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What to expect from the pandemic-era Oscars

Warren Beatty, right, presents Guillermo del Toro with the award for best picture for 'The Shape of Water' at the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Picture Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Warren Beatty, right, presents Guillermo del Toro with the award for best picture for 'The Shape of Water' at the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Picture Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Published Apr 25, 2021


By Sonia Rao

We needn't tell you this has been an unusual award season, because everything has been especially unusual for over a year now. Does anyone ever actually know what day it is?

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Maybe not. But what we do know is that the Academy Awards are still happening Sunday night (whenever that is!).

The ceremony won't look like it normally does, and optimistic producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh see this as a good thing.

They seem to be tossing the playbook out the window, not only to avoid centering pandemic-era bizarreness, but also to try luring back audiences the telecast has lost over the years.

The Oscars will be shot like a movie, according to Soderbergh, who added during a recent news conference that "there is not a bad angle in the house."

"So I'm feeling very jazzed right now," he said.

The question, potential viewer, is whether you, too, are feeling jazzed enough to watch the show they've been working toward. Here's some more information to help you make that decision.

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Where and when are the Oscars happening?

While the Dolby Theatre will still play a part as in years past, most of the ceremony will take place at Los Angeles's Union Station - specifically, the Grand Waiting Room and Historic Ticket Hall. As that name suggests, viewers might already be familiar with the iconic location; it has appeared in numerous films, including "The Dark Knight Rises" and the original "Blade Runner."

The Oscars will begin Sunday on ABC at 8 pm Eastern, which will be much later in the night for attendees across the Atlantic.

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Producers previously said there would be a European hub for those unable to travel to Los Angeles, as well as some remote satellite hookups (though producers hope to limit their use).

What will the ceremony look like?

All things considered, the ceremony might actually look pretty normal. Union Station attendees will be split between the indoor venue and two adjacent courtyards, rotating as makes sense for the show.

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Variety reported after the conference that attendees wouldn't be asked to wear masks while on camera, as follows from the show abiding by film and television production protocol.

In the literal sense, the show will be shot "like a movie" in widescreen at 24 frames per second.

Glenn Weiss, who has previously won an Emmy for directing the Oscars, will return to helm the telecast.

Questlove will serve as musical director, an assignment he said he "manifested" years ago.

The Oscars will once again go without a host, instead inviting a star-studded "cast" of presenters, including Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Bong Joon-ho, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

While vague on exact details, Soderbergh said the presenters "will be playing themselves, or at least I hope a version of themselves."

Who is attending?

Attendance will be limited to nominees, their guests and other folks essential to the ceremony (such as the aforementioned presenters) - coming in at around 170 people total. Everyone will reportedly be tested multiple times before the show and temperature-checked when they get there.

"This is an all-or-nothing proposition," Soderbergh said. "As soon as you open the door beyond nominees, their plus-one and the presenters, you can't control it. And so that was not even a question for us.

Like, this is how it has to be done. (Disney chairman) Bob Iger won't be there."

Which categories should I keep an eye on?

Strangely, best picture might be the least interesting of the high-profile categories.

The best-actor race could make history, whether by awarding the Oscar to Steven Yeun ("Minari"), the first Asian American to appear in the category; Riz Ahmed ("Sound of Metal"), the first actor of Pakistani descent to receive a nomination; or front-runner Chadwick Boseman ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"), who would become the third posthumous acting winner (after Peter Finch and Heath Ledger).

Best director is similarly worth noting, as this year marks the first time two women have been nominated: Emerald Fennell ("Promising Young Woman") and front-runner Chloé Zhao, also the category's first woman of color. Yuh-jung Youn ("Minari") is the first South Korean actress to be nominated for an Oscar, appearing in the best supporting actress category alongside eight-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close ("Hillbilly Elegy").

Best actress is unusual for how varied the lead-up to the Oscars has been: Andra Day ("The United States vs. Billie Holiday") won the Golden Globe, Viola Davis ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom") landed the Screen Actors Guild award, Frances McDormand ("Nomadland") earned the British Academy honor and Carey Mulligan ("Promising Young Woman") was the Critics Choice winner.

Who seems likely to win the major categories?

Boseman has swept the best-actor awards leading up to the Oscars, while best actress appears to be down to Davis and McDormand.

Daniel Kaluuya ("Judas and the Black Messiah") is the likely winner for best supporting actor, a category that also includes his co-star, LaKeith Stanfield.

The once-competitive supporting actress field has narrowed to front-runner Youn.

Experts have "Nomadland" as the most likely to win best picture, as well as Zhao for directing.

Is there a red carpet?

The red carpet will be folded into a pre-show, for which coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Sher described the carpet as a "teeny tiny" production, downsized for safety (and to match the smaller guest list).

E! News will begin its live coverage at 5, led by Giuliana Rancic and guest co-host Karamo Brown.

Will there be musical performances?

The musical performances for all five best original song nominees will also be part of the pre-show, though the award itself will be handed out during the ceremony.

Among those performing are Grammy winner H.E.R., nominated for the song "Fight for You" from "Judas and the Black Messiah"; Leslie Odom Jr., the best supporting actor nominee who also received a nod for co-writing "Speak Now" from "One Night in Miami"; and Molly Sandén, a Swedish singer who will perform "Husavik" from "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" on location in Iceland.

"I think, as a songwriter, nobody loves having their song truncated down to 20 seconds or put into a medley," Sher said. "And the artists were all incredibly excited about the approach."

How do I watch the telecast?

The pre-show will air on ABC at 6:30 pm Eastern time, followed by the ceremony at 8. When it's over, ABC will transition to an aftershow hosted by Andrew Rannells and Colman Domingo.

The Oscars website says the events can also be streamed online via AT&T TV Now, Hulu Live TV or YouTube TV.

Related Topics:

The Oscars