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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Academy Awards have gotten tons of press this year for things not going right, but there's reason to believe Sunday's show will be an all-around surprise.

The big picture: Ratings have been on the decline, there's no host and producers have taken grief for the show's 3+ hour runtime.

  • “We’re good! We’re good!” producer Donna Gigliotti told the AP yesterday. “Did we look like cadavers yesterday?”
  • “I think that the show is in very good shape,” Gigliotti said. “We feel good about the way it is flowing, looking (and) our presenters.”

Behind the intrigue:

  1. No host means more star cameos, including Barbra Streisand, Michael B. Jordan, Tina Fey, Charlize Theron and Michael Keaton, the AP notes. Expect cameos from Serena Williams, Rep. John Lewis and chef Jose Andres.
  2. And don't forget politics: Those celebrity cameos mean more opportunities for commentary on President Trump and the 2020 presidential election.
  3. There's a slew of historic nominations on the table, including "Black Panther" (first action movie nominated) vs. "Roma" (first Netflix film to get a nod) in the Best Picture race.
  4. And women have snagged a record-number of nominations this year, although Diane von Furstenberg lamented the lack of nods to female directors and cinematographers.

Between the lines:

  • This year's ratings should be better than expected because the pictures with the most nominations were box office gold, Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Axios' Sara Fischer.
  • "Black Panther," "A Star is Born" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" collectively pulled more than $1 billion in revenue at the box office.
  • "Many more people have seen this group of Oscar contenders than is typical in any given year."

P.S. "Will seven times be the charm for Glenn Close?" Variety asks.

  • "With this, her seventh nomination for a stunning turn as a long-suffering spouse in 'The Wife,' will Close finally get the recognition she deserves? Odds-makers say yes, but she faces stiff competition from Olivia Colman ('The Favourite') and Lady Gaga ('A Star is Born')."

Go deeper

Updated 20 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

1 hour ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."