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Looking back and forward to big Oscar moments

Halle Berry and Denzel Washington each hold an Oscar statuette, 20 years ago.
Halle Berry and Denzel Washington made history at the Oscars 20 years ago.
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)
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The long wait is over. You know what I’m talking about. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano finally sat down with the man who called him a “sellout,” L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, and the three-part series that came from the conversation is required reading.

And, yes, the loooooooooooong wait for this year’s Oscars is over too, with the ceremony finally arriving on Sunday. We’ve got a best picture nail-biter between “CODA” and “The Power of the Dog.”

Which team are you on?

I’m Glenn Whipp, awards columnist for the Los Angeles Times and host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter ... at least for one more Friday. Next week, I’m planning to be on a beach somewhere, listening to the desert island discs I picked out with Denzel Washington. (He called after our interview ran to put in a plug for Mountain. The man loves cowbell!)

Revisiting the historic 2002 Oscars

Speaking of Washington ... Twenty years ago, he and Halle Berry won Academy Awards, marking the first and only time that both lead acting Oscars have gone to Black performers — a triumph that coincided with Washington presenting an honorary Oscar to Sidney Poitier, the first Black performer to win the lead actor trophy.

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Ron Howard’s “A Beautiful Mind” won four Academy Awards including best picture, beating out “Gosford Park,” “In the Bedroom,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “Moulin Rouge!”

Times film critic Justin Chang and I looked back at that historic ceremony recently, reminiscing about the impact of that memorable night and how the motion picture academy has — and mostly hasn’t — followed through on its promise of continued diversity among its winners. It also was the nastiest awards season ever, and we got into that, as well as our thoughts on who won — and who should have won — at the 74th Oscars. I wonder what history will say about this year’s choices.

Ron Howard holds two Oscar statuettes at the 2002 ceremony.
Ron Howard won Oscars for directing and producing “A Beautiful Mind” at the 74th Oscars.
(Los Angeles Times)

Final Oscar predictions in all 23 categories

This year’s Oscars are all about wild swings. At least that’s how the show’s producer, Will Packer, is putting it, and who am I to argue with the guy who dares to move eight Oscars off Sunday’s live telecast to make room for ... well ... who knows? Packer promises a ceremony that will be “vital, kinetic and relevant,” and with a skateboarder and snowboarder in the house, it looks like he’s got the “kinetic” part covered.

We’ll wait and see about the other two buzzwords.

With the Oscar ceremony’s traditions being turned upside down, it feels appropriate that the awards themselves are probably going to go their own way this year, bucking precedents left and right. You want a best picture winner with only three total nominations? “CODA” has you covered. How about a director winning an Oscar but her movie getting nothing else? It might happen with Jane Campion and “The Power of the Dog.”

What other surprises are in store? Here are my final predictions for the 94th Academy Awards, making note of the categories that could be ripe for an upset. One of these years I’m going to get a perfect score ... but I don’t think this is the year. Too many toss-ups.

Jessica Chastain rests her chin in her hand for a portrait.
Jessica Chastain might win her first Oscar, for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
(Jesse Dittmar / For The Times)

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Appreciating the hope found in ‘Belfast’

My pal Mary McNamara and I will be having a live-blog conversation during this year’s ceremony. She loves “CODA,” so I think she’s going to be in a good mood when the evening’s over. But she also offered some nice thoughts about Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic memoir “Belfast” in a recent column, saying it was the Oscar-nominated film that offered her the most hope.

“Time is one reason a film like ‘Belfast’ exists,” Mary writes. “Branagh, who famously wrote an autobiography at the ripe old age of 30, is now old enough to actually look back. More important, the Troubles that dominated the headlines for 30-odd years have been over for more than two decades, and even Irish Americans have been forced to take a more nuanced look at the period.”

“‘Belfast’ is a sweet movie, and perhaps that is what makes it seem so startling and hopeful,” Mary continues. “When ‘In the Name of the Father’ got all those Oscar nominations in 1993, it was all but impossible to imagine a sweet movie about the Troubles, let alone one with a title like ‘Belfast.’ For so many years, the city’s name has been shorthand for civil war, for lives limned by tear gas and concertina wire, for protests and bombings and gunfire. Those things are all there in Branagh’s film too but so is the uninformed but often insightful joy of childhood. Along with a timely reminder that violent divisions leave many victims. And even a city literally torn apart by violence is usually filled with families who get along with the people others tell them to despise.”

A boy plays soldier with a wooden sword and a trashcan-lid shield in a scene from "Belfast."
Jude Hill in Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast.”
(Rob Youngson / Focus Features)

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.

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