You would be forgiven for forgetting about the movies themselves.
“There’s a heightened political awareness and social volatility going on around us at the moment,” said Nell Minnow, a film critic and corporate governance expert. “The Oscars might be a reflection of that.”
“Artists and people across the industry realize that there’s an onus on them to say something to address the moment,” said Wendy Shanker, a writer who pens speeches for awards shows and charity events.
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“It’s not quite enough anymore to show up and say, ‘Thank you,'" Shanker said. "You have a national spotlight on you.”
“The Shape of Water,” a whimsical drama about a mute janitor who falls for a mutant fish-man, picked up a near-record 13 Oscar nominations and appeared to be a consensus favorite. But it came under scrutiny after a late playwright’s estate accused the filmmakers of ripping off a 1969 play.
The wave of bad press about both projects could clear the way for a dark horse winner like the satirical horror smash “Get Out,” the comedy-of-age comedy “Lady Bird” or the intense World War II epic “Dunkirk.”
“There is no one film that the academy has coalesced around,” Matthew Belloni, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, told NBC News. “Typically, people talk and the momentum gets behind one or two movies, and it becomes a showdown.”
But this year, “there are five movies that legitimately could win best picture, and each have their backers,” Belloni said.
In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, a social media movement that sprang up when no black, Latino or Asian-American actors were nominated in the four main acting categories in 2015 and 2016, the academy's president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, spearheaded a push for more diverse membership.
This year, those efforts appear to have started to pay off, according to analysts.
Jordan Peele, the writer and director of "Get Out," became the fifth black filmmaker to be nominated for best director — and only the third to direct a best picture nominee. Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of the semi-autobiographical "Lady Bird," became only the fifth woman to receive a best director nomination.
The Oscar voting pool now includes a greater number of young people, a fact that could help explain why traditional "Oscar bait" skewed to older viewers — like the Winston Churchill biopic "Darkest Hour" and the Pentagon Papers docudrama "The Post" — are seen as marginal contenders heading into Sunday night.
"This has been the biggest demographic change in the make-up of the academy ever," said Minnow, the film critic. "All the sudden, you don't have this voting bloc of older white men."
But for all the commotion surrounding the Oscars and the uncertainty in the best picture category, most of the other top prizes appear to be foregone conclusions.
Frances McDormand (best actress, "Three Billboards"), Gary Oldman (best actor, "Darkest Hour"), Allison Janney (best supporting actress, "I, Tonya") and Sam Rockwell (best supporting actor, "Three Billboards") are widely viewed as locks in the acting categories, according to pundits.