What to expect from the most unusual Oscars

Oscar producers say the show must go on, but will the #MeToo movement steal the spotlight?

While Oscar producers say the show must go on, the #MeToo movement could steal the spotlight

Though producers are hoping for a fun evening on Oscar night, Hollywood isn't exactly in a celebratory mood. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

In the run-up to the 90th Academy Awards, Jennifer Todd, one of the show's lead producers, has talked about keeping the focus on the films.

With ratings for awards shows sagging, Todd told the New York Times last week that Oscar producers are hoping for a night filled with "fun and funny" performances and plan to make it "as entertaining as possible."

But Hollywood isn't exactly in a celebratory mood.

Harvey Weinstein, once the General Patton of Oscar campaigners, is facing criminal investigations for sexual harassment. Meanwhile, former Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey was literally erased from an Oscar-contending film when allegations against him came to light.

'A giant commercial for the movie business'

The unique moment of reckoning Hollywood is struggling with is nowhere near the "giant commercial for the movie business" Todd described in the Times. 

Indeed, the early teaser trailers promise just that: a frothy mixture of superheroes and cinema with an anything-can-happen atmosphere.

In contrast to the razzle dazzle from the Oscar highlight reel, however, the mood on the red carpet might be decidedly more sober.

While no co-ordinated black-coloured dress code is planned, expect to see stars facing awkward questions. For the Oscars each year, the humdrum Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles transforms itself into one of the most glamorous blocks in America, but this time the focus has shifted from fluff and fashion to questions of accountability.

Rooney Mara, left, and Cate Blanchett arrive at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the Oscars in 2016. (Matt Sayles/Invision/Associated Press)

One familiar Oscar staple sure to be striving to strike the right tone is Ryan Seacrest. The E! network host has vehemently denied a sexual harassment allegation from his former stylist Suzie Hardy. An internal investigation into the allegations found insufficient evidence to support Hardy's claims.

For the moment, E! is standing by Seacrest, who is still scheduled to host the network's red carpet coverage. But some celebrities are wondering whether they will stop and chat with him.

Once the glitterati are seated inside the Dolby Theatre, the question will be whether organizers acknowledge the cultural forces confronting the industry.

Timely presenters 

As per usual, producers are promising a mix of montages and musicals. Gael Garcia Bernal will sing Remember Me from Coco, while Sufjan Stevens will reprise his original number from Call Me by Your Name.

It's worth noting that, for the night's presenters, Oscar producers have recruited an array of topical and timely talent. Though many have pointed out the lack of Latino Academy Award nominees, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Isaac were among the first wave of celebrities announced as presenters.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Isaac are just a few of the diverse range of presenters expected at the 90th Academy Awards. (Getty Images)

In a nod to #MeToo and the Time's Up movement, Laura Dern and Ashley Judd will also be front and centre as presenters. Both have spoken out as survivors of sexual harassment and assault: Judd was one of the first to speak out publicly about allegations against Weinstein.

Time's Up organizers also say they are working with the Academy to find space to mark the movement at the Oscars.

And as Marvel Studios' Black Panther continues to shatter records, the king of Wakanda himself (actor Chadwick Boseman) will be presenting, as will Oscar-winning co-star Lupita Nyong'o.

While this year's presenter list emphasizes attempts to diversify by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the returning Oscars ringmaster is Jimmy Kimmel, who presided over the best-picture mix-up that saw Moonlight eventually win last year.

Jimmy Kimmel is returning to host the Oscars. The late night talk show host presided over the the 89th Academy Awards, which featured a dramatic last-minute reversal for best picture. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

In the past, Kimmel was the king of smarm. However, the new father has evolved since his days co-hosting The Man Show. Not only has Kimmel shown a willingness to delve into politics, he's featured segments on sexual harassment on his own late night show and has signalled he'll be working #MeToo material into his Oscar comedy

And the winner is?

What about the actual winners of the evening's festivities? It's a sign of the dramatic upheaval in the industry that the contest seems almost an afterthought. But the ripples from changes in Hollywood could reach the winner's podium.

Traditionally, movies such as The Post or Dunkirk would have been shoo-ins. Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a visceral version of the kind of war movies Hollywood has made for decades, while The Post features director Steven Spielberg recreating a stirring battle between the press and the president.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been a winner throughout the awards season so far. Will the Oscars follow suit tomorrow? (Fox Searchlight)

But the two are nowhere near the main contenders for Sunday's Academy Awards. Instead, the night will likely belong to films reflecting today's changing landscape: the acutely realized mother-daughter tale Lady Bird, the perceptive horror comedy Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a barnburner of female rage.

So strange is this moment that this year's safest choice is The Shape of Water, an explicit Cold War monster fable about a mute woman cavorting with a fish-man.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a woman who falls for a fish-man, in the Oscar front-runner The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

In terms of certainties, look to the actors. Frances McDormand is destined to win for Three Billboards, as is Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. If ever there was an example of Oscar bait, it's Oldman's bumbling bulldog turn as Winston Churchill. 

Supporting actor will likely go to McDormand's co-star Sam Rockwell, a much-loved actor who has shown new depth. West Wing fans can look forward to Allison Janney winning for her portrayal of the parakeet-wearing mother in I,Tonya

In Get Out, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) discovers a disturbing secret on a weekend getaway visiting his girlfriend's family. (Universal)

As to which film could win the best picture, keep your eye on some of the smaller categories. If Jordan Peele makes a breakthrough and wins best original screenplay for Get Out's blistering race critique, it could snowball into a major upset in the best picture race. 

Peele is also a contender in the best director category, although the gregarious Guillermo del Toro is favoured to win for The Shape of Water.

In the end, with the new wave of diverse, crowd-pleasing movies such as Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time forcing Hollywood to re-evalute its approach, the industry is already moving ahead. Sunday night will be Oscar's chance to reflect the new reality — or risk irrelevance.


Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars and beyond.