(CNN) — The big question for the 88th Academy Awards can be reduced to five letters: WWCRD?
What Will Chris Rock Do?
The Oscars may be about pageantry, tedium and — oh, yeah — honoring the best cinematic efforts of the year, but this season, there’s been an addition to the usual niceties: #OscarsSoWhite.
You may remember it from last year.
This sequel was probably about as welcome as “Jack and Jill 2.” #OscarsSoWhite became a trending topic last year thanks to the lack of people of color among acting nominees. Two years in a row? The movie capital and its institutions probably hoped the issue would have gone away.
Instead, it’s earned more attention than ever.
Enter Rock, who’s hosting the show. He wasted no time in cracking a joke about the controversy on Twitter: “The #Oscars. The White BET Awards,” he wrote the day after nominations were announced.
Academy Awards show producer Reginald Hudlin said in January that Rock was rewriting his monologue, though a rep for Rock quickly said that the comedian had made “no decisions about the content of the show.”
“All will be revealed on February 28th. We will not comment further on this,” Rock’s publicist, Leslie Sloane, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Rock’s comedy is known for tackling societal issues head-on — and poking fun at sacred cows. Indeed, during his 2005 Oscar hosting gig, he showed how Hollywood was “out of touch” with a bit in which he interviewed African-American moviegoers, none of whom had seen the best picture nominees.
Motion Picture Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said she expected nothing less from him this year.
“We want him to (go there), obviously, because way before this, our selection of Chris was to bring some edge and some fun and some funny — intelligent funny — to the telecast,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “So we know he’s going to do that.”
Other celebrities, including Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee, chose a different tack. They’re not going to the ceremony. (Lee was careful to note he didn’t use the word “boycott.”) Lee’s snub is particularly pointed, as he received an honorary Oscar in November.
Still, Lee said Rock can do what he likes.
“Chris Rock is a grown-a man,” Lee told “Good Morning America.” “He’s just going to do what he wants to do, and I support either way.”
Who’s going to win?
Rock’s hosting may be the only surprise of what’s become a ceremony with few wild cards.
Oscar handicappers have kept a close eye on the nominees, and the major categories have their front-runners.
For best picture, it looks like “The Revenant” will take the big prize. The film about a vengeful 1820s trapper has earned good reviews, has had a strong showing at the box office and won the BAFTA for best film. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Directors Guild honor as best director.
But “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” are also strong possibilities. The latter, about the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story about sexual abuse among Catholic priests, was the front-runner for much of awards season, and its ensemble cast won the SAG Award.
“Revenant’s” Leonardo DiCaprio is practically guaranteed to win best actor, and “Room’s” Brie Larson is the leader in the best actress category.
Given his long career in film — celebrated with a standing ovation at the Golden Globes — Sylvester Stallone will likely win best supporting actor for “Creed,” in which he plays Rocky Balboa, the role that catapulted him to stardom. For best supporting actress, newcomer Alicia Vikander is the category leader for her performance in “The Danish Girl.”
If there’s another shoo-in among nominees, it’s in animated feature, where “Inside Out” will probably take home yet another Oscar for its creator, Pixar.
Even with Rock and 24 categories’ full of awards, the Oscars still have to fill the night. After all, as Johnny Carson once noted, the ceremony is “two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show.”
So what else can you expect?
There will be performances of three best song nominees by Lady Gaga (“‘Til It Happens to You”), Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall”) and the Weeknd (“Earned It”), though there are five songs nominated. (Sorry, “Manta Ray” and “Simple Song #3.”)
There will almost certainly be a splashy opening skit, an Oscar tradition since Billy Crystal hosted the show. Those sketches can be hit or miss, but any of them will be better than the infamous Rob Lowe-Snow White opening number.
There will be an “In Memoriam” sequence that the Internet, noticing a missing favorite, will complain about.
And there might be a protest or two, whether by a winner or by the orchestra, straining to play off an overly effusive trophy holder.
So looks like we’re counting on Rock to say something provocative. He should have no problem doing so.
The 88th Academy Awards will air Sunday from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. The red carpet begins at 7 p.m. ET, with the show to follow at 8:30. The show will air on ABC.