Entertainment & Arts

Oscars 2014: Reporter's diary

The movie world's biggest night of the year, the Academy Awards, has taken place in Los Angeles. The BBC's Tim Masters was backstage at the ceremony and gave his observations from the press room and beyond.

MONDAY 3 MARCH 09:15 PST / 17.15 GMT

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Could Meryl Streep be up for another prize at next year's ceremony?

It's all over for another year. It was great to see so many Brits clutching Oscar statuettes backstage.

With Hollywood returning to normal, if that's the word, some have started to prognosticate on what might be picking up the prizes in 2015.

The Hollywood Reporter has stuck its neck out and listed a few films with early buzz.

They include Tim Burton's Big Eyes, a drama about painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and wife Margaret (Amy Adams), and Into the Woods, an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

Also tipped are David Fincher's Gone Girl, based on the best-selling novel and starring Ben Affleck, and Unbroken, which sees Angelina Jolie direct the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

For now, though, it's time for this Oscar watcher to sign off. Thanks for reading!

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 21:25 PST / 05:25 GMT

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lupita Nyong'o said backstage she had received a lot of support from people in Kenya

Here's my backstage chat with 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o, who won best supporting actress.

BBC: You had a good luck message from the Kenyan president earlier this week. What reaction have you had in Kenya, and what message do you have for people there?

Lupita: "I know that my country has been extremely proud of me.

"I stumbled upon a big, big, big, like, good luck - I don't even know what to call it - but something at the Rugby Sevens in Las Vegas, and they created this big, big canvas saying thank you to me; and I stumbled upon it on Instagram.

"And that was just amazing to see all of these hundreds of people holding up this thing saying good luck to me, and so I know I mean a lot to my countrymen and I am so grateful for that kind of support from the entire world actually.

"That the entire world did not have a say in whether I got this or not, but the fact that I won in so many people's hearts, that is incredible, and I am so grateful for that."

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 21:10 PST / 05:10 GMT

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gravity's sound mixers (l-r) Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, and Chris Munro

Here's my backstage chat with Gravity sound mixers Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro.

BBC: Could each of you just tell me what winning this Oscar means to you either professionally or personally?

Skip Lievsay: "I guess it's sort of an amazing honour that says that you're doing some things right. And working with some fantastic people."

Niv Adiri: "And most of the time if we do our job right, nobody notices and then it's nice that finally we got a chance to show off a little bit and then contributed to the film and completed the drama."

Christopher Benstead: "To me it's that everything we've kind of worked for throughout our lives, the fruition of that has come to this point and it's unbelievable. We're just so grateful."

Chris Munro: "It's the Academy! It's the award for our industry. It's the top award. It's what we work for. And it's fantastic."

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 2100 PST / 05:00 GMT

Huge cheers in the press room as 12 Years a Slave gets best picture. Someone near me even shouted out the film's title before the envelope was opened.

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 20:40 PST / 04:40 GMT

Gravity sound editor Glenn Freemantle said the journey of Sandra Bullock's character was told via "heart beats, tinnitus and radio signals".

Gravity composer Steven Price told the BBC his love of music came from dancing around to Beatles records on the family record player at home.

He hopes his Oscar win will open the doors to working with other people who tell great stories like Gravity.

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 20:15 PST / 04:15 GMT

A few highlights from the winners' room:

Make-up and hair winners Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews (for Dallas Buyers Club) revealed they only met Jared Leto last week.

He was already in character as Rayon on set, and never came out of it during filming. He'd already waxed his entire body for the transgender role. They only had to do his eyebrows.

Morgan Neville, director of 20 Feet from Stardom, said: "I think we should change the name of the film to Stardom."

He admitted he had "the biggest goosebumps" when Darlene Love burst into song on stage.

Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron said: "Something we didn't say on stage is all of this is down to Sandra Bullock."

I also spoke to the Gravity sound mixers and best supporting actress winner Lupita Nyong'o, who told me she'd had so much support and love from people in Kenya.

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 19:15 / 03:15 GMT

Malcolm Clarke, director of The Lady in Number 6 talks about the passing of the film's subject Alice Herz Sommer aged 110 a week ago: "It's been a very rough surreal week celebrating and mourning our leading lady."

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 18:22 PST / 02:22 GMT

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jared Leto was the first award winner of the night

First into the press room was Jared Leto. He began by passing round his Oscar to the journalists to have a "fondle", as he put it.

"But if you have swine flu please don't touch it!"

Leto is a natural at this kind of thing - much of which must come from fronting his rock band 30 Seconds to Mars.

