Who’s ready for a wild Oscar night?

A bunch of Oscar statuettes with tags on them are grouped on a table.
They’re getting ready to hand out the Oscars.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

We’re a day into the NCAA basketball tournament, and I’m already cursing Richmond — Virginia? California? — because it knocked out Iowa in the first round. Now I see it’s in Virginia. And its mascot is a spider. Well, I never kill a spider; it’s always a catch-and-release mission for me if I find one in the house. But that doesn’t make me any happier about the state of my tourney bracket right about now.

Also: We’re about a week away from the Oscars. Are you ready to watch the producers of this year’s ceremony take a few wild swings? I’m Glenn Whipp, awards columnist for the Los Angeles Times and host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter, here to round up the latest news as we approach the 94th Academy Awards.

Oscars producer ready to take ‘wild swings’

Any job connected to the Oscars — host, producer, red-carpet roller-upper — has its own set of headaches, something I’m sure Will Packer knew when he signed on to produce this year’s show. That’s particularly true because Packer agreed to helm the telecast knowing he was going to push through some changes that would anger much of the motion picture academy’s membership.

Times movie writer Josh Rottenberg recently spoke with Packer, and they got into his decision about moving eight categories off the live broadcast — he was a little vague on the logistics — and how he can entice “broad swaths of the public” to watch the Oscars without alienating the nominated artists and the show’s die-hard fans.


“This is not a podcast,” Packer said. “It’s not a YouTube show. This is an entertainment proposition that a network has said, ‘We’re willing to pay X number of dollars to have it on our air, and in return for that, this is a very high profile event that will attract a lot of eyeballs and we can sell ads.’ As a producer, I understand the economic imperative of a show like this. It doesn’t mean that you don’t treat it with the reverence and the elegance that it has had. It just means you have to figure out a way to get as many people as possible to tune in and care about the show.”

Many have tried to figure that out over the years. We’ll soon see how Packer’s ideas play with the public — and the academy.

Emmy-nominated producer Will Packer.
Will Packer, producer of this year’s Oscars ceremony.
(Ben Rollins)

What deserves to win at this year’s Oscars?

Times film critic Justin Chang doesn’t have a ballot. But he does have opinions — strong ones, as you might well imagine, on this year’s main Oscar categories.

And if you’ve read him in recent months, his best picture pick will come as no surprise.

“‘Drive My Car,’ Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s magnificent and moving Haruki Murakami adaptation, is the best of this year’s nominees by a mile,” Chang writes. “Its presence in this category will surely be seen as reward enough, but it isn’t, not even close; it deserves to win. After ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and ‘Green Book,’ isn’t it time the academy honored a legitimately great movie about people unexpectedly bonding during car rides?”

Masaki Okada and Hidetoshi Nishijima have a drink in "Drive My Car."
Masaki Okada and Hidetoshi Nishijima in “Drive My Car.”
(Sideshow / Janus Films)

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Will Jane Campion’s comments cost ‘Dog’?

With final Oscar voting underway, the question around Hollywood is how Jane Campion’s wild awards weekend might affect this year’s races. Before the Directors Guild Awards, she shot back at actor Sam Elliott, a vocal critic of her movie “The Power of the Dog.” Then, during her acceptance speech at the silly Critics Choice Awards, she made a gaffe in reference to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, a faux pas that was awkward at best, disrespectful at worst.

The New Zealand director has long been celebrated as an iconoclast, a woman whose radiant films meld beauty and barbarism in their depiction of the world and the flawed humans inhabiting it. She’s not slick or calculated, either in her art or in conversation.

That authenticity, widely celebrated by fans and admirers, also can be dangerous when it comes to spontaneous remarks in speeches and on the red carpet, I noted in a recent column.

“You could see both the Sam Elliott diss and the Williams sisters misstep as two sides of the same coin,” said a writer who declined to be named due to membership in the academy. “She speaks her mind. She’s not rehearsed. And these days, with social media being what it is, that can lead to trouble.”

We’ll next see Campion at the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday. If “The Power of the Dog” prevails there, it should be close to a lock to win best picture, despite the controversy.

Jane Campion, director of "The Power of the Dog."
Jane Campion accepts the director award for “The Power of the Dog” at the Critics Choice Awards.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)


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