Will Ruth Negga be the first Irish woman to take home an Oscar for Best Actress?
Limerick's Ruth Negga could make history by becoming the first Irish woman to scoop Best Actress award.
Will Ruth Negga become the first Irish woman to win Best Actress? Will Natalie Portman go into labour on the night? Will vocal anti-Trump campaigner Meryl Streep (nominated for Best Actress in Florence Foster Jenkins) come to blows with Mel Gibson (nominated for Best Director in Hacksaw Ridge) who is rumoured to be a Trump supporter? Will The Donald himself loom larger than any of the stars in the Dolby Theatre - the mogul-turned-president with the personal plot-twist even Hollywood itself could never have conceived?
With seven days and counting left until the 89th Academy Awards, Hollywood is currently a town freighted with as much uncertainty, anxiety, hubris and hope as the White House press briefing room.
For us, watching from across the Atlantic, much of our hope takes the delicate shape of Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga, otherwise known as Rosie from Love/Hate, who is up for Best Actress for her role in the film Loving. To Tinseltown, she has sprung from obscurity to rise to the heart of the showbiz establishment overnight. To us, the 35-year-old actress is almost a national treasure.
She spent the early years of her career navigating the worlds of Irish stage and screen with barely a bum note to her name, before breaking the UK in Misfits and then, later, taking the title role in the acclaimed TV movie Shirley about Shirley Bassey. She's been going out with actor Dominic Cooper for over six years and they remain a low-key celebrity couple, sometimes snapped mooching around north London in runners and hoodies, looking like they are halfway through a sneaky Tuesday afternoon Netflix binge at home. They rarely attend events together, so it's anyone's guess whether he'll be on her arm on the night.
But aside from Ruth, we have other stakes in the game next Sunday. Costume designer Consolata Boyle is possibly the biggest Irish Hollywood insider you've never heard of. After graduating from UCD, she trained in costume and set design at the Abbey, broke Ireland on films such as The Snapper, The Van and Into The West. Her designs for The Queen won her nominations at the BAFTAs and the Oscars.
This year, she's up for Florence Foster Jenkins, her project with long-time collaborator Stephen Frears. The witty, outlandish, period film looks like it was a dream to design for. But Boyle has tough competition this year. Jackie, starring Natalie Portman is favourite to scoop the Best Costume Design gong for costume designer Madeline Fontaine. If those two ladies remain empty handed, our final hope is a lobster. Or rather, The Lobster. Irish production company Element Pictures have had a spot at the Academy Awards for two years running now. In 2016, they were nominated for four awards and brought home a gong, Best Actress for Brie Larson in Room.
This year, the company will be represented again, for The Lobster, which they co-produced and which was filmed on location in Ireland, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. A surrealist love story, the offbeat indie movie was a surprise box-office hit. Can it add an Academy Award to its achievements? The film's writing team, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, are in the running for Best Original Screenplay.
Whether any of the Irish hopefuls will triumph on the night remains, of course, to be seen. So what do we know about Oscars 2017?
Well, all nominees will take home a luxury goody bag worth $232,000, which includes a six-day holiday in Hawaii, weight loss supplements, and sessions with a celebrity personal trainer. The downside? The eye-watering value of the gifts means that they are taxable, so those nominees who accept them will likely also be gifted a hefty bill from the IRS.
Justin Timberlake will sing and dance. Leonardo DiCaprio, himself a winner in 2016, will present an award. As will Samuel L Jackson, and the Mexican actor and former activist Gael Garcia Bernal.
There will be more ethnic diversity than in 2016. Following sharply from the #oscarssowhite controversy, which marred last year's event after the academy was accused of voter prejudice after not a single actor of colour was nominated in the lead and supporting actor categories, this year seven of the 20 actors, including our own Ruth are non-white. And the choice of presenters is also more representative. After all, how can Hollywood claim to be the epicentre of liberal dissent in Trump's America, unless it leads by example.
After the well-received performance of last year's presenter, Chris Rock, this year talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel will take on the role. Kimmel was announced in December after a long delay. "I'm always on the short list," Kimmel said in the run-up to the announcement. "Maybe they do that just so I don't feel bad about myself, but I never felt that there was any real, serious consideration. If asked, I would do it." He did, however, accept that the job is a poisoned chalice. "That's not to say I wouldn't immediately regret saying 'yes', as I do with almost everything I agree to. The Oscars really do seem like a no-win situation, but in a way that makes you want to win.
''It's a challenge, and nobody's ever happy with the host."
As a Hollywood insider who used to date Sarah Silverman, and who regularly rubs shoulders with many of the folks who will be filling up the Dolby Theatre on his show, Kimmel is largely considered a "safe pair of hands". He already proved his chops, hosting the Emmy Awards last year. Oh, and on top of his presenting talents, he's also chivalrously offered to step in if the heavily pregnant Natalie Portman (nominated for her portrayal of Jackie Onassis in Jackie) finds herself particularly in need of a safe pair of hands on the night.
"Of course, we don't want this to happen," Kimmel (whose own wife Molly McNearney is currently pregnant with their second baby) told her on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! "but if you should go into labour during the Oscar broadcast, I want you to know that as host, I am prepared to deliver the child".
That certainly would be appointment-to-view television. Whether or not she goes home with a new baby, most pundits believe that Portman is a shoo-in for the Best Actress gong. The bookies' favourite for Best Actor is Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea). And the safest bet of the night? La La Land. The musical, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, looks set to clean up - it's currently the hot tip for wins in the coveted Best Director and Best Picture categories.
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