Oscars 2022 Preview: Lively Music, The Godfather and James Bond Homages, and Plenty of Surprises

As Film Twitter is ready to consign Oscars 22 to the dustbin of failed Oscar shows, the creative team behind the March 27th Oscar telecast are promising a show that’s anything but ordinary. From sets that extend into the audience to a production mandate that’s all about keeping the kinetic energy flowing seamlessly through ever-changing stagecraft, producers Will Packer and Shayla Cowan took a Thursday press conference to set the stage for an event that’s leaning on populist appeal while attempting not to further piss off riled-up cinephiles. “We are going to keep surprising you,” said Packer.

Controversially, eight categories will be presented before the live broadcast and edited into the live show, a move that’s meant to help keep things moving by forgoing tracking shots of winners making the long walk from their seats to the stage.

“One of the misperceptions is that things are being taken off the show, that’s not the case,” Packer said. “Make no mistake, without a doubt, we’re going to make sure everybody has their moment. Because at the end of the day, it’s an entertaining show, we want to be celebratory and fun, but it is about celebrating the most talented people in the world and what they do.”

Music will be a big part of the night. So important, in fact, that press conference moderator Mike Muse enthusiastically offered this in his introductory remarks: “I love that tagline of ‘music lovers unite,’” he said.

It is, in fact, “movie lovers unite,” reminded Packer, who is relying heavily on unique musical moments, including performances by Reba McEntire, Billie Eilish, and Beyoncé, to draw viewers to the show. Heading that effort is music director Adam Blackstone, an A-list MD who just wowed audiences at one of the most-watched televised events of the year: The 2022 Super Bowl.

Packer gave Blackstone a mandate: “You’ve got to top that,” he said. He’s got his work cut out for him, after a halftime show that featured Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Mary J. Blige. For the Oscars, Blackstone has crafted a segment he’s calling the “all-star band,” featuring him, Grammy winner Robert Glasper, Travis Barker, Sheila E., and “some other surprise guests.”

“I come from the pop music world, hip-hop, pop, country, all of that, and I come from the stage,” he said.

Blackstone will also serve as one of the conductors of the orchestra, which will incorporate funk, hip-hop, and pop elements in addition to the expected classical flavors. And among the performances is the “Encanto” cast performing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the Disney film.

Packer, best known for mainstream films like “Girls Trip,” said his mandate was breaking the Oscars free from its stuffy, self-congratulatory reputation. “We didn’t want this show to just be for a specific audience. Sometimes this show has felt like ‘It’s just us, just Hollywood is invited, we don’t need you, you can come if you want to,’” Packer said. “This year we wanted to be a little bit more open in our embrace of the public.”

Production designer David Korins (Tony nominated for “Hamilton”) wants that embrace to be palpable. He called the set “a big, huge dynamic sculpture” that looks to the future. “The very first conversation we had, Will and Shayla said, ‘We want to have fun, we want this to move seamlessly from one act to the next,’” Korins said. “We wanted to put forth a community-first design, something that feels fun and electric and exciting. We are decking over large parts of the audience. We are showing a picture of the future that feels super exciting. Every single piece of scenery has a light inside, it glows from inside, because our vision of the future is light-emitting and hopeful.”

It’s a beautiful image, but that puts potentially unvaccinated presenters within spitting distance of the audience, a reminder of the Academy’s two-tiered COVID-19 rules. Everyone in the audience must be vaccinated and tested (twice), but presenters and performers can opt for multiple tests instead.

Other bits of entertainment will come from an embrace of films that are not nominated. There will be segments celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather,” the 60th birthday of Bond, and nods to some of the most popular movies of the last year. That will of course include the divisive decision to recognize the winners of Twitter popular movie polls, which was Packer and Cowan’s idea.

The team said surprises will be plentiful. No, you shouldn’t assume that the presenter of Best Picture has already been revealed in the roster that includes Tony Hawk as well as other more traditional Hollywood figures. But one thing will be done the old way: in a revert from last year’s procedure, Best Picture will be handed out last.

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