The 86th Academy Awards will begin at 5:30 p.m. PT on Sunday, and the Best Picture winner will be announced somewhere around three-and-a-half hours later. The exact time will depend on the number of standing ovations, long speeches, musical numbers, interpretive dances and hugs in the aisles on the way to the stage.
Parts of the show may be a long, slow slog and parts may be delightfully entertaining – but there’s more going on than just a three-hour wait to see whether “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle” wins the big prize. Here are 10 other things to watch for on Oscar night:
1. Lupita Nyong’o’s dress
I don’t generally care about the fashion side of the Oscars (hey, I’ve been wearing the same tux since the ’90s), but it’s impossible not to notice the dramatic fashion sense of “12 Years a Slave” actress Lupita Nyong’o. She’s been turning heads since her film premiered at Telluride and Toronto, and she seems to up her game for the big events.
How bold and striking will she be at the Oscars? It’s worth tuning in to find out.
2. Ellen DeGeneres’ opening
The last time Ellen DeGeneres hosted an Academy Awards (in 2007), her opening number included a gospel song during which she banged a tambourine so hard that she had to go backstage and ice her hand during commercial breaks. The last time Craig Zadan and Neil Meron produced an Oscars (last year), their opening included a controversial Seth MacFarlane ditty called “We Saw Your Boobs” and a very extended, very meta sequence exploring just how bad a host MacFarlane might be.
Now DeGeneres, Zadan and Meron get a reboot – and it’s safe to assume that the host’s opening will be friendlier and less divisive than MacFarlane’s, and that it won’t include a tambourine. But what will it include? And can DeGeneres pull off the relatively rare feat of calming and amusing a room full of nervous nominees while simultaneously entertaining a home audience?
3. Best Supporting Actress
This or Best Supporting Actor is traditionally the first award of the night, and we all know that Jared Leto‘s going to win the latter. But the supporting-actress race is a nail biter, with Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence (“American Hustle”) the neck-and-neck frontrunners and June Squibb a delightful possibility for a big upset.
The bottom line: If Nyong’o doesn’t win, it could spell trouble for “12 Years a Slave” later in the evening (though that film has enjoyed a couple of last-minute triumphs this year). And if Lawrence does win, watch to see if she trips coming up the stairs the way she did last year.
4. Reaction shots
This is where Oscar directors often get in trouble. It’s one thing to turn your cameras on co-stars or colleagues in the audience, or to people from whatever movie is being joked about – but when Hamish Hamilton last directed the Oscars, in 2010, he made some choices that drew criticism for their rather blunt embrace of ethnic shorthand. (To be fair, many other directors have faced similar complaints.)
When hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin joked about Jews in Hollywood, Hamilton showed Ethan Coen in the audience; when they made a comment about “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” he showed Morgan Freeman.
So this year, a year in which “12 Years a Slave” has put racial issues in the forefront, the guy had better choose his shots carefully.
Another thing to watch: If DeGeneres makes any “12 Years a Slave” jokes, will she get a laugh from that film’s director, Steve McQueen? Or will he be this year’s Tommy Lee Jones, sitting stonefaced despite the host’s best efforts?
5. Best Production Design
Most people expect this award to go to the spectacularly lavish “The Great Gatsby” – and if it does, it won’t tell you much about the rest of the evening.
But if something else wins, pay close attention. A victory for “12 Years a Slave” or “Gravity,” either of which is possible, would be a departure from the norm, and a potential sign that this category’s winner is on the path to the ultimate victory.
6. Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing
Most likely, these two awards will go to “Gravity,” just as they went to previous big, loud movies like “Inception,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Matrix.” But if they don’t, it’ll be significant: When “The Hurt Locker” beat “Avatar” in both sound categories four years ago, that was an unmistakable sign that James Cameron’s big blue movie was NOT going to win Best Picture. “Gravity” really ought to win both of these.
7. Wardrobe malfunctions and bleeps
A seven-second delay was instituted in 2004, but the Oscars have rarely used it. Apart from Melissa Leo’s F-bomb three years ago, it’s hard to remember any high-profile winners who needed to be bleeped by ABC’s Standards and Practices watchdogs. But that makes it all the more enticing to listen for the rare moments when it does happen.
And if you see somebody on the red carpet whose dress appears to be dangerously low-cut (say, the kind of thing Amy Adams wore throughout “American Hustle”) or potentially see-through, pay attention how they’re shot if they appear onstage. In the past, the ABC censor has instructed the show’s director to focus on tight shots of Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow when their gowns were deemed insufficiently opaque.
8. Early “American Hustle” wins
While the conventional wisdom says that “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” are the most likely winners, one way to get some real tension going would be through a series of “American Hustle” wins. So if David O. Russell’s movie takes a few categories – Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Original Screenplay or even Best Editing – watch out: It could be riding its Actors Branch support all the way to a Best Picture upset.
9. Best Makeup
If you want to know how daring Oscar voters were this year, wait for this category. The work that transformed Johnny Knoxville into an old man for “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” was by far the most elaborate and essential makeup in the category, but the film might well be too raunchy and lowbrow for the Academy.
But if “Bad Grandpa” upsets “Dallas Buyers Club” here, all bets are off.
See exclusive video: The Secret to Making Johnny Knoxville’s Oscar-Nominated ‘Bad Grandpa’ Testicles
10. U2’s performance of “Ordinary Love”
U2 has performed on the Oscars once before, in 2003, when their song “The Hands That Built America” lost to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” In their Oscar performance that year, singer Bono changed the words of one verse to refer to the war in Iraq, which had just begun. (He sang the original lyrics during rehearsal, so nobody knew the change was coming.)
This year, is there something on Bono’s mind that might prompt another lyric change?