EXCLUSIVE: Either today or tomorrow, the Academy will start leveling with what it is planning for the 91st Oscars on February 24. The Academy tweeted last night that all five nominated songs will be performed during the telecast, and insiders said that reports that only two — the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper team-up “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” from Black Panther — would be performed, were premature and only reflective of a proposal.
Since we’re dishing, here’s what I was told. The producers wanted to limit it to those two songs, and the reason the Academy walked back that decision was because either Lady Gaga herself, or her reps, made it clear she felt it was completely unfair to eliminated the three songs — almost like the Academy producers were forecasting who they thought would win — and that she wouldn’t perform if a change wasn’t made. And that’s why the Academy tweeted that all the songs will be shown, even if the tunes are truncated. Which means Jennifer Hudson will perform the RBG docu theme “I’ll Fight,” along with the Willie Watson-Tim Blake Nelson tune “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and the nominated Mary Poppins Returns tune “The Place Where Lost Things Go” will be featured — even though Emily Blunt, who sang in the movie, is apprehensive about singing it live under so much pressure, and another artist will do the song.
Another thing Oscar watchers are buzzing about is this: the Oscarcast producers are going for the biggest possible stars, and that means that last year’s winners — Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell (nominated this time for Vice) and Allison Janney — haven’t been contacted to present this year’s top acting awards, I’m told. That has been a tradition, but sources said the producers, looking to switch things up, decided that if you can get someone like Oprah Winfrey or Tom Hanks to make those presentations, the global star wattage is greater than what those honorees will provide. I suppose all this can change, but one would think these people or their reps would have been contacted with three weeks to go.
This Oscars has been an exercise in uncertainty, from tumult on the board, to the introduction and withdrawal of a Most Popular Film trophy, to Kevin Hart being hired as host without any kind of vetting that would have unearthed his past homophobic social media rantings, so that that snafu could have been addressed early on, before it became a social media volcano. That has put Oscars in its current host-less position.
But that hardly means that producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss still can’t come out of this smelling like roses.
Their plan is to hold the Oscars down to three hours, which would make the Oscarcast a whopping 45 minutes shorter than last year’s entertaining but low-rated affair. This will be done partly by presenting certain below the line categories during commercials. It’s hardly a novel idea — I’m told that Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, who produced the last two, begged for this and were shot down by the Academy as were past producers. In addition, the nomination of the $1.3 billion global-grossing Black Panther, to go with other hit-making films like A Star Is Born ($414 million global gross) and Bohemian Rhapsody ($819 million) injects something that recent Oscars haven’t had. That is, movies that the population at large saw in theaters.
Sandwiched around smaller performing but well reviewed films from Netflix’s Roma to Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite and Vice, might elevate the ratings. The Golden Globes were terrible with hosts hurling benign, lame humor and lame skits — flu shots??? The SAG Awards, by comparison, was an elegant affair with a host who got out of the way. Contrasted to the Globes (bestowed by 93 largely unimportant foreign journalists), you could feel the weight and prestige of the SAG trophies to the nominees and winners who were awarded those prizes by their peers. If Oscar can inject that kind of class, and keep the show to three hours and avoid the politically polarizing speeches and comedy routines that likely prompt the Red States to turn the channel, this might all work out well after all.
No comment from the Academy.