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Oscars 2019: a wrinkle in time?

A still from ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

A still from ‘Mary Poppins Returns’   | Photo Credit: Jay Maidment

The Academy’s only hope to reverse its annus horribilis is to ensure a terrific show

Come Sunday evening in Los Angeles, the film world’s great and the good will walk the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre ahead of the 91st Academy Awards, while the rest of us in different time zones will set alarms to watch the ceremony live. It has been a funny old year leading up to the awards. Ratings have been in freefall year after year, with 2018 being the lowest, and the Academy has been flailing about to set this right.

It all began well enough in June 2018, when the Academy inducted 928 culturally diverse members from around the world. However, alarm bells went off in August when it announced a new category — outstanding achievement in popular film. Debates raged in Hollywood and elsewhere as to what exactly constitutes a ‘popular’ film. Actor Rob Lowe tweeted: “The film business passed away today with the announcement of the “popular” film Oscar. It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tent-poles, and vertical integration.”

The venerable Academy, ever reactive, reversed its decision less than a month later. CEO Dawn Hudson said at the time, “There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognise the need for further discussion with our members. We have made changes to the Oscars over the years — including this year — and we will continue to evolve while also respecting the incredible legacy of the last 90 years.”

Then there was the question of the host. The comedian and actor Kevin Hart was hired for the job. He found himself in the eye of a storm after allegations of homophobia and stepped away from the gig. Consequently, the Oscars this year will not have a host, only the second time in its storied history (the first was in 1989).

As if that wasn’t enough, the Academy, in a bid to reduce the marathon running time of the live broadcast, took a misguided decision to award four categories — including cinematography and editing — during commercial breaks. After the inevitable industry outcry that followed, it reversed its decision.

Despite all of these avoidable incidents, I for one will be looking forward to the awards this year, simply because there is no clear favourite. Roma is a critical darling; The Favourite is too, as are A Star Is Born, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. And, the lack of a host may not be a bad thing, if Joanna Lumley’s crash-and-burn turn at the BAFTAs is anything to go by. Given that no one even cracked a smile, her scriptwriters have probably been sacked already.

Perhaps this is the year the Academy will do what it is famed for and put on a cracking good show, and put the annus horribilis behind it. Bette Midler will perform ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ from Mary Poppins Returns; Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will belt out ‘Shallow’ from A Star Is Born; but to watch Queen performing live will surely be the highlight.

The author is a journalist and author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, and tweets @namanrs

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 7:37:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/annus-horribilis-for-the-academy/article26339835.ece

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