AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The path to this weekend's Oscar ceremony has included a lot of backtracking. First there was going to be a new category - Best Popular Film. Then there wasn't. There was a host, Kevin Hart, whose long-ago homophobic tweets generated a controversy, so he stepped down. Specific awards and performances were going to be cut from broadcast until they weren't. So what exactly can viewers expect from Sunday's ceremony? Well, here to discuss is NPR movie critic Bob Mondello chuckling at his own introduction. Welcome to the studio, Bob.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: (Laughter) It's good to be here.
CORNISH: So is there some reason this year's planning has been such a mess?
MONDELLO: Yeah, there is. The Motion Picture Academy's under a lot of pressure - financial pressure - because last year's ceremony was the least-viewed Oscars in history. And low ratings mean low ad revenue for the next year. And the Oscars make most of their money for the year from the Oscar ceremony. The proposed changes were all designed to make things tighter, shorter and to encourage more people to watch. And the point, remember, is to promote movies, to make the industry look good.
CORNISH: So let's talk about the show part of that. The Academy has decided to go without a host. How exactly is this going to work?
MONDELLO: Well, we hope it doesn't work the way it did last time that they didn't have a host, which was about 30 years ago. Do you remember Rob Lowe singing to Snow White?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
EILEEN BOWMAN: (Singing, as Snow White) Starring in cartoons every night and day.
CORNISH: So many questions here.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROB LOWE: (Singing) But you said goodbye to Grumpy and Sleepy, left the dwarves behind...
MONDELLO: This was 1989, and...
CORNISH: That's no excuse, but yeah, go on.
MONDELLO: Exactly. That's what happened the last time that they didn't have a host. He was just one of many celebrities that they brought up on stage. And he was theoretically entertaining the audience at that point. The problem is that host monologues take at least 10 minutes usually, right? And they - this way they don't have to give them that. They don't have to give them something to do every 20 minutes thereafter. And it's easy enough to have the celebs just come out and announce things. The problem is that hosts have big followings, right? And originally they were thinking they would have The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, to do this. He's the highest-paid, most popular actor in movies right now. But he's making movies, and he didn't have time for all the prep.
CORNISH: I want to talk about another issue - diversity. This is often talked about the Oscars in terms of the nominations, things like that. Now, maybe because "Roma" and "Black Panther" are in the mix, we're not hearing about it as much this year. Does that mean that the numbers have improved?
MONDELLO: Well, some of them have. It's not 20 white actors this year, so that's better. Spike Lee is in the mix for best director, as is Alfonso Cuaron, who's Hispanic. There's a foreign film director, Pavel Pavlovsky, the Polish director of "Cold War." That category, though, is problematic I think because this has been a great year for women directors. The most powerful film I saw in 2018 was directed by a woman, "Capernaum," directed by Nadine Labaki. And I - you know, they're not mentioned in there at all. There are no women directors in that category. In theory, there should be lots.
CORNISH: Well, let's talk about some of the others then. What have been some of the best women-directed movies this year?
MONDELLO: Well, "Leave No Trace" is extraordinary. It was directed by Debra Granik. It's a hundred percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It's just an amazing picture. I really liked "The Rider" by Chloe Zhao. Both of those were in my 10 best list - "Destroyer" by Karyn Kusama. And there's a movie that got - it got a bunch of other nominations, which is "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" It got a Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Melissa McCarthy, Best Supporting Actor for Richard E. Grant. Nicole Holofcener got a screenplay nomination. But they didn't nominate the director who pulls all that together. I mean, let's listen to a clip. You'll hear why this film is nominated.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?")
MELISSA MCCARTHY: (As Lee Israel) You're friends with Julia (ph) something.
RICHARD E GRANT: (As Jack Hock) Steinberg (ph).
MCCARTHY: (As Lee Israel) Yeah.
GRANT: (As Jack Hock) She's not an agent anymore. She died.
MCCARTHY: (As Lee Israel) She did? Jesus, that's young.
GRANT: (As Jack Hock) Maybe she didn't die. Maybe she just moved back to the suburbs. I always confuse those two. That's right. She got married and had twins.
MCCARTHY: (As Lee Israel) Better to have died.
GRANT: (As Jack Hock) Indeed.
MONDELLO: Marielle Heller is responsible for that (laughter).
CORNISH: So is there anything you can point to that's gone well in the run up to the ceremony?
MONDELLO: Well, they - one thing really went well, which is that the nominations this year included a bunch of big pictures, pictures that people really like - "Black Panther," "A Star Is Born," "Bohemian Rhapsody."
CORNISH: Otherwise known as box office hits (laughter).
MONDELLO: Box office monsters. They were just huge. They made hundreds of millions of dollars, and in theory, they give people a rooting interest in the Oscars. And that should improve the viewership. By rights, this should be a very well-viewed Oscar ceremony despite all the hassles.
CORNISH: That's NPR movie critic Bob Mondello. Thanks for explaining it to us.
MONDELLO: (Laughter) It's great to be here.