He said the Dolby Theatre would be a fairly small venue for the band and pointed out they had a gig planned in Ukraine later this month.

He ended his stint on stage by asking for the best question in the room. It was about which of his songs would be most appropriate for an Oscar win. He said Kings and Queens.

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 17:30 PST / 01:30 GMT

The show has started. Backstage the press is all fed and watered.

Ellen DeGeneres is making jokes about the recent rain in LA. I predict the show will have the same duration as The Wolf of Wall Street.

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 15:30 PST / 23:30 GMT

I'm now in the winners' room adjacent to the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars ceremony takes place.

Some 3,300 guests will be in the auditorium, while I'm among the several hundred members of the global press seated at rows upon rows of tables with laptops.

Here's how it works: we are all given a number on a large piece of yellow card - I'm 148 - which we have to hold up in the hope of being picked to ask a question.

The Oscar winners are brought in fairly rapidly after they've left the main stage to face a volley of questions. It's a busy few hours.

The dress code for the press is strict: black tie and posh frocks. I've never seen so many journalists looking so well-groomed as on Oscars night.

SUNDAY 2 MARCH 11:30 PST / 19:00 GMT

Image caption Final rehearsals for the red carpet are underway

Hollywood is in total lock-down. It sounds like a cheesy line from a movie, but it's true. The streets around the Dolby Theatre are cordoned off by police and there are helicopters buzzing overhead.

After making it through airport-style security, I took a walk along the 150m (500ft) red carpet and grabbed a few photos.

The carpet is uncovered now - under threatening skies - and thick with camera crews and presenters in rehearsal.

There are still a lot of people walking around with placards bearing famous names.

The real versions will be here soon.

Image caption Chiwetel Ejiofor's stand-in helps with the red carpet rehearsal

SATURDAY 1 MARCH 23:00 PST / 07:00 GMT

On the day before the Oscars there's just time to squeeze in two more awards ceremonies.

One is the Independent Spirit Awards, held in a massive tent on the beach in Santa Monica, which feels like a very laid-back dress rehearsal for the Academy Awards.

The other is the Razzies, a somewhat smaller and more amateurish affair in Hollywood with no stars whatsoever.

Both have their particular charms.

Image caption Cate Blanchett paused her press conference to watch the best actor announcement

This year's beach-side Spirit Awards had the additional excitement of storms forecast. The waves crashed ferociously nearby, as this year's nominees - many of them also up for Oscars - arrived in limousines.

This year's famous faces included Brad Pitt, Bruce Dern, Jared Leto, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

When I arrived in my modest cab, my driver somehow managed to get into the celebrity queue.

I had the unusual experience of being delivered to the top of the red carpet while handing over a fistful of dollars and asking for a receipt.

Cate Blanchett arrived behind me, so I slipped away to find the back entrance while she met fans for autographs and selfies.

A memorable moment involving Cate occurred later in the press tent.

She'd come in clutching her best female lead statuette ready to answer questions, but noticed the best male lead award was about to be announced on a TV screen.

So she asked for her own press conference to be delayed and stood silently at the front for some five minutes and watched as Matthew McConaughey made his acceptance speech.

It was a very simple and generous act of respect for a fellow actor's moment of glory and I took a photo to capture the moment.

Both Blanchett and McConaughey are likely to need to get working on another speech for Oscars night, if they haven't already.

And so to the Razzies, the Golden Raspberry Awards that celebrate the worst Hollywood has to offer.

Some say the joke isn't funny anymore, but the Razzies have the harmless feel of an am-dram production. It is quite funny to hear the excoriating reviews being read out in a dramatic fashion - often by two people at the same time.

This year the Razzies were in a new venue described as being "at spitting distance from the Hollywood sign".

As we checked in, the lady at the front desk said: "We're waiting for Adam Sandler and Johnny Depp."

Stars tend to avoid the Razzies (but I was there the year Sandra Bullock turned up and handed out All About Steve DVDs) .

The big winners this year were Movie 43 and Will and Jaden Smith's sci-fi turkey After Earth.

Razzies founder John Wilson told me after the show he does try to convince the "winners" to come.

"I don't know why they can't laugh but they don't want to. It's their loss."

What films did he predict might make the Razzie shortlists in 2015?

Wilson doesn't hesitate: "There seems to be a rebirth of sword and sandal movies - I've already seen The Legend of Hercules, which is hilarious and it's not supposed to be.

"There's never any real lack of material for us. On our website we run a forum and by the end of any given year there are anywhere from 50 to 85 films being discussed as potential contenders.

"So yes, there's lots of crap out there."

Next stop: the Oscars.

FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY 22:00 PST / 06:00 GMT

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption It may be difficult to keep the red carpet dry on the big night

What's it like having two Oscar nominations in the same category - and being up against yourself?

That's the rare position Chris Munro finds himself in. He's up for best sound mixing on Captain Phillips and Gravity.

I caught up with him at the Great British Film Reception in Los Angeles, where he was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dame Helen Mirren, Steve McQueen, Sally Hawkins and many of this year's British Oscar nominees.

Chris told me when he was first nominated at the 1999 Oscars for The Mummy, he didn't bother to prepare a speech.

"It was the year of The Matrix and I said to myself I'm not going to write a speech because The Matrix is going to win.

"But as it got nearer I got this feeling that I might win and I realised I had no idea what I was going to say. I went into a a panic and a cold sweat.

"And when they announced that The Matrix had won, I cheered.

"I must be the first person to cheer that I hadn't won an Oscar."

Chris has two speeches ready this year. Top tip: best to keep them in separate pockets.

FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY 12:00 PST / 20:00 GMT

Image caption Tim Masters gets up close to an Oscar statue on the red carpet

With my Oscar credentials collected (strictly no photographs allowed), I've taken my first steps onto this year's red carpet.

The place still feels like a construction site.

Electrical equipment is being installed by technicians with one eye on the clouds overhead.

Camera shots are being set up. I saw one crew member standing in front of the lens with a sign round her neck reading "Amy Adams".

Not much of the red carpet is visible yet. It's wrapped up in layers of plastic sheeting, but I can confirm it is a bit damp at the edges.

FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY 08:00 PST / 16:00 GMT

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption It isn't typical Oscars weather this year

Up early for a live local radio interview back to the UK. It's rather strange telling the people of flood-hit Berkshire about the flooded streets of Hollywood.

Normally the view from my window is palm trees swaying gently against a blue sky. This morning it's like a CGI scene from a disaster movie.

The TV channels are broadcasting a jarring mix of Oscar gossip and weather damage.

FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY 01:00 PST / 09:00 GMT

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Conan O'Brien: "Leave it to the Irish to give a film award to someone who has never been in a film."

How could the Oscars ceremony be improved? US talk show host Conan O'Brien has an idea.

"I think it should be about 20 minutes long and it should end in a big fight out in the parking lot."

O'Brien, who was being honoured at the annual Oscar Wilde awards in Santa Monica (see below), tips Gravity to win best picture.

"I liked all the floating around. We saw it in 3D, which was fun. I threw up six times but I've never enjoyed myself more."


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Philomena Lee (left) is played by Dame Judi Dench in the Steve Coogan-penned Philomena

At the start of February, Philomena Lee met the Pope at the Vatican.

Now she's back in Los Angeles, practising her technique for the Oscars on Sunday.

As part of her preparation, Philomena was on the green carpet at the ninth annual Oscar Wilde awards, which honour the Irish in film.

"I cant believe it," she said of having her life story, starring Dame Judi Dench, up for a best picture award.

"A few months ago I was just ordinary Mrs Gibson. I can't believe Philomena has taken off so well.

"The Americans have made us so welcome."

The Oscar Wilde awards took place at JJ Abrams' Bad Robot in Santa Monica. Abrams wasn't present, being away shooting the new Star Wars film.

Philomena, who lives in St Albans in the UK, was making her third visit to Los Angeles as part of the campaign trail for Philomena, which co-stars Steve Coogan.

She said she'd most enjoyed meeting stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and U2's Bono.

U2 will play their Oscar-nominated song Ordinary Love, from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, at Sunday's ceremony.

Philomena also revealed she would be wearing a Celtic ring that once belonged to her son, who was sent away for adoption in America as a small child.

He had died by the time Philomena discovered the truth about his life 50 years later.

"I'll be wearing Anthony's ring to the Oscars - my darling little Anthony," she said.

Also on the green carpet were up-and-coming British filmmakers Mark Gill and Baldwin Li.

The Manchester-based pair are nominated for best live action short film for The Voorman Problem, the story of a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) dealing with a prisoner (Tom Hollander) who is convinced he is a God.

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Media captionThe Voorman Problem stars Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander

Mark and Baldwin had just picked up their Oscar tickets and timings of the limousine that will carry them to the red carpet on Sunday.

Baldwin said: "Once the really big stars arrive they won't really be interested in us on the red carpet, so it pays to get there a bit early so we can talk to lovely people like the BBC."

Mark added: "They advise you to take snacks in because once you're sat down you're going to be there a while."

And the pair were cheerful over news reports of imminent rainstorms over Los Angeles.

