Oscars battle set to begin amid crystals and controversy

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HOLLYWOOD, United States, Feb 9, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Hollywood’s awards
season comes to a close Sunday at the Oscars, with war epic “1917” battling a
South Korean thriller for glory as a row swirls over the lack of minorities
on the night’s star-studded nominee list.

A lavish, spiral stage featuring 40,000 crystals at Los Angeles’ Dolby
Theatre will be the glittering setting as the 24 golden statuettes are handed
out on Tinseltown’s biggest night.

The frontrunner for multiple prizes including best picture is Sam Mendes’s
“1917,” an innovative and personal World War I film that swept up trophies in
the build-up to Sunday.

But the movie about two soldiers crossing no-man’s-land — filmed to appear
like one continuous shot — could find itself in a pitched battle with a
movie determined to make history of its own.

“Parasite,” about a poor South Korean family infiltrating a wealthy
household, looks to be a shoo-in for best international feature — but could
win much more.

“The big top prizes are coming down between ‘Parasite’ and ‘1917’,” Variety
senior film editor Marc Malkin told AFP. “Either one winning would be pretty
great.”

The unique ballot system for best picture — which involves voters ranking
films — makes the race somewhat tough to predict.

But it could benefit “Parasite,” a film that appears impossible to dislike,
and whose charismatic director Bong Joon-ho, 50, has gained cult status at
Hollywood’s many awards season galas and soirees.

“Every other movie, people say ‘I liked it, but…'” said Malkin. “With
‘Parasite,’ it’s ‘I love Parasite.’ Period. The end.”

He added: “Bong’s enthusiasm and his joy are completely infectious.”

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” remains an outside
shot, while Martin Scorsese’s lavish crime epic “The Irishman” appears to
have slipped out of contention.

– Kirk and Kobe –

The event’s luxury and glamour will contrast with the grief enveloping Los
Angeles over the recent deaths of Golden Age film legend Kirk Douglas and
Oscar-winning basketball star Kobe Bryant. Both titans have been added to a
hastily re-edited “in memoriam” montage honoring those Hollywood lost this
year, with Billie Eilish expected to provide a moving musical accompaniment.

The record Grammy-winning singer, who will soon voice the new James Bond
theme, is one of several high-profile musical guests on a night when all five
nominated songs will be performed.

Elton John, tipped to win for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman,”
will feature, as will Cynthia Erivo — the only non-white acting nominee, who
also sang and wrote the theme to anti-slavery biopic “Harriet.”

No female directors were nominated this year.

Irish maestro Eimear Noone will become the first woman to conduct the
Oscars orchestra, but diversity among guest hosts and performers is unlikely
to assuage anger over this year’s nominations.

“I wouldn’t call it #OscarsSoWhite but I’d say it’s #OscarsAsUsual,”
Deadline awards columnist Pete Hammond told AFP.

“It looks like the Oscars could have been 30 years ago.”

– ‘No scenario’ –

The Oscars in the acting categories — usually a subject of agonizing
deliberation for industry pundits — appear settled, with the same four stars
sweeping up rave reviews and prizes all season.

Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger are believed to be far ahead of the
competition for best actor and best actress.

Phoenix underwent a striking transformation to portray the title comic book
supervillain in “Joker” — as did Zellweger to play legendary Hollywood diva
Judy Garland in “Judy.”

Tinseltown favorites Brad Pitt and Laura Dern have their fingertips on the
supporting acting prizes, for their work as a laid-back stuntman (“Once Upon
a Time… in Hollywood”) and a cutthroat divorce lawyer (“Marriage Story”).

“I just don’t see where there’s wiggle room when it comes to the acting
categories,” said Malkin.

More fiercely contested will be the awards for best screenplay, editing and
visual effects, with movies from Nazi satire “Jojo Rabbit” to period drama
“Little Women” and even superhero epic “Avengers: Endgame” all in the mix.

The ceremony will go on without a host for a second consecutive time, after
last year’s batch of bright guest presenters caused a trend-bucking uplift in
TV ratings.

The gala begins at 5 pm in Los Angeles (0100 GMT Monday).