supporting actor – Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”

Supporting actress – Judi Dench, “Belfast”

Animated feature –”Encanto”

Cinematography – “Dune”

Costume design – “Cruella”

Directing – Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”

Documentary feature – “Summer of Soul”

Documentary short subject – “The Queen of Basketball”

Film editing – “The Power of the Dog”

Hair/Makeup - “Cruella”

International feature film – “Drive My Car”

Original score – “Dune”

Original song – “Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto”

Production design – “Dune”

Animated short film – “Robin Robin”

Live action short film – “The Long Goodbye”

Sound – “Dune”

Visual effects – “Dune”

Adapted screenplay – “The Power of the Dog”

Original screenplay – “Licorice Pizza”


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