It’s time for the Oscars again!

For Tom Brook, one of BBC’s top arts and entertainment correspondents and the host of weekly movie news show Talking Movies, that means he’ll be busy brushing up on the key nominees of the 91st Academy Awards, happening tomorrow (Feb 25, 9am, Singapore time).

“I have to be prepared for the results and explain to the audience why a particular film has done well,” says Brook, 65, on the phone with 8 DAYS from New York, where he’s based. “I’m spending my time learning a lot of trivia right now. 

“I got all the information but I need to memorise it. Another thing [I need to get right is] the pronunciation of the names of the various people who are either nominees or connected to the films,” adds Brook.

Before flying off to LA, where the Oscars will be held at the Dolby Theatre, Brook shares with us his Oscar predictions, advice to aspiring entertainment journalists, and the secret to hosting Talking Movies for 20 years.  

Back in the day: Tom Brook has been the host of 'Talking Movies' since its 1999 debut. “It began as an experiment, a trial run of 13 episodes of this movie programme, which was not clearly defined in the mind of my bosses,” Brook recalls. “We went ahead with very little money and a few ideas to put together stories on topical movie matters, whether that be Hollywood films or independent films. It was really a team made up of me and one other producer, Laura Metzger, when it began. So it had very humble beginnings.”

8 DAYS: The organisers for this year’s Oscars can’t seem to get their act together. First, they wanted the Most Popular Film category. Then they’re going without a host after the Kevin Hart debacle. Just a few weeks before the show, they wanted to cut four categories from the TV broadcast, only to walk back on the idea.  

TOM BROOK:  I think what’s behind it all is ratings. They are desperate to get bigger ratings. Last year, in the US, just 26.5 million people tuned in to watch the Oscars and that was the lowest rating ever. 

They are trying to come up with ideas that will bring about an increase in the number of people who watch the programme. That’s why they introduced the Most Popular Film category. That’s why they move to have some categories presented during commercial breaks. 

But on each occasion when they come up with an idea, they are met with loud resistance and they had to backtrack and really give up on the idea they had. So I do think that the Academy is a bit adrift right now. 

That’s because they feel torn between [the pressure] to increase ratings and [the need to] maintain some kind of allegiance to the traditions of the Academy, which is obviously about the excellence on film, by producing a TV ceremony broadcast that reflects that.

Who do you think would make a good Oscar host?

They’ve given up on an idea for a host this year when they kinda messed up with Kevin Hart. I think it’s a very difficult job. You got to appeal to so many demographics. I quite like Jimmy Kimmel when he did it last year but he wasn’t popular with quite a lot of people. I thought he did a good job.

Would a hostless Oscar ceremony be just as entertaining?

It could be better in a way. Things might move on quite quickly. I read a story that Jimmy Kimmel gave an 18-minute monologue at the Oscars. He may be talented but it will be nice in a way to do without those long speeches, and just having it move from award to award to award.

They are going to have to do that, now that they are going to present all 24 categories during the television ceremony as opposed to relegating four of them to the commercial breaks. It’s going to be a packed show. They want to do it within three hours. I don’t see how they can do it within three hours, but I think without a host, they will be fine.

Black Panther is up for Best Picture, a first for a superhero movie. Do you think it’s a vanity nomination to lure in the viewers? Does it stand a chance to win Best Picture?

I don’t think it’s a vanity nomination at all. Black Panther displays great mastery of cinematic techniques — its visual effects and costume design were all magnificent. The acting is pretty good as well. Roma is, perhaps, in most people’s minds, the favourite to win the Oscar. But it’s an open race and conceivably Black Panther could win, even though it’s pretty unlikely.

Many people were disappointed that Crazy Rich Asians got snubbed. Is there a conspiracy theory to explain this shutout?

I don’t know any theory or conspiracy theory. The film was well-liked and it did do well at the box-office in the US. I just think the competition in the categories where it may have been eligible is very, very strong and so they lost out in that respect. 

Certainly, no conspiracy. It was a well-liked film. I think they are making a second film now, aren’t they? If there were any problems, they won’t be doing that.

What did you think of the movie?

I have mixed feelings about it. That kind of film is not necessarily my favourite genre. I like the two lead actors [Henry Golding and Constance Wu] a lot. I thought it gave a strange depiction of Singapore that seemed to be a little one-sided in a way.

The Academy has been lauded for pushing diversity and inclusivity, but when are they going to honour the stunt community with its own category?

