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What To Expect From The 90th Academy Awards


On Sunday, Hollywood will once again celebrate its own at the 90th annual Academy Awards. Typically by this point we have a general idea of who's favored to win in the major Oscar categories, but this year it's still unclear which film is going to win best picture. Will it be "Lady Bird," "The Post," "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name"? Or maybe one of the splashier films like "Dunkirk" or "Get Out."

Well, NPR film critic Bob Mondello and pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes joined me in the studio. And we started off talking about which of the best picture nominees might nab the award.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: You know, this year you have several that could plausibly win. A lot of people are talking about "The Shape Of Water." People are talking about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."


WOODY HARRELSON: (As Willoughby) I don't think those billboards is very fair.

FRANCES MCDORMAND: (As Mildred) Time it took you to get out here, Willoughby, some other poor girl's probably out there being butchered right now.

HOLMES: There have been a variety of films that have kind of bubbled up to the surface, I think.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: And what is tricky about this year and more tricky than usual is that there are controversial pictures in this mix, "Three Billboards" being one of them. And my head is going to explode as I try to figure out the voting system of the Academy because for best picture they do something they don't do for any of the others. In any other category, the leading movie wins, right? In best picture, since there are so many nominees - there are nine nominees for best picture - you could theoretically win with only 11 percent of the vote if...

CHANG: Whoa.

MONDELLO: Right. So they've elected to make it that you have to have 50 percent of the vote. And the only way that you can get there is by taking second and third and fourth choices into account. And when you try to figure out what the second choice for someone who liked "Darkest Hour"...

CHANG: Yeah.

MONDELLO: ...Is likely to be, my guess is "Dunkirk."


MARK RYLANCE: (As Mr. Dawson) The call went out. We have to go to Dunkirk.

MONDELLO: They're both about World War II. They're actually both about the same battle. So that could push that higher in the second ballot and the third ballot and that kind of thing.

CHANG: So it's almost like a mathematical game who ends up becoming the best picture.

MONDELLO: Totally.

HOLMES: It is. And the bottom line for me is that it doesn't just reward the movies that people love the most, but it also rewards the movies that the most people like because it's not just who puts you first. But it's how broad your support is. And it's how broadly people are putting you second and third even if they're arguing about what's first. So I think my pick for this is "Get Out."


LAKEITH STANFIELD: (As Andre Logan King) Get out.

DANIEL KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington) Yo, yo, chill, man.

STANFIELD: (As Andre Logan King) Get out.

KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington) Chill. Chill. Chill, man. Chill.

HOLMES: I think for a lot of people, even if "Get Out" wasn't their favorite film of the year, they respect its audacity and its freshness and the fact that it's a very unusual genre film. And I think that could be one that - you know, it is dearly loved by some people, but it's also greatly respected by a lot of people. And I think that could be one that could also make progress in those standings.

MONDELLO: And in my - when I was trying to figure this out and my head was exploding, what I was coming up with was that it was possible that "Dunkirk" would be the one that would rise up from the bottom. And you'll notice - what's interesting about that - those are the two pictures that made the most money this year. Those two both made about 170, $180 million. All the rest of them are down below a hundred million. I think what that means is that they have broad support. And so we're kind of saying the same thing but picking different favorites.

CHANG: That's fascinating. Well, you know, obviously this year, the last several months we've talked a lot about sexual harassment. The issue has come up in other award ceremonies. Do you expect in this ceremony that there's going to be a lot of discussion about that?

HOLMES: I think a couple of perhaps individual women who are speaking may address it. I think beyond that, it's hard to say how much it's going to come up. The trick with award shows is always that what you would really like to get at is the underlying systemic issues of how women are represented, how women of color are represented, and very often what you get are anecdotal stories about an individual woman talking about her individual story. It's very hard to get award shows to get at those underlying systemic issues.

MONDELLO: And they are enormous for the Academy. We were talking before we came in to talk to you about the fact that for the first time in 90 years of Academy Awards, a woman has been nominated as best cinematographer.

CHANG: Yeah.

MONDELLO: First time in 90 years that one member of half of the population of the world has been nominated in that category. This is insane, right?

CHANG: Yeah.


CHANG: Rachel Morrison for the picture "Mudbound" - what are her chances of taking the honor?

HOLMES: Well, you know, Bob and I, again, have different rooting interests here because I really do tend to root for her. I would love to see her win. Bob is very attached to Roger Deakins, who's nominated for the - what is it, Bob?

MONDELLO: Is it "Blade Runner"?

HOLMES: Yeah, well, he's nominated for "Blade Runner" for the...

MONDELLO: But - oh, for the 14th time.

HOLMES: For the 14th time.

CHANG: Whoa.

MONDELLO: This is the 14th time he's been nominated and has never won. You've got to give him one.


MONDELLO: It's driving me crazy.

CHANG: That's NPR film critic Bob Mondello and host of Pop Culture Happy Hour Linda Holmes. Thanks so much, guys.

HOLMES: Thank you.

MONDELLO: Great to be here.

CHANG: And if you're watching the Oscars on Sunday, both Bob and Linda will be live tweeting. 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.