Mark: "We've brought Manchester to Hollywood. That's what we've done. Hopefully it's a good sign for us."


What better way to start the day with an early morning walk up Runyon Canyon? Despite the clouds, the views of the Los Angeles sprawl were impressive, including the Hollywood sign on a neighbouring hill.

It seems smaller than you might expect, but it's a reassuring reminder that you're in the right place for the Oscars.

A little later, with the Californian sunshine now resuming normal service, I had a chance to meet Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron at the poolside of one of LA's exclusive hotels, where I asked him why science fiction never won the Oscar for best picture.

He made an observation about Gravity that might surprise some. But what could it mean for the Oscar race on Sunday?


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Workers roll out the red carpet during preparations for the 86th Annual Academy Awards

After several weeks of writing this diary from London, a quick update to say I've now arrived in Los Angeles.

And it's raining.

After a serious drought, California is bracing itself for weekend storms that will deliver the most significant downpours in almost three years.

The stretch of Hollywood Boulevard where the Oscars take place is closed to traffic, as the red carpet and spectator areas are set up amid tight security.

It's usually kept under cover until the big day, but the temporary roof will have its work cut out this week.

A little further down the road I dropped by at the Egyptian Theatre to catch some of the Toscars ceremony, which celebrates low-budget parodies of this year's Oscar hopefuls (see last diary entry).

An audience of several hundred gave each short film a rousing reception.

It was great to see Cavity on the big screen, and I was particularly impressed by the Nebraska spoof, the title and subject of which are best not repeated here.

But I can report it was, like its Oscar-nominated inspiration, in black and white.


Image copyright Handout
Image caption Laura Beth-Hill stars in Toscar nominated short film Cavity

This year's Oscar-nominated films have spawned a number of spoofs and parodies.

Earlier this week, a Cinefix video featured kids in wigs, moustaches and glasses re-enacting the likes of The Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips, American Hustle and Her.

Yes, they even have a crack at 12 Years a Slave.

And tonight the seventh annual "Toscars" take place at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre.

The event - run by British expats in Los Angeles - features low-budget parodies of this year's Oscar hopefuls.

All are written, shot and edited in three weeks. Last year's winner was Miserable Lesbians.

Among this year's wince-inducing titles are Cavity, British Hustle, Terminat-HER, The Fox of Wolf Street and Shaving Mr Hanks.

Star Trek Voyager star Tim Russ directed Cavity.

"I thought it was very funny, and the writers had pitched a lot of cool ideas," he tells me down the line from LA.

No need to explain which film Cavity parodies. But here's a clue: It opens with a dentist - in space.

Laura-Beth Hill plays Sandra, a hapless actress trying to get to an audition.

In scenes that cleverly mirror Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi thriller, she is forced to abandon her broken down car and seek refuge in a mobile toilet cubicle.

As well as using his own house as a location, Russ also shot part of the film on Hollywood Boulevard, where the Oscars red carpet is rolled out.

"We didn't have a full crew, just two or three of us, we basically just stole the shots on the street - you can do that in Los Angeles."

Although he directed Cavity, Russ doesn't rate Gravity's chances for best picture.

"Drama is typically what's given awards at the Oscars so I don't think it'll win. Her might have a really good shot - a single person carries the entire film."

He doesn't plan to watch the Oscars ceremony, and admits he is baffled at why The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker, missed out in the nominations.

"There have been awards shows in the past that have left a bad taste in my mouth.

"It's a promotion thing for studios. Maybe once in a blue moon you'll get an independent film, but typically its a huge studio movie with a lot of money behind it."

He adds: "I couldn't care a less about watching the Oscars, I'd rather watch the Toscars. At least everybody was equal at making these things."


Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known survivor of the Nazi Holocaust and an accomplished pianist, died in London at the age of 110, it was announced on Sunday.

Her death came a week before the Oscars, where a film about her life, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, is nominated for best documentary short.

Born into a Jewish family in Prague in 1903, Herz-Sommer spent two years in a Nazi concentration camp in Theresienstadt where prisoners were allowed to stage concerts.

On the film's website, she is quoted as saying: "I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion."

The film's British director Malcolm Clarke told the BBC that he had found it "extremely hard" to get Alice to speak about what happened in the camp.

"It was almost as if she didn't want to let negative memories into her life," he said. "But she did speak at some length about how important music was to her survival - in preserving her optimism and her sense of humour."

Clarke said Alice had memorised Chopin's Etudes and played them for her fellow prisoners in the concentration camp.

