Entertainment

What to expect from the Oscars: Top contenders, political speeches and pleas for diversity

Key Points
  • The 92nd annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.
  • Brad Pitt, Renee Zellweger, Laura Dern and Joaquin Phoenix are expected to take home the top acting prizes.
  • Front-runners for the biggest prizes of the ceremony include "1917," "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Parasite."
  • Presenters and award winners could use their time at the podium to make statements about the lack of diversity in the Academy's nominees.
Award winners from the 91st Oscars: Rami Malek, Olivia Colman, Regina King, Mahershala Ali (L-R)
Rick Rowell | Disney ABC Television Group | Getty Images

The 92nd annual Academy Awards on Sunday night will mark the end of an awards season that has been consistent in giving acting accolades to Brad Pitt, Renee Zellweger, Laura Dern and Joaquin Phoenix but polarizing in its lack of diversity.

The Oscars in particular have drawn ire in recent years for having too few nominees who were female or people of color. 

While the Academy has made significant strides — doubling the percentage of people of color within its membership and boosting the number of female members to 32%, up from 25% since 2016 — this year's list of Oscar nominees has shown that issues of representation persist.

Only two of the 20 actors and actresses nominated were people of color, and no female director was nominated this year. Of the nine films nominated for best picture, only the South Korean movie "Parasite" featured a predominantly nonwhite cast, and only one, "Little Women," was centered around numerous female characters.

Notable snubs for the 2020 ceremony included Greta Gerwig in the directing category, Jennifer Lopez and Awkwafina in the acting categories, and films such as "Dolemite is my Name," "The Farewell," "Us," "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" and "Queen and Slim," which were absent from the ballot altogether.

It is expected that presenters and award winners could use their time at the podium to call out these disparities.

Greta Gerwig attends the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, California.
Matt Winkelmeyer

Phoenix, who has secured several wins already for his performance as Arthur Fleck in "Joker," used his acceptance speech at the BAFTAs last week to call out the film industry for becoming a "system of oppression."

"I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don't have that same privilege," he said during the telecast. "I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you're not welcome here. I think that's the message that we're sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from."

Phoenix was quick to note that he views himself as "part of the problem," saying that he hadn't done everything in his power in the past to make sure the sets he worked on were inclusive.

In the past, award shows such as the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes have been a place for the film industry's elite to air grievances about inequalities in Hollywood and to make political statements about women's rights, gay rights and police brutality against people of color.

Notably, in 2017, Meryl Streep spent part of her acceptance of the Cecile B. DeMille Award to attack President Donald Trump, without naming him directly. In the wake of Trump being acquitted of both charges in the Senate impeachment trial on Wednesday, celebrities at the ceremony could be tempted to speak out during their speeches or interviews on the red carpet before the show.

And the winners are ...

Front-runners for the biggest prizes of the ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, include "1917," "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Parasite."

While the acting categories seem to be set in stone, top awards such as best picture and best director are still up in the air. Sam Mendes has been the favorite to win for his work on "1917." Still, Quentin Tarantino ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood") and Bong Joon Ho ("Parasite") aren't total underdogs.

Similarly, Universal's "1917" is the front-runner for the top prize of best picture. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Parasite" are also in contention, but "1917" has garnered wins this awards season from the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild and the BAFTAs.

A still from the film '1917'.
Universal | DreamWorks

"1917" is also expected to win the best cinematography award for making the film appear as if it were all shot in one take.

"Parasite," South Korea's first nominated film at the Academy Awards, is expected to win best international feature and is a strong candidate for best original screenplay.

"Judy," a biopic about Judy Garland, received only one nomination: best actress. Zellweger is expected to win for her portrayal of Garland.

Despite having the most nominations this year, with 24, Netflix is an underdog to take home the most prizes. While Dern is a shoo-in for best supporting actress for "Marriage Story," Netflix's films haven't had a good track record at other awards ceremonies this season. "Klaus," its first animated movie, is a contender for best animated feature and could beat out Disney's "Toy Story 4" and Laika's "Missing Link" for that prize.

"The Irishman" and "The Two Popes" are not expected to garner any trophies during the ceremony.

Similarly, Warner Bros.' "Joker," which had the most nominations for a film, with 11, is expected to win only two awards — Phoenix for best actor and Hildur Gudnadottir for best original score. It is also a contender for best makeup and hairstyling, but the current favorite for that category is "Bombshell."

Joaquin Phoenix portrays Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. "Joker."
Warner Bros.

"Ford v. Ferrari" is favored in several technical categories, including best film editing, best sound editing and best sound mixing, although "1917" could easily win sound editing and/or sound mixing.

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is expected to win the best supporting actor award for Pitt and likely the prize for best production design. Tarantino is considered in the best original screenplay category, but it's a tight race. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" could also take home best costume design, but "Little Women" is a strong rival in that category.

Best adapted screenplay is currently a toss-up between Taika Waititi for "Jojo Rabbit" and Greta Gerwig for "Little Women." However, Waititi's script is slightly favored as it won at the Writers Guild Awards and the BAFTAs.

The Oscars show kicks off Sunday at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Universal distributed "1917."

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