Oscars 2017: What to Watch For

Oscars 2017: What to Watch For

• The Academy Awards will be broadcast live on ABC starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

• “La La Land” leads all movies with 14 nominations, tied for the most ever.

• The nominees are diverse. Will the winners be?

• Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech was the talk of the Golden Globes. Will the Oscars have a similar moment?

• Missed one of the nominated movies in theaters? Some are available to stream right now.

LOS ANGELES — “Fasten your seatbelts: It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

That sassy chestnut, made famous by Bette Davis in the 1951 best-picture winner, “All About Eve,” sums up the feeling in Hollywood heading into this year’s Oscars. Set for broadcast by ABC on Sunday night, the 89th Academy Awards telecast is expected to be a new flash point in the Trump-era culture wars.

There is no larger platform for liberal views than the Oscars stage — more than 100 million people watch worldwide — and some winners will undoubtedly use their moment of glory to rail against President Trump and his policies, just as Meryl Streep did at the Golden Globes. In other words, expect the three-hour-plus telecast to move between frothy self-celebration and acrid finger-wagging.

Diversity scorecard-keeping could bring additional turbulence. After two years when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was attacked as racist for overlooking black actors and films about African-American experiences, the current nominee list is remarkably diverse. But if films with black leads (“Hidden Figures”) are ignored in favor of ones with white stars (“Manchester by the Sea”), a new #OscarSoWhite fire may ignite.

Ahead of the ceremony, the favorite to win best picture is “La La Land,” which received 14 nominations, a tie with “All About Eve” and “Titanic” for the most in academy history. Hollywood never tires of gazing in a mirror: “La La Land,” a musical love letter to the entertainment industry, would become the fourth show-business story in six years to win best picture, joining “The Artist,” “Argo” and “Birdman.”

But “Hidden Figures,” a more conventional studio film with an uplifting story about overlooked NASA heroines in the 1960s, could pull off an upset win, as could the critical darling “Moonlight,” an art-house film about a young, black, gay man growing up poor in Miami.

Some contests were seen as no contest at all, including supporting actress, where Viola Davis was favored to win an Oscar — her first — for playing a world-weary housewife in “Fences.” (She won best actress at the 2010 Tony Awards for playing the same role onstage. She was the one who decided to drop to the supporting category for the Oscars.)

But there were still lots of questions, both serious and silly.

Dev Patel in “Lion.” Credit Mark Rogers/The Weinstein Company, via Associated Press

Could two of the films that campaigned most heavily — “Arrival,” up for eight awards, and “Lion,” with six nominations — go home with nothing? Might the sound mixer Kevin O’Connell, who holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without a single win (21) finally emerge victorious for his work on the gory war film “Hacksaw Ridge”?

Which star will be the first to gobble the “lobster corn dogs” and “gold-dusted popcorn” served by Wolfgang Puck at the official after-party?

Here are five other matters to consider ahead of the show:

It’s Denzel vs. Casey for best actor

Casey Affleck, left, and Denzel Washington. Credit From Left: Claire Folger/Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions; David Lee/Paramount Pictures, via Associated Press

The best actor race is extremely tight. Will the Oscar go to Denzel Washington, a seasoned, two-time Oscar winner who brought a passion project to the big screen? Or Casey Affleck, a 41-year-old comeback kid?

Mr. Affleck, at long last seeming to leave behind his lamentable 2010 film, “I’m Still Here,” was once seen as a lock. His nuanced performance in “Manchester by the Sea” was widely hailed as a triumph and won him trophies at stops including the Golden Globes. But Mr. Affleck was dogged by the fact that in 2010 he settled sexual harassment complaints tied to “I’m Still Here.” In late January, Mr. Washington, the director and star of “Fences,” staged an upset win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

It’s rare for an actor to collect a Screen Actors Guild award and not go on to land an Oscar. But it is also rare for an actor to win three Oscars or more. Awards prognosticators are giving Mr. Washington the edge, but it remains anyone’s guess.

