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How to watch the Oscars, and what to watch for

oscars academy awards
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
It’s that time again.
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

The Oscars are already here—a month earlier than last year.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is experimenting with an early Oscars this year to shorten the normally long slog of awards season and boost viewer interest. (The Academy has already signaled this won’t become the norm—next year’s date will be back in the usual late February slot.)

A shortened film awards season has its benefits. On the plus side, there is less time for exhausting campaigns from the studios trying to sway voters and the general public. But that also means less time to actually watch the nominated movies before the ceremony is upon us. If you need to catch up, here’s how to watch the nine nominees for Best Picture.

The 92nd Academy Awards, hosted by no one (more on that below), will air on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 8pm eastern time on the ABC network in the US. Here’s how to watch the show, and what story lines to look out for during Hollywood’s big night:

How to watch on TV and online

The Academy published a very handy guide listing every TV network on which the Oscars will air in countries outside the US. Click here for the full list. Here is a sampling:

Watching online is a little more complicated. ABC will provide a livestream on both ABC.com and the live ABC app for viewers in the following cities who have a cable TV package that includes the channel: Chicago, Fresno, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco.

Americans with Hulu TV, YouTube TV, and AT&T Now can also watch the stream in select cities. All of these services offer free trials you can cancel after the show.

Parasite vs. 1917

The award for Best Picture is shaping up to be a two-film race between South Korean thriller Parasite and World War I movie 1917. The latter has won the top prize at several precursor award shows and is considered the betting favorite.

But Parasite isn’t out of the running yet. It won the top prize at last month’s Screen Actors Guild Awards—and actors are the biggest group of voters within the Academy that votes on the Oscars. If Parasite wins, it’d be the first foreign-language film to do so.

Year two without a host

For the second year in a row, the Oscars will proceed without an official host. Last year’s host-less ceremony was expected to be a disaster, but it was met with a surprisingly positive reaction, as the show seemed to go by at a quicker pace with less annoying filler. But not everyone was thrilled. Billy Crystal, who has hosted the Oscars nine times (only Bob Hope has hosted more), told Jimmy Kimmel this week that the ceremony loses something when there isn’t a ringleader to bring it all together.

Crystal likened an Oscars without a host to “having a trial without witnesses,” likely a nod to current events. The show “moves faster,” he conceded, “but not quite the result that you want.”

The box office predicts decent TV ratings

TV ratings for the Oscars are in a steady decline, although last year’s show marked a small improvement over the year prior. Generally, the more popular the nominated films are, the more people watch the show live on TV.

And this year’s slate of Best Picture nominees performed well at the box office—relative to most recent years, at least.

The average US box office total for the nominees used to regularly surpass $100 million, not adjusted for inflation. From 1990 to 2005, it did so nine times. But in the 15 years since, it’s only done so five times.

This year will be the sixth time. The 2020 Best Picture nominees brought in about $125 million in the US on average (not counting the two nominated films that were released primarily on Netflix), down from $168 million last year. But that’s still the second-highest average since 2011. ABC is hoping that means the TV ratings for Sunday night’s ceremony can at least remain flat with last year’s total of 29.6 million US viewers.

How will Netflix do?

This year, Netflix took over the Oscar nominations, beating out every other Hollywood studio with 24 nods in total, including two for Best Picture: Marriage Story and The Irishman. But after a rough showing for the streaming service at the Golden Globes and most other precursor awards, its Oscar hopes are in tatters. The only major award it’s expected to win is Best Supporting Actress for Laura Dern’s performance in Marriage Story.

A disappointing Oscar night for Netflix could signal that Hollywood insiders are pushing back against the inevitable streaming takeover. It might get nominations, but it’ll only get wins over their dead bodies.

Will Joker get the last laugh?

The film nominated for the most awards is Joker, the psychological thriller about the DC Comics villain of the same name. It isn’t expected to win Best Picture, but it might win several awards elsewhere, including a win for Joaquin Phoenix for his portrayal of the titular madman. It’d be a first for Phoenix, who was nominated for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master, but has never won.

Joker is also the favorite to win Best Original Score, for Icelandic composer Hildur Gudnadottir’s dread-inducing music. If she wins, she’d only be the third woman in history to win an Oscar for an original score. The last was Anne Dudley, who won for The Full Monty in 1997.

The comic book film is by far the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee. It has earned more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide.

The Oscars could look more like the Grammys

This year, there will be seven musical performances during the broadcast, including songs from Janelle Monae and Billie Eilish.

Without a host, the Academy and the show’s producers have looked to spruce up the rest of the telecast with big performances and a slew of famous presenters. This year’s presenters are a who’s who of Hollywood legends.

Award-winning Obamas?

Former US president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are among the producers of American Factory, a Netflix documentary nominated for the top documentary prize at the Oscars this year. The Obamas had nothing to do with the making of the film (they were brought in as backers through their new partnership with Netflix), but a win for the film on Sunday would surely ruffle the feathers of the current occupant of the White House. The couple is not expected to attend the ceremony.

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