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This could be the 1st Oscars in which a streaming service's film wins Best Picture


Oscar fans, the clock is ticking. If you haven't already seen "Power Of The Dog," "West Side Story," "Dune" and the seven other best picture nominees, we've got about 48 hours to binge watch the ones you've missed. Happily, Hollywood has made that easy this year because nearly all of the nominees are already streaming. Critic Bob Mondello is here to talk us through what we will and won't see on Sunday's Oscar telecast. Hey, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hey. Good to be here.

SHAPIRO: There's been a lot of talk about what we won't see in Sunday's telecast. Bunch of the awards got bumped from the main event. Tell us about it.

MONDELLO: Well, eight of the awards, mostly the technical awards and the awards for short subjects, are going to be awarded before the telecast starts, while the stars are out on the red carpet. And they're going to take the acceptance speeches from those and edit them down so that they will be shown during the broadcast, but they will be tighter. And the idea is that this will allow them to fit in more, I guess, banter, because everybody knows the...

SHAPIRO: You sound like such a fan of banter, Bob.

MONDELLO: Yeah, well, it's scripted and you know. But anyway, they will still get the awards, which is not a bad thing, I suppose.

SHAPIRO: There was also a bunch of controversy about one of the stars of "West Side Story" who almost wasn't going to attend the Oscars. What happened?

MONDELLO: Well, Rachel Zegler - she's Maria in "West Side Story" - was asked on her Instagram account what she'd be wearing on Oscar night. And she said she'd probably be wearing sweatpants because she wasn't invited to the show. And obviously, social media went nuts. And the folks who run the program initially said things like, OK, look, we're reducing the capacity of the auditorium because we've got COVID that we're still dealing with. We only invite the people who are actually nominated and certain other people. And so there was no obligation to invite the star of "West Side Story," a major best picture nominee. But they should have done it. And she's Hispanic. And so it would have been nice if the Latina star was invited just a few years after #OscarsSoWhite. And so they finally came up with, we're going to have her as a presenter, which is an obvious thing. And they should have done it to start with. And so she'll get seats.

SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of diversity, how does this year's lineup compare, given the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag of the last few years?

MONDELLO: Well, actually, last year was sensational. Last year was the most diverse year for women and persons of color in the history of the Oscars. This year is not as good, but there are bright spots. Jane Campion was nominated for best director for "Power Of The Dog." She is the only woman who's ever been nominated twice for that award. Will Smith as best actor for "King Richard." He's competing with his mentor, Denzel Washington, who's playing a different king in "Tragedy Of Macbeth." Troy Kotsur is the first deaf male actor ever nominated, and he's regarded as likely to win supporting actor for "CODA," where he plays the dad. And Ariana DeBose for supporting actress in "West Side Story," she is the first openly queer woman of color nominated for any acting award. And if she wins, she'll be the second Latina to win that award for the same role as first Latina, Rita Moreno, did in the original "West Side Story."

SHAPIRO: OK. With all of these great films streaming right now and the abundance of prestige TV options and trash TV options, why should somebody spend three hours of their Sunday night watching this broadcast, Bob?

MONDELLO: Gee, you're right (laughter). Why should they? Let me think. Actually, listen, the Oscars are going to make history this year. In addition to the things I was just mentioning, it is very likely that a film made by a streaming service is going to win Best Picture. It's never happened. There have been a bunch of films that were nominated, like "Roma" for Netflix and "Sound Of Metal" last year for Amazon, but they've never gone the distance. And this year the two frontrunners are "Power Of The Dog" and "CODA," and it is very likely that one of those will win. Now, this seems less outrageous after the pandemic, when everybody's been streaming everything for a while. So I think when it happens, it's not so much a surprise, but it is history making.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Bob Mondello. He will be live tweeting the Oscars on Sunday night. Thank you for giving us this preview.

MONDELLO: My pleasure. Always. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.