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What to Watch For Tonight at the Oscars


LOS ANGELES — Pray for an envelope mix-up. Without one, the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday could be thoroughly predictable.

Contrary to initial expectations, the ceremony, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern, will not serve as a pivotal moment for Netflix, which leads the field with 24 nominations. “The Irishman,” Netflix’s primary contender, collapsed on the campaign trail, leaving a traditional movie from a traditional studio, the war epic “1917,” as the favorite to win best picture. (The last film about World War I to receive Hollywood’s top prize was “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1963. So perhaps that will give a few historians a tingle.)

This year’s acting races have been locked for weeks. Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) and Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”) will almost assuredly take home Oscars. And do your best to feign surprise when “American Factory” wins the Oscar for best documentary and Elton John (“Rocketman”) collects the prize for song; those wins are set in stone, at least according to handicappers at Gold Derby, an entertainment honors site.

Cinematography? International Feature? Long since sewn up by Roger Deakins (“1917”) and Bong Joon Ho’s genre-busting “Parasite,” the first South Korean movie to be nominated for what used to be known as best foreign film.

And yet.

Surprises are possible. Last year, Glenn Close — the most-nominated living actor, male or female, without a statuette — was expected to finally win best actress for her role in “The Wife.” But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences once again denied her a trip to the stage. The Oscar went to a delightfully gobsmacked Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”).

This time around, the best-picture category could hold a surprise. “Parasite,” a provocative take on class warfare, could sneak past “1917” to become the first foreign-language film to collect Hollywood’s top prize. The academy has greatly expanded its international voting ranks in recent years.

Both “1917” and “Parasite” are anomalies as major best-picture contenders: No actors are nominated from either film, something that usually indicates the Oscar will go to another candidate. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” with nods for Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, would be a decent spoiler bet. The Nazi satire “Jojo Rabbit,” which scored a nomination for Scarlett Johansson, also has a long shot.

But there are exceptions to this rule. “Slumdog Millionaire” was named best picture in 2009 without any acting nominations.

Unlike last year, the academy has (mostly) avoided shooting itself in the foot in the run-up to the ceremony — no firing a host, no backtracking on a “popular” Oscar category, no proposed shoving of some awards into commercial breaks. Maybe this time the academy is saving the Sturm und Drang for the telecast, which, for the second year running, will not have a host.

We can only hope. Here are some other things to consider.

With its technical wizardry and impressive box office results — $252 million worldwide and counting — “1917” is considered a good bet to convert at least six of its 10 nominations into trophies. Look for it to be honored for sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects in addition to receiving the prizes for best picture, director and cinematography.

But the academy is otherwise poised to spread the little gold men around.

Little Women,” with six nominations, will probably receive one Oscar, for Jacqueline Durran’s period costume designs. “Jojo Rabbit,” also with six nominations, will likely have to make due with a lone win for Taika Waititi’s adapted screenplay. The car-racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” (four nods) could emerge victorious in the film editing category, while the best chance for “Bombshell” is in makeup and hairstyling.

The night’s most-nominated film, “Joker,” honored in 11 categories, will probably win for Phoenix’s performance and for Hildur Gudnadóttir’s score. An Oscar for her would end the academy’s 22-year streak of honoring male composers.

Academy voters increasingly like to uncouple best director from best picture. It’s called having your cake and eating it too.

The two categories have split 50 percent of the time over the past decade. Last year, Alfonso Cuarón won the directing Oscar for “Roma,” about a domestic worker in Mexico City in the 1970s. “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly, won best picture (to some boos).

This year, Sam Mendes (“1917”) is the directing favorite. But Bong could pull off an upset for “Parasite.” The other nominees are Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Todd Phillips (“Joker”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”).

Director and every other category — except best picture — are voted on with a single-choice system; voters pick their choice and the one with the most votes wins. Best picture now has a complicated “preferential” system in which nominees are ranked 1 through 9, and the second- and third-place positions can carry as much weight as first place.

The best-picture category can have as many as 10 or as few as five nominees, depending on how voters spread their support. This year there are nine: “1917,” “Parasite,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” “Joker,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Marriage Story” and “Little Women.”

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