SUNDAY AM UPDATE: I have just found out that, after posting this Friday morning, some of the plans for tonight’s Academy Awards show have changed. (Click here for latest.) I’m told that some of these alterations were made over this weekend because the changes weren’t popular. But, at the time I wrote them, my spoilers were correct.
Few things in Hollywood are more fun than revealing the surprises which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have planned for the 79th Oscar telecast. Especially because AMPAS is such a bunch of tight-asses. So here come the secrets. But, remember, don’t read further if you want to stay unspoiled until Sunday night:Few things in Hollywood are more fun than revealing the surprises which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have planned for the 79th Oscar telecast. Especially because AMPAS is such a bunch of tight-asses. So here come the secrets. But, remember, don’t read further if you want to stay unspoiled until Sunday night:1. This first secret is big. Huge. Gigantic. It’s that Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas together will be presenting the Best Director award this too-long telecast. What a gimmick. It’ll be interesting for Hollywood to watch the interplay among them. (If I’m murdered overnight, then the Academy did it.)
2. I can reveal another secret which the Academy is keeping — that Tom Cruise will be presenting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to ex-Paramount mogul Sherry Lansing. (This year, the Academy took the unusual step of not announcing which awards the celeb presenters will give out. This was done supposedly to heighten the suspense. As if…) Having Tom and Sherry do this together is an inside joke for Hollywood. Because both were shown the door at Paramount by parent company boss, Viacom’s Sumner Redstone. Trust me, Hollywood is going to get a kick out of this, even if the folks watching at home may not understand its significance. (Then again, the Oscars are always filled with inside jokes enjoyed by the Industry alone.) Of course, Lansing greenlighted many Cruise films during her years at Paramount, where Tom’s production company used to have its home. So the choice makes sense. But it’s also a corporate laugh riot.
3. Here’s another spoiler: Oscar telecast producer Laura Ziskin and Dreamgirls director Bill Condon have planned that each of the Dreamgirls — Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose — will sing each others’ songs from the movie. That’s a cool concept: nothing’s more boring than having the person you expect do the singing. Or maybe Beyoncé wants a crack at singing Jennifer’s songs. Who knows… (But I can knock down right now one rumor flying around which I’ll mention just because it’s so assinine: that Michael Jackson will sing one of the songs from Dreamgirls. Thankfully, not even the Academy is that blind to the PR disaster of an MJ appearance on the Academy Awards. It’s not happening.) Diana Ross, on whose life the Motown musical is loosely based, was asked to sing one of the Dreamgirls songs on the Oscars. But she said no, telling the producers, “I’m not interested in promoting that movie.” She still claims she hasn’t seen it.
4. Here’s another secret: I’m told that there’s a big change in the order that the awards will be presented. The Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards will NOT be presented in the up-front portion of the show, as in previous years. Instead, none of the acting awards will be given out until the last third of the telecast. The Academy is doing this, I understand, because Oscar viewership starts out strong and then wanes. Ziskin is hoping that this will keep the audience glued to the entire broadcast hour after hour. But I understand this decision was hotly disputed because it breaks with tradition. All I can say is that now there’s not much reason to watch the beginning of the show, either. UPDATE: *This is the only one of my spoilers being disputed.*
5. I can also report that, after a few years absence, three members of the longstanding Oscars’ comedic writing team are back together on the job: Bruce Vilanch, Carrie Fisher and Carol Leifer. This is great news for Sunday’s telecast because their quick wits make the show that much more livelier and topical. They’d been individually helping — for Chris Rock or Jon Stewart — but not as a trio. FYI, they have not written Ellen DeGeneres’ opening monologue.
6. Ellen DeGeneres is writing the opening monologue on her own and with her own team. I hear she has decreed it won’t be political or mean-spirited. (But expect Vilanch & Fisher & Leifer to insert plenty of references to politics and pop culture into the rest of the show. Because Hollywood expects them.)
7. Speaking of Ellen, I can provide you with another nugget: the Oscar telecast kicks off with an expensive and “inspired piece of CGI trickery”, I’m told. Along with other movie scenes from other studios in which she inserts herself, Ellen DeGeneres will be dancing with the Happy Feet penguins. You see, Ellen dances on her talk show, the birds dance in the movie, so we’re supposedly talking synergy. Especially since Warner Bros., which is the producer of both the toon and Ellen’s syndicated series, spent an enormous amount of money to make this segment happen and hired Happy Feet director George Miller to do it. (DVD out next month.)
8. And, the Oscar broadcast will feature some clip packages directed by top names in Hollywood. Among them, Michael Mann (Miami Vice, Ali, The Insider) looks at how America is portrayed in the movies, and Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want) examines how writers have been depicted in films. I can tell you about the latter: as ink-stained wretches. (Remember Barton Fink?) Believe me, this is when the Kodak Theater audience will laugh the loudest.