I think there’s a resistance in the Academy in embracing cinema that is commercial in a way. The kind of category you’re talking about in that respect is like that. There will be resistance to doing that. That’s part of the resistance to shutting down the idea of doing the most popular film. I don’t think that’s likely to happen anytime soon.

The Academy also has mixed feelings about Roma, which is produced by Netflix. Is a movie less cinematic because it’s streamed online?

Netflix is a huge force in Hollywood now. It’s up-ending traditional Hollywood and it’s got studios on its defensive. It’s got members of the Academy on the defensive too. To some extent, they are alarmed by the power Netflix has and Netflix is going to do very well at the Oscars. 

It has poured more than US$25 million into the Oscar campaign and I think they will do well. You’re right. There is resistance because people have this idea — and Steven Spielberg is a big advocate of this — of cinema being an experience you have inside a darkened auditorium with a group of people. 

You watch a movie and you become enchanted by the magic of it all. I do think that is all good but in reality is, most people are watching movies nowadays on their television sets through streaming services, and you can’t really move away from that. You have to confront that. 

I think over time the Academy will change, especially if Roma wins Best Picture, which it stands a chance of doing. That would really make a statement that Netflix is here to stay and it’s made inroads into the traditional stomping ground of Hollywood studio movie-making.

What are your Oscar picks? Who’s going to win Best Picture?

I really like Roma. I thought it is a beautiful film, a personal story, a memory play by Alfonso Cuaron. It’s a look at how he remembers his childhood nanny and he made an epic story out of this woman. 

It doesn’t exactly sound like an epic story of a housemaid, but he filmed it as it was an epic, made up of little poignant moments in her life. Also in the film, he displays a great mastery of technique. The film looks brilliant. It’s in black-and-white, of course. But it’s beautifully composed — every shot, shot by him — in a magical way.

Best Director?

I think that would go to Alfonso Cuaron. I think Roma could win four trophies — Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Picture, and Best Director. I think that’s as much as it hopes to get, really. 

The Best Director will definitely go to Alfonso Cuaron, very gifted filmmaker. He’s won two Oscars before [for directing and editing Gravity]. He should win; he can do very different things — from a Harry Potter movie to Gravity to Roma. Really versatile, talented director.

Best Actor?

If you ask me a month ago, I would’ve said Christian Bale for his portrayal of former Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice. But I think it’s going to be Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody. He’s a young actor who really captured the spirit of Freddie Mercury, the frontman for the band Queen. 

And he brings the whole film to life. He was especially good during the live performances. It’s a film, even though it didn’t get very strong reviews, that’s really well-liked by a lot of people. It was a huge commercial success. I expect he will win.

And Best Actress?

I think that will go to Glenn Close because she is an industry veteran. She’s been nominated seven times. In fact, she holds the record for the most nominated actress without a win in Hollywood. 

I think people feel two things: one, her time has come — in other words, it’s time to reward her body of work — and her performance in The Wife, in which she did an incredibly good job.

Talking Movies celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Have you ever experienced career fatigue yet? 

I still feel enthusiastic about movies, I’ve seen quite a few bad movies during the last 20 years but there are enough good ones to inspire me and maintain my commitment to doing a good job reporting movies and just reaffirming my love for cinema. I’m still very much [in love] with the movies.

When we first spoke in 2006, I asked if you were keen to gather your industry knowledge into a book, but you haven’t found a suitable subject matter. Have you found one yet?

I like the idea of writing a book. I have a couple of things to say here, one is, it takes a bit of time and I’m very committed to doing the daily work I have to do as a journalist for Talking Movies and other BBC outlets. So that doesn’t leave me much time. 

The other thing is, I do feel passionate about my work and I’d noticed that at times when I am doing stories, I get really engaged. I haven’t yet come up with a subject for a book that I’m really passionate about. I could go ahead and write a book about cinema and covering cinema. 

But there are plenty of books like that out there. I would like to have something unique and interesting to say, something of value, so I’m holding off writing a book till it happens.

Do you have any advice for budding entertainment journalists out there?

One thing I would say is to be very focused on what you want to do and have a clear idea of your goal, work-wise, one that’s realistic and that you can hope to achieve. I think I also won’t be blinded by celebrities. 

Celebrities play an important part in all our lives but there’s a lot that goes on, especially in the film industry, which isn’t directly connected to celebrities that’s interesting, pertinent and relevant.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

Catch Talking Movies’ Oscar Preview on Mon (Feb 25), 3.30am, BBC World News (StarHub Ch 701), and the Oscar Review Special on Saturday (Mar 2), 8.30pm.

Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, 20th Century Fox, Shaw Organisation, Netflix, BBC World News

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