This year's Oscars ceremony will be remembered for several reasons, not limited to its being the first in recent memory to go commando without an official host. With celebrity presenters doing the heavy lifting - Keep it light! Keep it moving! Be spontaneous! But for God's sake give us something viral! - the show will either be fleet relief from slogs of Oscars past or a disasterpiece for the ages.
Stagecraft aside, there are a few things I'm hoping to see on Monday night:
1. Spread it around. There are very few sure things this year, which not only makes it fun, but is as it should be. Although "Roma" and "The Favourite" led the nominations with 10 each, the field is remarkably diverse in terms of genre, tone and artistic approach. This high-low Oscars field aptly reflects a cinematic year that gave audiences something for everyone: Big, well-crafted hits like "Black Panther" and "A Star Is Born," at least one campy guilty pleasure like "Bohemian Rhapsody," eccentric indies like "Roma," "Vice" and "Can You Ever Forgive Me?," and hugely popular documentaries like "RBG," "Free Solo" and "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" - which was unaccountably left off the doc shortlist, a slight we'll not soon forget.
Although some prognosticators are predicting a "Roma" sweep, I say give every movie a little something, not just to be nice, but to encourage balance in a moviegoing ecology that can sustain both the self-conscious weirdness of "The Favourite" and the wholesome un-weirdness of "Green Book."
2. Give Spike his Oscar, already. And while you're at it, call Terence Blanchard's name, too. Over more than three decades, Lee has not just captured the tenor and timbre of his era with films that provoke, infuriate, amuse and linger. He has developed a visual grammar that has accrued into a language that is all his own and instantly recognisable. Blanchard, his longtime composer, has been an integral part of that creative project, which comes to an exhilarating, expressive head with "BlacKkKlansman." Spike's been robbed so often, from "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X" to "25th Hour." Now is his time, even if it's long past time.
3. Ditto Paul Schrader. One of the most welcome aspects of this year's Oscars is how many relatively new names have made the cut: Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Favourite"), Pawel Pawlikowski ("Cold War"), and an up-and-comer named Lady Gaga (I think she's going places). But as exciting as breakout moments can be, especially when the ingenue in question is an anarchic spirit like Jennifer Lawrence, there's a special glow that comes from honouring a long-deserving veteran.
Like Spike Lee, Paul Schrader has been nominated for the first time this year, despite having written such canonical works as "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver" and directed such fine adaptations as "Affliction." He's been nominated for his script for "First Reformed," a portrait of an anguished pastor that enfolds all of Schrader's cardinal themes, from spiritual transcendence to frank eroticism, aesthetic rigour and restraint to lurid - and literal - overkill.
4.Give BoRhap the editing Oscar. By rights, I should be advocating for Barry Alexander Brown in this slot, as part of Spike Lee's longtime team. And there are plenty of quibbles with the editing in "Bohemian Rhapsody," from playing fast and loose with chronology to a herky-jerky moment when the Queen boys meet their new manager. But I'm reminded of something the great film and sound editor Walter Murch once told me: that the Academy Award for best editing should go to an unreleasable movie that got released because it was saved by the editor.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was a famously troubled production, with director Bryan Singer being fired toward the end of production and being replaced by another filmmaker. The film's editor, John Ottman, didn't exactly swoop in out of nowhere: He has edited all of Singer's films and had put together a strong assemblage by the time things went sideways. Still, he had to navigate a rough transition, integrate new footage with old, keep the governing macro-vision of the movie top-of-mind, and - oh yeah - seamlessly re-create Queen's legendary 1985 Live Aid performance. He kept it together, literally and figuratively.
5. Save us, Frances. Among the now-legion number of unforced errors the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has committed during the run-up to this year's ceremony, the latest (and blessedly most short-lived) was deciding not to invite last year's winners to present the acting awards, one of the most genuinely beloved traditions of the Oscars until Adrien Brody almost ruined it forever.
Thankfully the academy - and, presumably, its overlords at ABC - reconsidered and now Allison Janney will present the best actor awards along with Gary Oldman, and Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell will present best actress. McDormand was the hands-down highlight of the awards circuit last year, flooring audiences and then bringing them to their feet with tartly no-nonsense speeches ("I have something to say . . .") and a fabulously free 'n' easy approach to fashion, hair and makeup. We need her no-effs-to-give brio now more than ever, if only to remind us why we still keep riding this cockeyed caravan. Where better than the heart of the Dream Factory to keep it brazenly, blazingly real?
The Academy Awards air at 2p.m on TVNZ2.