"That was one of her fondest and brightest memories. When she performed in front of starving, condemned and diseased prisoners it was a source of great pride for Alice to know that she had given people a little bit of spiritual sustenance and introduced a little bit of beauty into their lives literally days before they died."


Image copyright Dogwoof
Image caption A 'surreal' musical scene from The Act of Killing

Having won a Bafta on Sunday, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is now one of the frontrunners to win the Oscar for best documentary.

The film examines the hundreds of thousands of killings carried out in 1960s Indonesia in the name of fighting communism.

What gives the documentary a surreal edge is that Oppenheimer filmed the killers re-enacting their murders in the style of their favourite American movies.

Speaking shortly before his Bafta win, the Texas-born film-maker told me how his unusual approach to making the documentary evolved.

He initially spent two years filming the accounts of every perpetrator he could find.

"I found that every single one of them was open to boastfully recounting the grisly details of the killings, usually with smiles on their faces, often in front of their wives and children or even little grandchildren.

"The question in my mind was why are they boasting - and for whom?"

Oppenheimer noticed that the killers would often take him to the scene of the killings and demonstrate their methods.

So, through an "organic" process, they came to act out their murders on camera using different movie genres. Oppenheimer describes the result as "a documentary of the imagination".

The Act of Killing focuses on Anwar Congo, one of a group of "movie theatre gangsters" who operated out of cinemas in Medan, northern Sumatra.

Congo was the 41st perpetrator that Oppenheimer interviewed. "I lingered on him because I felt his pain was close to the surface."

Image copyright Dogwoof
Image caption Joshua Oppenheimer (right) with Anwar Congo (seen centre in the vehicle) during filming

Congo's gang, which had a reputation for violence, was recruited as a death squad by the army in 1965. Inspired by a mafia movie, Congo preferred to strangle his victims with wire.

In the film he describes how he loved Elvis films and would dance across the road from the cinema to his office to carry out the killings.

"Killing is something inherently traumatic," said Oppenheimer. "Very few species kill their own, and only human beings do so with such gusto and efficiency.

"When we need to kill, we need to somehow distance ourselves. For Anwar and his fellow movie theatre gangsters in Medan, it was cinema and acting that helped them distance themselves from the act of killing.

"Identifying with Elvis allowed Anwar to feel that he wasn't really there."

For their fictional scenes in the film, Congo and his friends wrote the scripts and played both themselves and their victims.

Oppenheimer recalled how Congo would watch the footage back and would insist on changing his hair or costume. "Gradually these more surreal and more absurd and grotesque dramatisations evolved."

But what was the psychological effect of shooting these scenes on Oppenheimer and his anonymous Indonesian co-director?

"It was a painful, but very meaningful, journey. There is a scene in the director's cut where Anwar shows how he may have killed a child by butchering a teddy bear.

"While I was filming that scene, I could hear that his microphone was rubbing and I called 'Cut', and Anwar noticed that I was crying.

"That was the first time in my life that I found myself crying without being aware of it.

"Maybe I'm lying to myself, but I've located that moment as the source of months of nightmares while making the film."

He said his anonymous Indonesian crew "never for a second let me forget why we were doing this, and who lit an otherwise very dark journey".

The film has been screened all over Indonesia and is also available for free download.

The global spotlight from the Oscar nomination has also brought reaction from the government, who said the country had been portrayed as "a cruel and lawless nation".

Image copyright DOGWOOF
Image caption The musical waterfall scene from The Act of Killing

Oppenheimer stays in touch with Anwar Congo but feels he is unable to return to Indonesia for safety reasons.

"When Anwar saw the film he was very moved by it and said, 'Josh, this film shows what it's like to be me.'

"I know this is a big year for him in the sense that he's suddenly in the spotlight as someone who has committed atrocities. That's a frightening place to be and I've wanted to see how he's coping.

"His physical safety is fine. He hasn't been scapegoated for making the film.

"We went through a very long and painful journey together. We care for each other. I'm thinking about him all the time because I'm travelling with the film."

Oppenheimer stressed that what his film demonstrates is what happens when killers win and write their own history.

"The killers we see clearly in the film don't have to recognise that what they've done was wrong. To save themselves from the tormenting effects of guilt they maintain the lies and the victors' histories that they've told to justify their actions.

"They do so not because they're monsters, but because they're human and they know what they've done is wrong."


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Anne Hathaway is the latest presenter to be announced

As in previous years, past victors are returning to present awards at this year's Oscars ceremony. Announced so far are Anne Hathaway, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jennifer Lawrence.

Hathaway won last year's supporting actress Oscar for her performance as Fantine in Les Miserables.

Day-Lewis made Oscars history by becoming the first to win the best actor prize three times for his title role in Lincoln.

