After today’s 37th annual Oscar nominee luncheon, Academy president John Bailey told me decisions are still being made about this year’s 91st annual Academy Awards broadcast, and that it “is still in flux” — meaning there are still open questions regarding a number of areas including whether tradition will prevail and the four acting winners at last year’s show will be asked to present to the four new acting winners, as is almost always done with rare exceptions.
Bailey said the show will have a mix of tradition, but also explained the Academy is trying to get the biggest stars and wants to have a strong international footprint in terms of presenters, as evidenced by its first release earlier today of participating stars (Awkwafina, Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez among them). He mentioned a presenter last year, Eugenio Debrez, might not have been as well known in America but was around the world, and that is what Oscar is also trying to show.
The Academy president did confirm that all five songs will be performed on the Oscarcast, although just how is still being worked out. There were reports (unconfirmed by the Academy at the time) that only two songs were originally going to be performed (A Star Is Born’s “Shallow” and Black Panther’s “All The Stars”), but that report caused a firestorm in the media and all is fine now with Jennifer Hudson singing RBG’s “I’ll Fight” as the only official confirmation so far. Usually, the original singers from the movie will perform their song on the show, but sources tell me you can bet “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns so beautifully sung in the movie by Emily Blunt, who played Mary Poppins apparently won’t be done on the show by that recent SAG winner as even the Academy has twitter-teased it will be a “special surprise”. We will have to wait to find out.
It was interesting that neither Bailey, nor producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, mentioned anything in their remarks to the large and impressive group of nominees gathered at the Hilton about the plan, for the first time ever, to pre-tape some of the categories. So far, the Academy has not said which categories will be targeted for pre-taping during commercial breaks and played later in the show, but I wrote last Friday I had heard there would be four. Bailey says the number is also “still in flux” and could be four or maybe five but wouldn’t reveal just which ones they were at this point.
Bailey says he is going to write an email to the membership and nominees explaining just how this first-time effort to streamline the show will work because he says it has been completely misunderstood, and is really just an attempt to eliminate the time it takes a winner to get to the stage and handed their Oscar(s). A big proponent of the Popular Movie category the Academy announced last summer and quickly abandoned after backlash, Bailey is also delighted blockbusters like Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born and Black Panther are Best Picture nominees this year, but thinks there could even be more. Still, out of eight nominees, he looks at it as a step in the right direction for the Academy to acknowledge popular fare in addition to the indie kinds of films that have prevailed in recent times.
In his formal remarks, Bailey pointed proudly to this year’s class of 212 filmmakers from 52 movies as providing the largest group of women nominees in history (a point made clear at Sunday’s annual women’s panel at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where a record number of nine female nominees gathered to talk shop with moderator Madelyn Hammond, who also featured many of them at Deadline’s The Contenders movie events which she produces). He said the Academy is very much committed to continuing its push toward gender parity.
In their presentation Gigliotti and Weiss didn’t drop any clues about the way the Oscarcast is shaping up, but clearly timing is the key thing on their mind. The Academy’s board of governors committed to a three-hour show this year and they are sticking to it. The key thing that came out of their speech to these nominees and potential winners is that they have 1 minute and 30 seconds from the moment their name is announced to the end of their acceptance speech. Gigliotti played a speech from the 2001 show that she said still makes her cry: the perfect, succinct example of what an ideal Oscar speech should be. It was director Steven Soderbergh’s Best Director win for Traffic in which he didn’t read a list of thank-yous but instead made an impassioned speech about filmmaking itself. She also complimented him on getting to the stage in quick fashion. Producers at these luncheons often implore the nominees to make meaningful speeches. It is amazing how few of them listen. Hopefully, this year the message got through. Although it wasn’t in his remarks, Bailey told me he believes they can meet the three-hour promise as long as any winners “don’t get on a soapbox or get political.” He said sternly that if they do, they will be “played off.”
As for the lunch, this is simply one of the feel-good events of the season, and you could tell the camaraderie in the room and nominees getting together to talk about movies and this Oscar thing they have in common. Nice to see Alfonso Cuarón and Pete Farrelly deep in animated conversation; they have become fast friends on the circuit. Cuarón was at Bailey’s table that also included nominees Glenn Close (Best Actress, The Wife) and Paul Schrader (Original Screenplay, First Reformed). Bailey said it was like a big reunion for him. As a cinematographer he worked with Close on The Big Chill, and Schrader on American Gigolo. He also chatted it up with Never Look Away cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who received his sixth Oscar nomination (but not yet an overdue win) for the German foreign-language film nominee from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Bailey told me he and Deschanel came up in the profession together and thinks it was a real oversight he also wasn’t nominated by ASC (whose awards are Saturday night).
In his remarks Bailey gave a special shout out to two of the nominees in the room, basically for being egregiously overlooked previously by Oscar: Schrader, who incredibly has never before been nominated, and Spike Lee finally getting his first nomination for Best Director. There was big applause for both as they took a bow.
And then there was the actual “class photo,” which is annually taken at this event and where, one by one and in order by tables at which they are seated around the room, each nominee mounts the risers until everyone is up there for the big shot. (Academy acting governor Laura Dern did a yeoman’s job announcing each name, and some of them were not easy). It was Spike Lee who was the first called and had to stand there and wait until his fellow nominees all joined him. Last up was three-time Vice nominee Adam McKay. As now 10-time Best Song Oscar nominee Diane Warren told me as a veteran of this lunch, “this event is where none us are losers yet.” Nope. This event is where all of them are winners.
As Bohemian Rhapsody Best Actor nominee Rami Malek said on his way out of the same ballroom where a few weeks ago he won a Golden Globe: “If this is where it all ends I am happy. I got nominated for an Oscar and how often does that happen?”