Many, many people were made happy – and more than a little surprised – by the final minutes of last night’s Academy Awards ceremony. But you know who had to be the happiest of all? Marisa Tomei.

La La Land has 14 Oscar nominations. It won seven Golden Globe Awards – a new record – out of seven nominations. It won the Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards, both of which have led to Best Picture wins eight times out of the past 10 years. The movie is still in the box-office top 10 more than a month after its wide release, has grossed more than $125 million domestically, and is such a pop-culture touchstone that Saturday Night Live recently aired a skit in which two cops attacked a perp for the cardinal sin of insufficient admiration for the movie. The guy liked it; he just didn’t love it.

Mocking the Oscars – or any made-for-TV awards spectacle with the fool’s errand of crowning the “best” in the arts – is a time-honored tradition. Sometimes it’s even important, as with last year’s backlash against the whiteness of that Academy Awards slate of Best Picture and acting nominees. (That paleness was a bit of an anomaly in recent times, as I’ll show in a bit.)

So let’s give the Academy its due: Expanding the Best Picture field – starting with 2009 movies – from five nominees to as many as 10 was a smart and ultimately necessary change with substantial benefits, no matter how you parse it.

Nominees for the 89th Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

It turns out they weren’t announced so much as revealed, because for the first time since the yearly nominations became an early-morning PR event several decades ago, contenders weren’t recognized in front of a gathered crowd of journalists and publicists. Instead, the news was delivered in a slick, 20-minute online presentation that also featured reminiscences from former Oscar nominees and winners such as Brie Larson, Glenn Close, and Terrence Howard, with Gabourey Sidibe wisely suggesting that when this morning's nominees eventually attend the ceremony, they should be sure to sneak in a flask. (That’s good advice for those watching from home, too.)

La La Land

 

Will La La Land match or exceed the record of 14 Oscar nominations currently shared by All About Eve and Titanic? (Matching, maybe; exceeding, no.) Will this be yet another year of #OscarsSoWhite? (Not by a long shot.) Will Mel Gibson be welcomed back into the open arms of Hollywood’s elite? (As we’ve been frequently reminded this past year, anything’s possible.)

These and other questions will be answered on the morning of Tuesday, January 24. But until then, there’s no harm – except, eventually, to my ego – in predicting nominations for the 89th annual Academy Awards.

When I phone Wizard of Oz historian John Fricke for our scheduled July 21 interview, he doesn’t answer the call with a “Hello?”, or even a more formal “Yes, this is John Fricke.” Instead, the first three words he utters, or rather exclaims, are an exuberant “I love Iowa!

He asks if I like that intro, and I admit that I do, primarily because it’s no doubt sincere. Fricke, after all, enjoyed eight consecutive years (from 1979 to 1986) as emcee and chief entertainer for Davenport’s Miss Iowa pageants and even, during that period, co-headlined a two-person Col Ballroom concert alongside an 11-piece orchestra and former Miss Iowa Darla Blocker. So “I love Iowa!” makes total sense.

Given the subject of our conversation, however, “I love Kansas!” might’ve been more fitting.

the team behind Best Picture winner SpotlightWhether it was a conscious decision on their parts is something, of course, that we’ll never know. But faced with #OscarsSoWhite outrage and numerous categories seemingly locked tight as drums, voters for last night’s Academy Awards did the smartest, and perhaps only, thing they could do: They changed the story, so that instead of talking about the controversy, we talked about the winners – more often than not, the surprise winners.

#OscarsSoWhat?Last March, in promoting his eventual blockbuster Furious 7, Vin Diesel made a bold pronouncement to Variety: “It will probably win Best Picture at the Oscars, unless the Oscars don’t want to be relevant ever.”

Predictably, Diesel’s braggadocio about his movie – the latest in a series of genially dopey action thrillers that had never garnered any previous Academy notice – was much repeated, and mocked, in the press. But here we are 11 months later, with Furious 7 nowhere near the 2016 Oscar race, and one wonders if Vin Diesel is not only buff and baritone-voiced, but quite possibly prescient.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The RevenantThe conversation about this year’s Oscars may have been swallowed whole by the second-annual #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but there are still predictions to be made!

With Best Picture, thrillingly, the most unpredictable category of this year’s Academy Awards telecast (scheduled to air on ABC at 7 p.m. Central on Sunday, February 28), here are my educated and admittedly uneducated guesses in the evening’s 24 categories. The past two years, I guessed 18 of 24 correctly. The year before, I had a personal best of 19 out of 24. This year, I’m feeling wholly confident on about 15 of my guesses, so if you’re making bets with your co-workers or bookies, make sure not to wager a hefty amount of personal wealth.


Leonardo DiCaprio in The RevenantAs we Oscar watchers frequently like to ask on nomination morning: Who knew? Regarding this year’s contenders, who knew that category fraud would be so successful? Who knew that the lesbian romance Carol would be so well-liked – just not well-liked enough? Who knew this would be the second year in a row with acting races populated exclusively by white people? Who knew that Lady Gaga would receive as many nominations as Ridley Scott?

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