Not by accident perhaps, the Oscar nominees luncheon usually lands on or around Groundhog Day. Like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, the luncheon is infinitely repetitive: Smile, mingle, answer a few inane questions, pose for a photo, go home. But, like the annual weather ritual in Punxsutawney, the gathering also drops a clue about what lies just ahead. If Jason Reitman is cranky and bedraggled, his Up In The Air has probably been stretched too thin, signaling Oscars for someone else. If Harvey Weinstein (when there was a Harvey Weinstein) looks chipper, his contenders are in good shape.
This year, the real Groundhog Day is tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 2. The Oscar version follows on Monday at the Beverly Hilton, with a press pool feed starting at 11:15 a.m. Those into omens should watch Meryl Streep, who might be this year’s best proxy for the groundhog prophet, Punxsutawney Phil.
If Streep, nominated for The Post, shows up for lunch dressed in black and wagging a finger at Trump or talking female empowerment, it will be a rough night for the Oscar ceremony on March 4. One theory floating around the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says that last year’s Oscar audience decline, to a dangerously low 32.9 million broadcast viewers, in part reflected backlash to Streep’s political lecture on the Golden Globes show shortly before. Turned off by the politics, a bloc of potential viewers decided not to bother with the Oscars—or so goes the theory. (Declining audience this year for the politically tinged Globes and Grammy ceremonies already bodes ill.)
But if on Monday Streep does a pratfall during the photo session, all will be well at the Oscars. Because another theory holds that viewers actually loved the 2017 Warren Beatty screw-up, when he handed the Best Picture award to the wrong movie. Again not by accident, the Academy has been selling this year’s show with a promotional video in which Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel remind watchers of the mistake. It is vaguely reminiscent of an old stage-show in which a particular starlet used to have a near-miss with some falling scenery every night. Audiences loved it. Maybe Streep will get in on the joke.
Then again, what if Streep doesn’t show at all on Monday? Batten down the hatches for a cold, hard blow on Oscar night. Most of the remaining nominees lack her drawing power, and any sign that Punxsutawney Streep is done with the fun would be a bad sign indeed.