And Lawrence took home the Oscar for her lead performance in Silver Linings Playbook. She's nominated this year for her supporting role as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle.

The scene-stealing turn won Lawrence a Bafta on Sunday night, giving her an important pre-Oscar boost as the final ballot takes place (14-25 Feb). Click here for my assessment of how the Bafta results might impact on the Oscars.


Image copyright AFP
Image caption U2 won a Golden Globe for Ordinary Love last month

UPDATE AT 16:00 GMT: Singer-songwriter Karen O will perform The Moon Song, from the Spike Jonze film Her, at the Oscars. The lead singer of the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs previously co-wrote original songs for the soundtrack of Jonze's 2009 film Where the Wild Things Are.

Oscars producers have confirmed what Bono revealed at the Oscars luncheon earlier this week.

U2 will perform their song Ordinary Love, which they wrote for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

It's nominated for best original song alongside Happy from Despicable Me 2, Let It Go from Frozen and The Moon Song from Her.

Show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron said the Oscars ceremony will be the first time U2 have performed the song live.

There's no shortage of music at the Oscars this year: Idina Menzel is already booked to perform Let it Go and Pharrell Williams will sing Happy.

A fifth song was originally nominated for an Oscar. But Alone Not Yet Alone was disqualified after its author emailed voters in a breach of the rules.


Image copyright AMPAS
Image caption Glitzy gathering: the nominees for this year's Oscars in Beverly Hills on Monday

It's the ultimate class photo. This year's Oscar nominees - more than 150 of them - gathered at a Beverly Hills hotel on Monday for luncheon and a lecture on keeping their speeches short.

The line-up includes A-listers, directors, writers, hairstylists and other talent behind the camera.

See if you can spot Bono (who's there thanks to U2's best song nomination) and fellow song nominee Pharrell Williams (look for the hat at the back).

Actors and actresses in the photo include Barkhad Abdi, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo Di Caprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong'o, and Meryl Streep.

Oscar show co-producer Craig Zadan told prospective winners to keep it tight on the big night.

"Please get to the stage quickly, really quickly,'' Zadan said. "The moment you reach the microphone, the timer begins and you will have 45 seconds to speak."

And he urged: "Words should be spoken from your heart, not from a list."


Image copyright AP
Image caption Jared Leto also fronts rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars

When I met Jared Leto last week, I asked him what feedback he'd had from the LGBT community about his role as transgender character Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.

"I've had a very vocal and supportive and loving feedback from that community," he told me. "I'm really glad that I've made people proud.

"People understand that I did my best to bring to life, not a caricature or a stereotype, but a real person."

Fast-forward a week.

Leto was reportedly heckled on Tuesday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival where he was being honoured for his breakthrough performance in 2013.

"Trans-misogyny does not deserve an award," said an unidentified woman, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

An exchange followed. "What do you mean by that?" Leto asked.

"You don't deserve an award for portraying a trans-woman, because you're a man."

"Because I'm a man, I don't deserve to play that part?" questioned Leto. "So you would hold a role against someone who happened to be gay or lesbian - they can't play a straight part?"

Leto's response apparently got a round of applause from the audience and he later met the heckler and her friend for a "cordial conversation" for about 15 minutes.

Image copyright Focus Features
Image caption Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

The actor and musician is up for best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of HIV positive Rayon. He's picked up several awards already.

When I asked him last week he how felt to be the frontrunner with his first Oscar nomination, he responded: "Dangerous position, right? Anything can happen.

"It's been a wonderful ride so far. I've won a Golden Globe and a SAG award and countless others that I never even knew existed.

"It's an amazing thing. I haven't made a film in six years and here I am talking about the Academy Awards. That's one the things that's so great about life, right?"


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pharrell Williams with Daft Punk at last month's Grammy Awards

Pharrell Williams is to perform his Oscar-nominated song Happy at the Oscars, organisers have announced.

The song, which Williams wrote and produced for Despicable Me 2, is nominated for original song alongside U2's Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; Let It Go, by Idina Menzel, from Frozen; and Karen O's The Moon Song from Her.

Williams was involved in two of the biggest-selling singles of 2013 - Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines and Get Lucky by Daft Punk.

The musician wore a show-stealing hat at the Grammys last month, where he had four wins, including producer of the year.

The hat even ended up with its own Twitter account (19,000 followers at the last count). But there's no word yet whether it will be making an appearance on Oscar night.


Image copyright AFP
Image caption Barkhad Abdi was named supporting actor of the year by London's critics

With the Oscars fewer than than four weeks away, some of this year's nominees attended the London Critics' Circle Awards on Sunday evening.

