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Tribune News Service
Chris Hewitt

Here's what to look for at the 95th Oscars (hint: no slaps)

Last month, "Saturday Night Live" fake news host Colin Jost said ads should trumpet, "Who's going to get slapped this year?" But one thing we can feel confident about is that Austin Butler, Michelle Yeoh and their peers will make it through the 95th Academy Awards without having to apply ice packs.

The awards last year emerged with a black eye after Will Smith stormed on stage to smack Chris Rock. So, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences organizers booked a "crisis team" to prevent that from recurring — something you can bet host Jimmy Kimmel will have fun with in his monologue at the show Sunday in Los Angeles.

Kimmel's writing team works independently but the Academy will want him to shift the focus to the movies. Last year was, after all, when Hollywood finally returned to box office normalcy, a shift widely credited to Tom Cruise's insistence on holding the release of "Top Gun: Maverick" for three years, spurning streaming services' attempts to buy it. Although it's a long shot to win best picture, organizers would love to see the top-grossing movie of 2022 triumph ("Avatar: The Way of Water," also nominated, has surpassed it in 2023).

With "Everything Everywhere All at Once" contending for top prizes, Oscar voters can congratulate themselves on moving past the #OscarsSoWhite controversy — although failing to nominate favorites Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler for best actress means another year without a Black best actress, with Halle Berry's win 21 years ago still a unicorn.

Here are a few more things to look for at the 95th annual Academy Awards:

Size matters

Stop me if you've heard this one: The show will run long, especially since Oscar voters rebelled after last year's skip-some-awards experiment. They convinced producers to return to presenting all 23 categories on camera.

Will pop stars pop?

Rihanna will perform her best song nominee, "Lift Me Up" from "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" as part of the ceremony. It could join a starry set of song performances, since Lady Gaga ("Maverick") also is cited although not yet confirmed to perform. And supporting actress nominee Stephanie Hsu will join songwriters David Byrne (an Oscar winner for the music from "The Last Emperor") and Son Lux to sing nominated "This Is a Life," from "Everything Everywhere."

Bollywood to Hollywood

Expect something splashy and energetic for "Naatu Naatu." Unlike most best song nominees, which play over the credits, it's a highlight of the film, a production number in which the two "RRR" stars reveal themselves to be crack singers and dancers as well as country-saving superheroes. Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. zoom all over the grounds of a castle in "RRR," so don't be surprised if they turn the Dolby Theatre into a dance party.

First time's a charm

If Cate Blanchett doesn't win best actress (it seems to be between her and Yeoh), all four acting winners will be first-timers.

Young Hollywood

Who will win the Oscars of the future? One way to guess is to look at the announced presenters, which included a few recent winners who probably have more acceptance speeches in their futures (Riz Ahmed, Questlove) and others who surely have Oscar in their sights (Jonathan Majors, Michael B. Jordan, Emily Blunt).

All shook up

With craft awards presented early in the evening, including production and costume design, don't be surprised if "Elvis" scoops up a bunch. That won't be an early sign of a sweep, though — just a sign that it, and possibly "All Quiet on the Western Front," are revered in the down-ballot categories. Also, if Mandy Walker wins the cinematography award for "Elvis," she'll break a streak of 94 consecutive men taking home the little gold man.

Veteran move

Longtime Oscar watchers know the show generally makes room for artists who connect to earlier eras of moviemaking. That used to mean bringing out Charlie Chaplin for an honorary award but, recently, it's been, say, Jane Fonda presenting the best picture award to "Parasite." The preliminary list of presenters is short on old Hollywood names but Glenn Close, who'll turn 75 this month, is signed up. The eight-time loser could make some good-sport remarks about that record.

Host in a crisis

Jimmy Kimmel proved an adept Oscar host in his 2017 and 2018 outings. He returns the show to a Johnny Carson-style of host — connected to the movie business but not part of it — which suits an organization trying to regroup from the 2022 horror show. Since he was onstage in 2017 during the other most notorious mess in Oscar history, when "La La Land" was read as the best picture instead of real winner "Moonlight," he'll also work well with the "crisis team" to prevent anyone from getting beat up.

Whither Smith?

The presenter of the best actress trophy will depart from tradition. Usually, it would be the previous year's best actor but that's Smith, who is barred from the Academy Awards for 10 years. Who will it be? A beloved figure like Tom Hanks, who's unlikely to punch anyone? An old-Hollywood representative who remains relevant, such as Rita Moreno or busy Fonda, who has three new movies to promote?

And the winner isn't ...

Veteran Oscar watchers know the name Diane Warren, a best song nominee for the past six years in a row. Warren's similar sounding ballads have never won, and probably won't win this year, but she'll still be onstage, accompanying Sofia Carson as she sings "Applause." It's from "Tell It Like a Woman" and, don't worry — no one else saw it, either.

Everything Asian all at once

Until South Korea's "Parasite," the Oscars virtually ignored Asian filmmaking, other than Jackie Chan appearing as a presenter and an occasional "international feature" trophy. Maybe "Everything Everywhere All at Once," led by Malaysia-born Yeoh, will help change that (especially since China was the world's top film market in 2020 and 2021). Presenter Donnie Yen, a China native who's a superstar overseas for the "Ip Man" films but less known here, might signal that.

In memoriam

Expect bursts of applause throughout the memorial, since 2022 seemed to feature an unusual number of big-name movie losses, including Angela Lansbury, William Hurt and Ray Liotta. Lenny Kravitz will perform during the segment, which has become a prime gig in the aftermath of Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga and Barbra Streisand tackling it.



When: 8 p.m. ET Sunday

Where: Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles

Live on: ABC, also YouTube TV, Hulu Plus Live TV.


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