Will a Rihanna performance and popular nominated movies lure in a bigger audience?
LOS ANGELES — It’s almost time to give the Academy Awards a big hand.
OK, maybe we should rephrase that.
A year after Will Smith strode on stage at the Dolby Theatre and slapped Chris Rock in the face, the Oscars will reconvene Sunday for a ceremony that will try to move past one of the most infamous moments in Academy Awards history.
The telecast from the Dolby in Los Angeles begins at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC. The broadcast can be streamed with a subscription to Hulu Live TV, YouTubeTV, AT&T TV and Fubo TV. You can also stream the show on ABC.com and on the ABC app by authenticating your provider.
Jimmy Kimmel, the show’s first solo emcee in five years, is hosting for the third time. The late-night comedian has promised to make some jokes about The Slap; it would be “ridiculous” not to, he said.
Bill Kramer, chief executive of the film academy, has said that it was important, given what happened last year, to have “a host in place who can really pivot and manage those moments.”
“Nobody got hit when I hosted the show,” Kimmel bragged tongue in cheek Thursday on “Good Morning America.” “Everybody was well-behaved at my Oscars.”
Kimmel will preside over a ceremony that could see big wins for the best-picture favorite, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s action-comedy indie hit comes in with a leading 11 nominations, including nods for Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan.
Producers are giving some aspects of the Oscars a makeover. The carpet is champagne-colored, not red. The broadcast has been planned to be more interactive than ever.
But the academy, still trying to find its footing after several years of pandemic and ratings struggles, is also hoping for a smoother ride than last year. A crisis management team has been created to help better respond to surprises. The academy has called its response to Smith’s actions last year “inadequate.” Neither Rock, who recently made his most forceful statement about the incident in a live special, nor Smith, who’s been banned by the academy for 10 years, are expected to attend.
The Academy Awards will instead attempt to recapture some of its old luster. One thing working in its favor: This year’s best picture field is stacked with blockbusters. Ratings usually go up when the nominees are more popular, which certainly goes for “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and, to a lesser extent, “Elvis” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
But the late-breaking contender that may fare well in the technical categories — where bigger movies often reign — is Netflix’s top nominee this year: the German WWI epic “All Quiet on the Western Front.” It’s up for nine awards, tied for second most with the Irish dark comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Netflix’s “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” also looks like a shoo-in for best animated film.
The awards will also have some star wattage in the musical performances. Fresh off her Super Bowl performance, Rihanna will perform her Oscar-nominated song, “Lift Me Up,” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” “This Is Life,” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will be sung by David Byrne and supporting actress nominee Stephanie Hsu with the band Son Lux. Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava will perform “Naatu Naatu” from the Indian action epic “RRR.” Lenny Kravitz will perform during the In Memoriam tribute. (Lady Gaga, currently in production on a film, will not perform her nominated song “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick.”)
Last year, Apple TV’s “CODA” became the first streaming movie to win best picture. But this year, nine of the 10 best picture nominees were theatrical releases. After the movie business cratered during the pandemic, moviegoing recovered to about 67% of pre-pandemic levels. But it was an up and down year, full of smash hits and anxiety-inducing lulls in theaters.
At the same time, the rush to streaming encountered new setbacks as studios questioned long-term profitability and reexamined their release strategies. This year, ticket sales have been strong thanks to releases like “Creed III” and “Cocaine Bear.” But there remain storm clouds on the horizon. The Writers Guild and the major studios are set to begin contract negotiations March 20, a looming battle that has much of the industry girding for the possibility of a work stoppage throughout film and television.
The Oscars, meanwhile, are trying to reestablish their position as the premier award show. Last year’s telecast drew 16.6 million viewers, a 58% increase from the scaled-down 2021 edition, watched by a record low 10.5 million.
Usually, the previous year’s acting winners present the awards for best actor and best actress. But that won’t be the case this time. Who’ll replace Smith in presenting best actress is just one of the questions heading into the ceremony.