Among them was Barkhad Abdi, the Somali-born chauffeur-turned-actor who plays the pirate leader Muse in Captain Phillips.

On 16 January, when the Academy Awards shortlists were announced, Abdi tweeted three words: "Oscar nominated Actor".

He grins when I remind him. "Captain Phillips truly changed my life," he tells me. "Before, it was people I knew who would speak to me, and now it's people that don't know me!"

Up for best supporting actor, Abdi is the first Somali to get an Oscar nomination.

Having moved to Minneapolis in his teens, he's re-locating to Los Angeles where he is "hoping to get other parts".

What's remarkable is that this was Abdi's first film, and the somewhat more experienced Tom Hanks didn't get an Oscar nod.

"It was an honour working with Tom," Abdi says. "He always gets the best out of you."

'American hero'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Steve McQueen's film picked up three awards on the night

Meanwhile, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave was the big winner of the night, being named film of the year, and earning two acting prizes for Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o.

McQueen tells me his partner Bianca Stigter, who first brought Solomon Northup's memoir to his attention, was "very proud" of her part in bringing his story to the big screen.

"He's someone who was forgotten," says McQueen. "He's an American hero so to to put him back in the historical context where he should be, she's truly humbled by that."

'Political ripples'

One of the documentaries tipped for success at this year's Oscars is The Act of Killing, which explores the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s.

But it does so in an unconventional manner. Unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads re-enact some of their murders in the style of their favourite American movies.

"This was a surreal approach to the subject matter," says executive producer Andre Singer.

"It sounds like any good worthy documentary you can think of - genocide, Indonesia, 1960s and so on. You'd think 'I've heard that three million times before'.

"But you look at this material and you see these people who have done it, proud and boastful and re-enacting it - it's mind-boggling."

He tells me the success of the documentary is "causing major political ripples" in Indonesia.

One of its Indonesian co-directors remains "Anonymous" in the film's credits due to fear of reprisals.

"It will have to stay that way until the government changes," says Singer.

'Slightly surreal'

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Image caption Jeff Pope and his wife enjoyed star spotting at the Golden Globes

Jeff Pope, who co-wrote Philomena with Steve Coogan, admits he is trying to keep himself grounded during awards season.

"If you go into it thinking this could win us an award then that's the quickest way of falling flat on your face. We just concentrated on writing a simple story as well as we could."

With Philomena up for Baftas and Oscars, is he able to carry on much of a normal life?

"There is something slightly surreal. When my wife and I went out to the Golden Globes we couldn't stop ourselves looking round the room and seeing all those famous faces.

"I hope we've now got it all out of our system and we'll be less awestruck when we go to the Oscars and the Baftas."

'Small step... massive leap'

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Image caption Gravity's Tim Webber with his Oscar

Gravity's visual effects supremo Tim Webber uses a very apt expression when he describes his work on Alfonso Cuaron's 3D space thriller.

"Every visual effects movie takes a small step forward, but this as a massive leap forward," he says, echoing astronaut Neil Armstrong's words as he stepped onto the Moon's surface in 1969.

He points out that because of Gravity's contemporary setting, the effects had to stand up to close scrutiny from space experts.

"We did a lot of research along the way because we were worried about astronauts saying 'it's nothing like that'.

"Yes, they picked a few holes in it because we had to cheat in a few places, but on whole it was well received."

Webber, who already has an Oscar in his trophy cabinet for The Dark Knight five years ago, will find out on 2 March whether he'll have a matching pair.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Steve McQueen on screen during the Oscar nominations announcement

Could Steve McQueen's Oscar nomination signal a change in the way black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are represented in the UK's TV and film industry?

Lenny Henry thinks so. Speaking to me this week, the actor and comedian expanded on his recent comments that Britain's ethnic minorities need better access to the industry.

Asked about McQueen, Henry said: "However he does, for a black British creator to be nominated for an Oscar must signal some kind of sea change.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Henry got his own award this week from the UK Critics' Circle

"It must be a signal that, although it's 13-14% of the country, this BAME thing is powerful.

"In America the minority is bigger," he went on. Hugh Muir said in the Guardian the other day that it accounts for $1.1 trillion of the national spend, and then he compared it to the £300 billion that the BAME minority have to spend in this country.

"Let's take that spend around the park and see what it can do!"

Henry attended a round table held by culture minister Ed Vaizey last week to discuss the decline in the number of black and Asian people in the creative industries, from 7.4% in 2009 to 5.4% in 2012.

