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Oscars 2019: 3 key storylines going into the unpredictable ceremony

The telecast caps off the bumpiest, most gaffe-prone awards season in years.
Image: Glenn Close in \"The Wife;\" Director of \"BlacKkKlansman\" Spike Lee; Rami Malek in \"Bohemian Rhapsody.\"
Glenn Close in "The Wife;" Director of "BlacKkKlansman" Spike Lee; Rami Malek in "Bohemian Rhapsody."Sony Pictures Classics / AP / Twentieth Century Fox

Anything could happen at the Oscars. It just snowed in Los Angeles, after all.

Hollywood, coming off the rockiest and most blunder-prone awards season in recent memory, heads into the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on ABC) without a best picture frontrunner and without a host.

The producers of the telecast have insisted everything is in "very good shape." But the stakes are high and the pressure is on. The film academy, rattled after last year's record-low ratings, needs to draw a bigger audience to stay relevant in an increasingly fractured media landscape.

In these final hours before the big show, here's a guide to some of the key storylines that might give shape to the most unpredictable Oscars in years. (We'll have live coverage throughout the night, so stick around.)

We've got 'The Favourite,' but no favorite

The fight for best picture is usually a two- or three-way race. But this year, all eight nominees for the top prize are in the mix. Variety has said we're in "uncharted territory."

Oscar oddsmakers favor Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white drama "Roma" and Peter Farrelly's road trip comedy "Green Book." And yet Spike Lee's docudrama "BlacKkKlansman," a fiery commentary on race in America, and Ryan Coogler's superhero smash "Black Panther," the big winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, ride into the show with late-breaking momentum.

The four other contenders have longer odds, but they could conceivably stage dark horse upsets.

The critically reviled Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody" triumphed at the box-office and nabbed a surprise best picture (drama) win at the Golden Globes. Bradley Cooper's musical melodrama "A Star Is Born" was a resounding commercial and critical hit, even if it has sputtered through much of awards season. The royalty farce "The Favourite" tied with "Roma" for the most nominations, and it carries art-house prestige.

"Vice," Adam McKay's takedown of Dick Cheney, probably has the slimmest chance to conquer the night. But a left-field victory for the divisive film would be a fitting climax for an anything-goes year.

A year of historic firsts — if the stars align

All eyes are on the king of streaming video, one of the godfathers of modern indie cinema, and a celebrated first-time actress.

Netflix could become the first streaming service to score Hollywood's most illustrious prize. The company has reportedly spent tens of millions on a splashy promotional campaign for "Roma." A best picture win would cement Netflix's disruptive muscle and taste-making power in an industry that fears the death of theatrical moviegoing. ("Roma" received a brief theatrical run, but it is principally a digital release.) Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical ode to 1970s Mexico City could also become the first foreign-language film to secure the top honor.

Spike Lee, who earned his first best director nomination for "BlacKkKlansman" after some 33 years behind the camera, could become the first black filmmaker to triumph in that category. Lee has scooped up two Peabodys, two Emmys, the Cannes Grand Prix and a 2015 honorary Oscar — but he has never won a competitive Academy Award. He's also nominated for best adapted screenplay this year.

Yalitza Aparicio, who plays a resilient domestic worker at the center of "Roma," is the first indigenous woman to land a best actress nod and only the second Mexican woman to be nominated in that category, after Salma Hayek. The best actress race is widely considered a race between seven-time nominee Glenn Close ("The Wife") and Lady Gaga ("A Star Is Born"), but Aparicio is sure to emerge as a breakout no matter what.

No host, no problem? Let's hope!

It's been a tough few months for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that puts on the show. It has stumbled into public relations crises over a series of controversial tweaks to the telecast, from an ill-fated new category for "achievement in popular film" to a nixed plan to air select acceptance speeches during commercial breaks. (Here's a timeline of all the controversies.)

But one of the most high-profile furors involved superstar comedian Kevin Hart, not the officials at the film academy. Hart, who was originally tapped to emcee the show for the first time, stepped aside after some of his old homophobic tweets resurfaced. In the end, the academy opted to move forward without an official host — the first time that has happened in 30 years.

How will the night play out without a big name to handle the monologue and pepper the ceremony with one-liners? ABC, the network that airs the telecast, has suggested the ceremony will largely revolved around a sprawling roster of A-list presenters — including Barbara Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Brie Larson, and "Crazy Rich Asians" stars Constance Wu and Awkwafina.

If it all works without a hitch, the Oscars will have averted disaster. The last time the Oscars went without a host, Rob Lowe and a first-time actress playing Snow White helped open the show with an over-the-top musical medley that lives on in YouTube infamy.