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Oscar Voting Begins On Nominations That Are 'Muddier' Than Usual


Voting for the Academy Awards begins this morning. Usually, especially in the best picture race, a couple of clear front-runners have emerged by now. This year, though, Oscar watchers are scratching their heads. Our own watcher, Kim Masters, editor at large for The Hollywood Reporter has called the race muddier than usual. And she joined us here at NPR West to talk about it. Good morning.

KIM MASTERS: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So muddier - a real technical term there, Kim.

MASTERS: (Laughter). Yes, that's what they call it in the movie biz. There's just a lot of movies this year, Renee, that could be in contention - "Spotlight" about the Boston priest pedophile scandal and how that was uncovered by Boston Globe reporters. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is getting a lot of love from critics. "The Revenant," which is this ultraviolet period piece with Leo DiCaprio, is certainly, like, on everybody's short list. "The Big Short," which is this very original look at the housing crisis and the bubble and the crash, "The Martian" with Matt Damon on Mars, "Straight Out Of Compton," "Bridge of Spies" from Stephen Spielberg - I mean, that is a list that will probably make up much of the top 10.

MONTAGNE: And also so varied.


MONTAGNE: But all really good movies.

MASTERS: A lot of good movies, but not - you know, like, last year at this time, it was really "Birdman" versus "Boyhood." Everybody knew that, and that was the race. This year, something could slip in there. You know, it's very fluid.

MONTAGNE: But I gather that there is one film that you think could benefit from the confusion.

MASTERS: Yeah, I mean, if there is a front-runner, it is perceived to be "Spotlight." That movie opened early November, and it's felt like maybe there was an opportunity for something else to swoop in there, as it so often does. And it just hasn't really happened, so "Spotlight" kind of remains in that front-runner position. Let's listen a little bit to Liev Schreiber. He plays Marty Baron, who was, at that time, the brand-new editor of The Boston Globe. He walks in; he sees the potential for this unbelievable scandal that hasn't been covered as it should have been.


LIEV SCHREIBER: (As Marty Baron) We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Show me the church manipulated the system so these guys wouldn't have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.

MONTAGNE: OK, so "Spotlight." Kim, we cannot have this conversation without acknowledging the Millennium Falcon in the room. OK, the new "Star Wars" movie - obviously box office gold. What are its chances at the Oscars?

MASTERS: It could get in there, you know? The Academy does sometimes like a gigantic hit. It pays homage to a movie that transformed the movie business, that is part of the culture. So absolutely, "Star Wars" could make the list.

MONTAGNE: And what about diversity? The Academy has been under pressure to diversify in terms of both the members who vote and also the nominees represented at the Oscars. What about this year?

MASTERS: We have some movies - not tons - but we do have "Straight Out Of Compton." It tells the story of NWA. It is definitely in contention. It could be nominated. Also "Creed" is getting a lot of love. This is a movie that brings back Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, but the real star is Michael B. Jordan, playing the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky's former adversary. And people really like this movie.

MONTAGNE: And, Kim, before we let you go, give us a thumbnail of best actor and actress. What are some performances that are getting buzz?

MASTERS: I think best actor is the most solidified category behind Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant." He's been nominated multiple times. He's had a very strong career. It's seen as his time. And for the women, I'd say Charlotte Rampling in a small movie, "45 Years," getting a ton of recognition, Brie Larson in "Room," an under-recognized film, and Kate Blanchette in "Carol," a love story between two women set in the 1950s. Those are the women in contention for best actress.

MONTAGNE: Kim Masters hosts "The Business" on member station KCRW. Thanks for joining us.

MASTERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.