What’s it going to take for you to watch the Oscars?
That’s the question of the moment for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which will hand out its 94th batch of Oscars Sunday (8 p.m. on ABC/7). After years of unsteady viewership, the ratings took a dizzying plunge during the pandemic as audiences stayed away from theaters and instead turned to their small screens. Last year’s Oscar broadcast was seen by just 9.8 million viewers, an all-time low.
To avoid a repeat, the Academy this year is making some changes — to the hosts, to the structure of the show, even to the whole concept of how an award can be won.
For starters, the ceremony will have its first hosts since 2018 (when Jimmy Kimmel presided), and its first trio of hosts since 1987 (when Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan did the honors). This year’s chosen three — Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes and Rockville Centre native Amy Schumer — seem to have been chosen with an eye toward gender and color, two areas where the Academy has been lacking. Schumer and Sykes, both sharp comic talents, may provide some edgy humor, but remember: This is the ever-respectful Oscars, not the anything-goes Golden Globes.
WHEN|WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC/7
If you’re worried about the show’s length — and who wouldn’t be with three hosts? — the Academy has found a solution: to hand out eight awards, including original score and film editing, before the broadcast even begins. You’ll still see the winners’ speeches, which will be prerecorded and edited into the show, but this plan has proven controversial. According to Variety, more than 350 Hollywood professionals signed a petition urging the Academy to reconsider, but to no avail.
This year, get ready for a new award: Fan Favorite. After enduring years of criticism for snubbing commercially successful movies like “The Dark Knight” and the new “Star Wars” films, the Academy this year opened a Twitter poll allowing audiences to choose their favorite film of 2021. You might think audiences already did that when they bought $1.8 billion worth of tickets to last year’s biggest hit, “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Well, the Academy added a sweetener to its poll: Voters had a chance to win a trip to Los Angeles, attend the ceremony and present an award. (Sorry, folks, the sweepstakes is now closed.)
Gosh, it’s almost enough to make you forget about the actual nominees. But just in case that’s why you watch the Oscars, here’s our annual list of who’s in the running and who might take home Hollywood’s most important award:
“Don't Look Up”
“Drive My Car”
“The Power of the Dog”
“West Side Story”
SHOULD WIN “West Side Story.” Such a dazzling film — yet younger audiences stayed away (the box-office stalled at $38 million) and even the older-skewing Academy doesn’t seem fully enthused.
WILL WIN “The Power of the Dog.” But wait! The all-important Producers Guild Award recently went to “CODA.” Whatever else happens during the broadcast, this top Oscar category should be a nail-biting moment.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”
Penélope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”
Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”
Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”
SHOULD WIN Colman. She plays one of the year’s least likable characters — a brittle, hostile woman with a dark past — yet somehow makes our hearts break for her.
WILL WIN Chastain, as the mascara-streaked televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. Chastain seemed a long shot in this category until she unexpectedly won the Screen Actors Guild award.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Javier Bardem, “Being the Ricardos”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”
Andrew Garfield, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
Will Smith, “King Richard”
Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
SHOULD WIN Smith, for his terrific turn as Richard Williams, the stern-yet-soulful father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams. Seriously, who else could have played this role?
WILL WIN Smith.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”
Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”
Judi Dench, “Belfast”
Kirsten Dunst, "The Power of the Dog"
Aunjanue Ellis, "King Richard"
WHO SHOULD WIN Buckley. As young mother nearing her breaking point, she gives “The Lost Daughter” its most harrowing moments. The British actress is a relative unknown, but probably won’t be for long.
WHO WILL WIN DeBose. Bravely stepping into Rita Moreno’s shoes to play the iconic role of Anita, the young actress wowed critics and won the Screen Actors Guild award in this category.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Ciarán Hinds, “Belfast”
Troy Kotsur, “Coda”
Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”
J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”
SHOULD WIN Kotsur, who plays the proudly deaf father of a hearing teenager.
WILL WIN Kotsur. He is the first deaf person to win a SAG award for Male Actor in a Supporting Role and will probably make history in this Oscars category, too.
“Belfast,” Kenneth Branagh
“Drive My Car,” Ryusuke Hamaguchi
“Licorice Pizza,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion
“West Side Story,” Steven Spielberg
SHOULD WIN Spielberg. The 75-year-old master directs this vibrant musical — his first! — like a hungry young kid with something to prove. It’s a sight to see.
WILL WIN Campion, and well-deserved, too. The New Zealand-born director would be only the third woman (following Kathryn Bigelow and Chloé Zhao) to take home this award.
“Summer Of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
“Writing With Fire”
SHOULD WIN “Summer of Soul,” Questlove’s vibrant chronicle of the utterly forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 — aka Black Woodstock — which featured Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and scores of others.
WILL WIN “Summer of Soul.”
“Be Alive” from “King Richard,” performed by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto,” performed by Sebastián Yatra.
“Down To Joy” from “Belfast,” performed by Van Morrison
“No Time to Die” from “No Time to Die,” performed by Billie Eilish
“Somehow You Do” from “Four Good Days,” performed by Reba McEntire
SHOULD WIN “Be Alive.” Beyoncé’s rousing pop-spiritual perfectly suits the tone of the movie: upbeat, hard-won, triumphant. Beyoncé co-wrote with the producer Dixson.
WILL WIN “No Time to Die.” The Academy loves it when a pop whippersnapper like Eilish pays homage to classic Hollywood. Eilish co-wrote with her brother, Finneas O’Connell.