When it comes to Sunday's Oscar telecast, the only direction to go is up. After last year's debacle hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway — often described as the "worst Oscars ever" — Academy Awards producers are taking no chances. First step: Re-hire consummate Oscar host Billy Crystal. What else can viewers expect? Here's what commentators are predicting:
1. The Artist will win big
Duh, says Steve Pond at The Wrap. "Is there any doubt?" No other film has enjoyed such awards-season recognition, meaning the little-film-that-could "gets its happy ending and barely breaks a sweat in the process." But just how many trophies will the silent-film juggernaut claim? At least two, possibly four, says David Edelstein at New York, considering that it panders directly to the "over-50, white, middlebrow demographic" into which, as was recently revealed, most Oscar voters fall. It's a lock for Best Picture and Director, and nearly a lock for Best Actor and Best Original Score. Oscar guru Dave Karger at Entertainment Weekly also predicts wins in Best Editing and Best Costume Design, bringing its expected tally to six. What a shame, says Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter. The Descendants beats it in every department: "Directing, writing, acting, narrative conviction, surprise, and depth."
2. You will laugh — or else
After last year's draggy groan-fest, Oscar producer Don Mischer tells Entertainment Weekly that "we need to go for comedy." Especially, he adds, during the dreary midsection of the telecast dominated by technical awards like Sound Mixing and Editing. The plan: Stack the ranks of presenters with funny folks, like the cast of Bridesmaids, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Rock, and the Muppets. Such "un-Oscar-eque" additions could help drum up ratings, says Brooks Barnes at The New York Times, but it also means "fewer [true] stars for the folks at home to ogle."
3. Sacha Baron Cohen may (or may not) be there
British actor Sacha Baron Cohen, known for turning characters like his bumbling Kazakh journalist Borat into performance art, caused a stir earlier this week when word leaked that he planned to attend Sunday's ceremony in character as politically incorrect dictator Adm. Gen. Shabazz Aladeen from his new movie The Dictator. On Wednesday, Deadline reported that the Academy would only honor Cohen's tickets if he arrived as himself. Two days later, he called into the Today show (in character as Aladeen) protesting: "They have until midday on Sunday to give me my tickets back. If they do not, they will see and face unforeseen and unimaginable consequences." The latest twist: Oscar producer Brian Grazer has revealed that the comedian is not only confirmed to attend the ceremony, but "he's part of the show… as himself."
4. Billy Crystal may prove more divisive than you'd think
Since Billy Crystal has hosted eight times before and perfected a certain schtick, "the only suspense at this point is whether [he] will open with a musical number or be comically edited into moments from this year's nominated movies," says Kristi Turnquist at The Oregonian. Indeed, the decision to rehire the trite Crystal "as an act of salvation" reveals just how doomed the Oscars have become, says Drew Magary at Deadspin. Give him more credit than that, says The Village Voice's Michael Musto. He's a "feel-good, dependable" Oscar host whose "brand of gentle mocking is timeless." Crystal himself is promising smooth sailing, revealing that he has no plans to follow Ricky Gervais' antagonistic Golden Globes lead: "Is it a roast or is it an awards show?"
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