Oscars 2020: What you need to know ahead of the show

The red carpet is out, the votes are tallied and the stars are gathering in Hollywood for the 92nd annual Academy Awards. Here's a quick catch-up about this year's show.

No host for a second year, multiple musical numbers planned

The Academy Awards, the world's most high-profile film honour, take place Sunday night at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The red carpet is out, the votes are tallied and the stars are gathering in Hollywood for the 92nd annual Academy Awards. 

The Oscars may be the world's most recognizable movie-making honour and remain one of the most-watched TV events of the year, but the organization behind the awards continues to battle criticism over who it recognizes and the group's slow-moving efforts to diversify its membership.

For a second year in a row, there will be no official host. However, with a pantheon of famous faces ready to take the stage as presenters, at least one tribute expected and a Grammy-worthy batch of musicians slated to perform, a lengthy ceremony is almost guaranteed.

Here's a quick catch-up about this year's awards show.

Joaquin Phoenix appears in Joker as Arthur Fleck. The film leads this year's Oscar race with 11 nominations. (Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Joker in the lead

For many in the industry who've travelled to Hollywood to celebrate this week, making the Oscars a relevant celebration of film continues to be a work-in-progress.

The academy behind the show is fighting a reputation that it is elitist, but it does not want the Oscars becoming the People's Choice Awards.

Todd Phillips's box-office hit Joker, a character study of Batman's supervillain nemesis, is the top contender for Oscar glory, with 11 nods heading into the ceremony — perhaps surprising for an academy that hasn't typically been keen to celebrate comic-book blockbusters.

It's closely followed by a trio of male-centred movies: Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Sam Mendes's 1917, each of which garnered 10 nominations.

The nominees for best picture are: 

  • Ford v Ferrari.
  • The Irishman.
  • Jojo Rabbit.
  • Joker.
  • Little Women.
  • Marriage Story.
  • 1917.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
  • Parasite.
The academy behind the Oscars has been working to overhaul its membership, which remains largely white and male. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Uneven diversity

This year's nominees seem to indicate an organization in transition. For several years now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been overhauling its membership, which despite a vigorous inclusion drive, remained 84 per cent white and 68 per cent male as of 2019.

At an event this week celebrating female Oscar nominees, academy CEO Dawn Hudson touted that a record 67 nominations went to women. Meanwhile, others have pointed to the six nominations for South Korean satire-thriller Parasite — including in major categories such as best picture, best director and best original screenplay — as a positive sign of academy voters' greater acceptance of international stories. 

Nevertheless, much discussion has also revolved around the fact that the high-profile Oscar categories remain dominated by men (in a year when female filmmakers made a significant splash both with critics and at the box office) and that the acting categories are nearly completely devoid of performers of colour.

"It's the continuing #OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoMale problem... The academy is a very slow-moving animal," says Claudia Puig, president of the LA Film Critics Association.

"Even though they are making very proactive moves to bring in women, bring in people of colour, bring in younger people — everybody who is outside the older, white male demographic — that is still only a very small percentage of the overall academy," she noted.

"It's not moving very fast. It's not enough, but there is some slow, incremental progress."

WATCH | 'We can do a better job of highlighting women,' says Jojo Rabbit's Chelsea Winstanley

'We tend to just focus on best picture,' says Jojo Rabbit producer

10 months agoVideo
Producer Chelsea Winstanley on how Oscar-watchers shouldn't ignore the nominations of female filmmakers beyond the top categories. 0:28

While there is a definite lack of female nominees overall, we shouldn't ignore the female filmmakers who are nominated, according to Jojo Rabbit producer Chelsea Winstanley. 

"I was at a luncheon the other day and it was so wonderful to see so many women directors who have been nominated in other categories, but we tend to just focus on best picture," Winstanley said. 

"I think we can do a better job of actually highlighting women across all categories."