Reading the politics of the red carpet

A worker preparing the red carpet in Hollywood. Credit Monica Almeida for The New York Times

Anger about Mr. Trump’s administration has been palpable in the movie capital in recent days. On Friday, a fired-up Jodie Foster helped lead an anti-Trump rally hosted by the United Talent Agency, just as the directors of the five foreign film nominees voiced their “emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S.” in a joint statement.

One way to gauge how feisty nominees are feeling about politics on Sunday will be to watch the arrivals preshow. If anyone wears a “persist” arm band (as Katy Perry did at the Grammys) or trundles along with a paintbrush and crayons (as one advocacy group urged to display support for federal arts funding) it will signal an in-your-face kind of night.

Some political allusions, whether glaring or opaque, are inevitable — not least because Hollywood believes in the power of storytelling, and its own power to reshape America’s sense of itself. But there is also a chance that Oscar attendees could roll back their criticism on Sunday. Adding more voices of opposition might only increase the sense that it has all become predictable white noise. As Jimmy Kimmel, this year’s Oscar host, told Vanity Fair of all the political barbs, “It can be a little much after a while.”

Now that the Oscar campaigns are over, some stars might also be thinking about red-state ticket buyers instead of liberal academy voters.

An unenviable balancing act for Kimmel

A billboard for the Academy Awards, with a photo of Jimmy Kimmel, in Hollywood. Credit Monica Almeida for The New York Times

Left to bridge the gap between people watching from their sofas in Kansas City and the theater filled with coastal elites will be Mr. Kimmel, who has said he will try to read the mood of the country on Sunday. He will have to stay on his toes: Mr. Trump could very easily cause Twitter chaos in the minutes before the show begins.

The Oscars represent a big moment for Mr. Kimmel, whose late-night show trails those hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon in the ratings and who has been put forward by ABC for years as a possible M.C. only to lose out on the gig. But Mr. Kimmel has a few things going in his favor. Last year’s ceremony, hosted by Chris Rock, drew some of the worst ratings in Academy Awards history; there is probably nowhere to go but up. Ratings for the recent Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Grammy Awards all increased.

And his rival Mr. Fallon set a low bar when he hosted the Globes, becoming a deer in headlights when a teleprompter malfunctioned at the start of that show.

The clues are in the early categories

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land.” Credit Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

For viewers, the seemingly interminable Oscars show — Mr. Kimmel has warned this one will be “significantly longer” than three hours — really starts to drag in the middle, which is usually stuffed with awards for more technical achievements. But those categories (production design, sound editing, sound mixing, film editing, costume design) can hold important clues about the winner of the night’s biggest prize.

If “La La Land” emerges with the costume design statuette, for instance, that is a sign that voters were over the (lavender) moon for the film. But if the musical can’t pull off wins in score and song, then it’s in trouble.

Of course, there are exceptions to this thinking: Last year, “Mad Max: Fury Road” did an almost clean sweep through these “below the line” categories, as the movie industry refers to them, and then stalled when it came to the money races.

Races with unusual heat this year

James Baldwin, as seen in the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” Credit Sedat Pakay

The documentary and foreign film categories are considered two weak spots in the telecast simply because not enough people have seen them. (About 60 percent of Americans could not even name a single best picture nominee in a poll arranged by The Hollywood Reporter.)

But the documentary and foreign film races were unusually spirited this year.

Among nonfiction films, Ava DuVernay’s much-esteemed look at mass incarceration, “13th,” was campaigned for aggressively by Netflix; the civil rights-themed “I Am Not Your Negro” surged late in the season; and the nearly eight-hour, is-it-a-mini-series-or-is-it-a-film “O. J.: Made in America” won bellwether prizes. Inside betting had “Made in America” prevailing, but don’t count the others out.

Similarly, foreign film was a topsy-turvy contest. The German satire “Toni Erdmann” initially had the momentum. But Mr. Trump’s travel ban put the spotlight on Iran’s entry, “The Salesman,” whose director, Asghar Farhadi, said that he would boycott the ceremony in protest — a decision that probably pushed voters in his film’s direction.

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