Now it's been announced that Henry will deliver the Bafta television lecture on 17 March, with a particular focus on the representation of BAME groups in front of and behind the camera. The lecture will be followed by a discussion chaired by Baroness Oona King.

"There's a golden circle of writers writing for the BBC and ITV and Sky," said Henry. "They are fantastic writers and I want to work with them.

"But if we had things like Play for Today, Armchair Theatre, Screen One and Two and Channel 4 shorts it would open the door to new writers. It would mean that people could say: 'Look, I had something on television and I can be one of that inner circle now.'

"If you don't have the slots, you'll always have that small group of people making that small group of dramas. We need to elbow our way in a bit, because the talent's there."

Henry acknowledged that programmes like Holby City, EastEnders and Casualty were good places to develop new writers. "I think that's happening, but it needs to happen quicker."


An update on the song Alone Yet Not Alone, from the little-seen film of the same name, which had been nominated for best original song alongside tracks from Despicable Me 2, Frozen, Her and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (see entry for Monday 27 January).

The song has been disqualified after it emerged that its composer, an ex-Academy governor, contacted voters.

Oscars: Best song nomination revoked


Image copyright AP
Image caption A poster at a recent exhibition at Farnsworth Museum, in Rockland, Maine

It's been announced that this year's Oscars will mark the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

The classic, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, was a best picture nominee at the 12th Academy Awards in 1940, but lost out to Gone With the Wind.

But it did win best original score and best song for Over the Rainbow.

"We are delighted to celebrate the birthday of one of the most beloved movies of all time at this year's Oscars," said Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.

They have already announced that the ceremony on 2 March will also be a celebration of movie heroes.


Image copyright AFP
Image caption On the big screen: the nine best picture nominees

With just over a month to go before the Oscars, pundits and bookies alike think that 12 Years a Slave remains the film to beat among the nine best picture nominees.

As Oscars analyst Scott Feinberg observes in The Hollywood Reporter: "It has what most of the others lack - namely, gravitas, social significance and relevance to the present day, plus the support of most of the key constituencies in the Academy (actors, directors, writers, film editors, etc.)"

And he thinks that as a result of its strong showing, Academy members who have so far resisted seeing the film for fear of being too disturbed by its content will "reconsider that position".

Gravity, says Feinberg, looks like the Life of Pi of this year: an effects-laden 3D film that will have a shot at winning best picture - although only two other films in the last 58 years (The Sound of Music and Titanic) have won best picture without a screenplay nod.

The best actor race looks set to be a scorcher this year. Bookies William Hill have made Dallas Buyers Club's Matthew McConaughey the favourite to win. He's 1/2 while Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) is 2/1.

12 Years a Slave is still expected to win best picture (and the most Oscars on the night), but the odds on American Hustle taking best picture have been trimmed.

California dreaming?

The Los Angeles Times notes that films shot in California barely registered in the Oscar contest.

Only one of the nine best picture nominees was actually filmed in the state, and that was Her, the Spike Jonze sci-fi drama about a man, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who falls in love with his computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

The other eight nominees were shot in other states and countries, including leading contenders Gravity (UK) American Hustle (Massachusetts), Captain Phillips (Massachusetts, Malta and Morocco) and Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave, both of which were filmed in Louisiana.

VFX protest?

Will there be protests on Oscar day? According to The Wrap, visual effects workers are planning a demonstration in Los Angeles in protest at foreign tax subsidies they say are destroying their industry.

The event is being billed as the "March in March" and will be tied to the Oscars.

Last year there were protests outside the Oscars by visual effects workers who were disgruntled at the state of their industry after Rhythm & Hues, the company behind the effects in Life of Pi, filed for bankruptcy.

The Wrap says the visual effects industry in California has been "decimated" as cities such Vancouver and London have begun to offer incentives that lure major projects outside of the US.

Not so alone

And eyebrows were raised when the song Alone Yet Not Alone, from the little-seen film of the same name, was nominated for best original song alongside tracks from Despicable Me 2, Frozen, Her and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

The song is by Bruce Broughton (a veteran composer and governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and Dennis Speigel and performed by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Broughton's first major film score, for the western Silverado, won him an Oscar nomination in 1986. His own website calls his latest nomination "a surprising pick, given the obscurity of this little-known, Christian Indie film".

Singer Joni Eareckson Tada told The Hollywood Reporter that she was surprised too. "I'm the least likely candidate to record a song for a movie, I'll tell you that up front, so it's amazing," she said.

"It's amazing enough that a family-friendly movie with a Christian theme is nominated in any category for an Academy Award. Besides The Blind Side, which was wonderful, it's just not the norm."

The winners will be revealed at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday 2 March at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

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