For instance, four of the five nominees in the best documentary short category are directed or co-directed by women and the same goes for the best animated short category. Meanwhile, female filmmakers made two of the five best live action short film contenders (including Canadian Meryam Joobeur).

In the best documentary feature category, four of the five nominees are also directed or co-directed by women, and four of the five are stories specifically centred on women — including the lone male-directed entry (The Cave, which follows Syrian pediatrician Amani Ballour running a hospital underground amid constant bombings and attacks). The academy's documentary branch has been one of the most active in inviting more women, people of colour and international filmmakers into its ranks.

WATCH | Dr. Amani Ballour, profiled in The Cave, on what she wants audiences to learn from the doc

'I will be their voice:' Dr. Amani Ballour of The Cave

10 months agoVideo
The Syrian doctor profiled in Oscar-nominated doc The Cave on what she hopes audiences can take away from the film. 0:20

Ultimately, it will take time for the academy to change, but it will also take persistence from those inside, says actress and academy member Loretta Divine. 

"It's important for us to get on committees inside the academy, the ones [who] are in the academy," the Emmy-winner said this week from the annual Essence celebration of black women in Hollywood. 

"It's so hard when you're working all the time and there's so much other stuff to do... but that's what you need to do if you want to see change."

Actresses Charlize Theron, left, and Emily Blunt are seen from backstage at the 2016 Oscars. A pantheon of celebrities is slated to present this year's awards. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Musical numbers and famous faces

After 2018 registered the lowest-rated Oscars ever (and the longest in more than a decade), organizers and the show producers had some tough decisions to make. Last year's edition had no host, opened with a showy musical performance and registered a slight improvement in ratings, so this year seems likely to follow in that vein. 

Slated to help honour the nominees and hand out Oscars in 24 categories are stars like Keanu Reeves, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Rock, Gal Gadot and Sandra Oh, along with past winners such as Jane Fonda, Spike Lee, Tom Hanks, Brie Larson, Rami Malek and Penélope Cruz. 

With her 11th nod this year, songwriter Diane Warren has become the most-nominated woman in Oscar history to have never won a trophy. (CBC)

Music will once again take centre stage in the ceremony, with performances of each of this year's original song nominees:  

  • I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away (Toy Story 4) performed by Randy Newman (music and lyric by Randy Newman).
  • (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again (Rocketman) performed by Elton John (music by Elton John and lyric by Bernie Taupin).
  • I'm Standing With You (Breakthrough) performed by Chrissy Metz (music and lyric by Diane Warren).
  • Into The Unknown (Frozen II) performed by Idina Menzel and AURORA (music and lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez).
  • Stand Up (Harriet) performed by Cynthia Erivo (music and lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo).

Beyond those, producers have also teased special appearances by the Grammy Awards's reigning teen Billie Eilish, singer-actress Janelle Monae and The Roots bandleader Questlove, as well as orchestral segments led by Irish composer-conductor Eímear Noone, who will be the first woman to conduct during an Oscars telecast.

WATCH | 'I'm standing on the shoulders of giants,' says Eímear Noone

'Standing on a podium is an incredibly symbolic gesture'

10 months agoVideo
Composer-conductor Eímear Noone, who will be the first woman to conduct during the Oscars telecast, on the importance of women supporting each other in the film industry. 0:37

This year's telecast producers, Stephanie Allain and Lynette Howell Taylor, have "created this space for me and that's incredibly important that we as women do that," Noone said.

"I'm standing on a podium and it's an incredibly symbolic gesture."

Organizers are also expected to acknowledge the recent death of basketball legend and recent Oscar-winner Kobe Bryant during the ceremony. The Los Angeles Lakers icon shared a win in the best animated short category in 2018 for writing, executive producing and voicing the autobiographical project Dear Basketball. 

How to watch

The 92nd annual Academy Awards take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, with the ceremony broadcast live on ABC and CTV beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

With files from Zulekha Nathoo, Eli Glasner and Alice Hopton.


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