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Oscars Preview: A Look At The Diversity Problem, Performances And Predictions


Oscar fans, the clock is ticking. If you haven't already, you've got about 48 hours to binge watch all eight best picture nominees before the Academy Awards on Sunday night. If you don't have the time, here they are in about 30 seconds.


NICHOLAS HOULT: (As Nux) Oh, what a day. What a lovely day.


MARK RUFFALO: (As Mike Rezendes) They knew, and they let it happen to kids.


BRIE LARSON: (As Ma) There was a guy. He pretended that his dog was sick.

JACOB TREMBLAY: (As Jack) What guy?

LARSON: (As Ma) Old Nick.


MATT DAMON: (As Mark Watney) I've got to figure out a way to grow three years' worth of food here, on a planet where nothing grows.


EMORY COHEN: (As Tony) I'm not Irish.

SAOIRSE RONAN: (As Eilis) You don't sound Irish.


TOM HARDY: (As John Fitzgerald) Proper thing to do would be to finish him off quick.


TOM HANKS: (As James B. Donovan) I'm an insurance lawyer. I haven't done criminal work in years.

JOHN RUE: (As Lynn Goodnough) It's like riding a bike, isn't it?


MARISA TOMEI: (As Cynthia Baum) You hate Wall Street. Maybe it's time you quit.

STEVE CARELL: (As Mark Baum) I love my job.

TOMEI: (As Cynthia Baum) You hate your job.

CARELL: (As Mark Baum) I love my job.

CORNISH: And these are the films that will be front and center for the 88th Oscar ceremony, but there's already been a ton of talk about what you won't see on stage. Joining me now is NPR's movie critic, Bob Mondello. Hey there, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CORNISH: And host of the "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast, Linda Holmes. Welcome to the studio.


CORNISH: OK, I want to start with the big discussion that was happening leading into this, which is the criticism of their being not a single nominee of color in the acting categories. What are we going to see on stage this weekend? How will this be discussed?

MONDELLO: Well, mostly you're going to see Chris Rock. I'm guessing that if anybody can talk to the people in the room, he's the guy because those people are the ones who can actually change Hollywood. But he's also going to be talking to the wider public, and that's - he's wonderful at that.

CORNISH: And, of course, there are the nominees. And Bob, last year, when I look at all the best picture nominees, like, when these films were being released, and you were giving them B-pluses (laughter).

MONDELLO: That's true.

CORNISH: Just sell me on this, then.

MONDELLO: I have tried so hard to get excited about this year. And last night, I found a way. I was watching the presidential debates, and it suddenly registered that if you're talking about anger at bankers, there's "The Big Short." If you're talking about immigration, there is "Brooklyn." If you're talking about drones and Russia, you've got "Bridge Of Spies." And protecting children, you've got "Room," and you've got "Spotlight." For science and the environment, you've got "The Martian." And if you just want to shout at each other, as political people tend to do, you have "Mad Max" and "The Revenant." That is the way that I'm seeing all of this this year.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

MONDELLO: That's the only way I can make sense of this group of nominees, really.

CORNISH: And Linda?

HOLMES: I actually have a couple in this group that I really love.

CORNISH: Oh, good.

HOLMES: I really loved "Brooklyn." It's a very sweet. And sweet can sound like a soft, almost insulting word, but it's a very humane and kind story and a very complicated love story, which you don't always get in Oscar-nominated movies. And I also really love "The Martian," which Bob and I saw in Toronto all the way back in September and really, really enjoyed. It's from a book that I love. "Mad Max" is a spectacular looking movie, brilliantly directed. I think there's actually a lot to be excited about in several of these movies. "Spotlight" is very good as well.

MONDELLO: Yeah, no, I'm being unfair, and I'm aware of that. These are all...

HOLMES: Yeah, Bob.


CORNISH: And, Bob, you and I were saying that these are movies, for once, that a bunch of us may have actually seen.

MONDELLO: Well, yeah. It's kind of nice that "Mad Max" and "The Martian" and "The Revenant" are all enormous hits. All three of them have made more than $150 million, putting them definitely in blockbuster category, and that's not usual for Oscar. They tend to go with the class stuff that comes at the very end of the year. I would like to argue that "Mad Max" is the classiest movie of the year.

CORNISH: I want to get to the performances and the acting nominations. People are, of course, talking about Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant." Any other, I guess, maybe dark horses, surprises, or is he just the one to beat?

MONDELLO: It's going to be hard to beat him. I think he's getting it for the wrong reasons kind of. It's, like, a degree-of-difficulty thing. He ate bison liver, and he doused himself in cold water. But he's a terrific actor, and he was going to get it eventually. And so they've decided now is the time, I guess.

HOLMES: It's a lot of grunting.


MONDELLO: It's true.

CORNISH: That's where the bar is.

HOLMES: A lot of grunting.

CORNISH: I feel like the big picture nominees are the movies we actually saw, and the performance nominations are in movies that a lot of us did not see.

MONDELLO: That actually happens a lot. I was looking through the last couple of years. If you just look at last year, the acting awards tend to go to prestige performances. So last year, we were talking about best actor for "Foxcatcher" and "The Imitation Game," best actress for "Still Alice" and a French film called "Two Days, One Night." It is traditional, I think, for acting nominees to not necessarily be for the big pictures.

CORNISH: And are you guys going to be, like, live tweeting this or something where we can follow along?

MONDELLO: Totally.

HOLMES: Yes, we are. We're going to be live-tweeting, and the hashtag is #nproscars. And I'll be live-tweeting. I'm @nprmonkeysee. Bob is @Bob _ Mondello. And we'll also be tweeting with Stephen Thompson, who's @idislikestephen, and Glen Weldon, who's @ghweldon. Those are all my pals from my show, as you know.

CORNISH: (Laughter). You just rattled off some social media names.

HOLMES: I do this every week, lady. You know that.

CORNISH: That's Linda Holmes of NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" and our blogger on the same subject and Bob Mondello, NPR's film critic. Thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It was great.

HOLMES: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.