Oscars 2011 preview: What will viewers be talking about?

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011

The Oscars should be viewed less like a horse race and more like a NASCAR race. After stomaching months of prognostications, few winners will truly surprise. So to endure the telecast, we must count on metaphorical car wrecks: controversy (Michael Moore bashes Bush!), big screw-ups (debris lands near Steve Martin!), near nip-slips (J. Lo's gauzy top! Beyonce's perilous dress!) and scenery-chewing (Adrien Brody mauls Halle Berry!).

When it comes to watching, "I like when something goes wrong," says Lili Fini Zanuck, who produced the Oscars in 2000. That year, the biggest surprise was the "South Park" guys' arrival in knockoffs of dresses made famous by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez. "Producers try to streamline it as much as possible. . . . Everybody is doing everything for this to not happen."

Hence the Oscars' rigid format: banter, award, applause, speech, musical number, commercial break, repeat.

"In a show which is very orderly and guards against those moments, how do you get spontaneity and surprise to come through?" wonders Gil Cates, who has produced 14 Oscar shows. "They happen on their own. Most good TV is accidental."

To psych ourselves up for the epic show, we've fantasized about moments that might set viewers aTwitter.

LIKELIEST DISRUPTION

Last year the documentary categories provided two of the show's cringiest moments: When documentary short producer Elinor Burkett interrupted her estranged collaborator's speech, and when "The Cove" subject-activist Ric O'Barry hoisted a sign that said "Text DOLPHIN to 44144," cuing the orchestra and a cutaway shot.

The category is ripe for disruption this year, too, with street artist Banksy nominated for "Exit Through the Gift Shop." The anonymous and prodigious prankster has already punked billboards around Los Angeles with his rogue symbols, so he's around town. Will he storm the stage in disguise? Will he unfurl a giant banner featuring prints of his trademark monkeys? This is the "big cliffhanger" of the night, says GoldDerby.com editor and Oscarologist Tom O'Neil.

"Gift Shop" producer Jaimie D'Cruz has promised Oscar honchos that he alone would accept the award, according to the Wrap, but wouldn't it be great if Banksy somehow inserted a placard of his art into the actual envelope?

MOST-BELOVED DEAD PERSON

Who gets the primo spot - and the biggest applause - at the end of the "In Memoriam" montage? Sometimes it's a respected journeyman: Last year, it was Karl Malden, a past president of the academy. Sometimes it's a superstar: Paul Newman got it the year before (being a humanitarian didn't hurt). Sometimes it's a wunderkind gone too soon: Heath Ledger in 2008.

Here are five legacies to put your money on:


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