The 91st edition of the ceremony will air this Sunday, but might look different from previous years because the Academy is tweaking with its format. With no host and a shorter ceremony, what should we make of all the changes? Here's our arts critic Moira Macdonald's take on the situation.

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If you’ve been following the lead-up to this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, you just might have developed whiplash. The Oscars were presenting a “popular film” category for the first time — and then they weren’t. Kevin Hart was hosting — and then he wasn’t. It was hinted that only two of the five Best Song nominees would be performed during the ceremony — and then all five were announced (and then, changed to four). Plus, the Academy announced that it would air condensed and edited versions of four of the categories (cinematography, film editing, live action short and makeup/hairstyling) — and then, after an uproar, said “Never mind.” Who knows what else might change — or be reversed — before Sunday’s ceremony?

I’ve been watching the Oscars every winter for decades, ever since I was a kid and we’d have dinner in front of the TV for a special treat, and it’s always been the same. The ceremony is supposed to be three hours, and it creeps closer to four (sometimes longer! 2002’s snoozefest was nearly four-and-a-half hours). The banter is scripted and silly, the stage usually features weirdly malevolent-looking giant Oscars, and most of the acceptance speeches are the nervous intoning of a list of names. And I love it, every year; not because I hang on its pronouncements (it’s rare that the Academy and I agree on what the year’s best film really was), but because it’s comfortingly familiar, and because within that silliness always lie just a few moments of magic.

Which is why it’s curious that the Academy is once again trying to mess with the formula — and amusing that they didn’t get away with it. Making the Oscars a few minutes shorter won’t magically cause hordes of new viewers to materialize; those who love the Oscars will watch it regardless, and those who don’t, won’t. And those of us who love it, love it all, and not just in the major categories. Consider last year, when we watched the live-action-short winner signing her speech (the winning film, “The Silent Child,” was about a deaf 6-year-old), took in the warm standing ovation given to cinematographer Roger A. Deakins (who finally won for “Blade Runner 2049” on his 14th nomination), and enjoyed the debate as to whether winning makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji (“Darkest Hour”), in his acceptance speech, thanked either “Mike Katz” or “my cats.” (I think it was his cats. At least I hope it was. If I won I would thank my cat.)

This year’s ceremony will be unusual in that it will be host-less; as of press time, no one had been announced to replace Hart, so presumably the awards will be handed out by the usual revolving door of presenters. And maybe the time that gets saved from not having an introductory monologue can be saved by showing some montages of the gorgeous films of 2018, or giving an extra minute to those winners who are both eloquent and overwhelmed, or giving each nominee just a few more seconds to linger in the hope that maybe, this year, they just might win. Hope springs eternal on Oscar night — though I know, after all these years, that it’s more likely to just be an overstuffed mess. But for those of us who love the Oscars, it’s our mess. A mess, with just a few diamonds scattered in it, for those who care to look for them.

Predicting the results of said mess is a dangerous game, and one I don’t usually do well. (Though I am coming off a very good showing in 2018.) Nonetheless, here’s a quick look at what I think we might see in the main categories. Here are my predictions.

On Oscar night, I’ll be parked at a swanky local Oscars party, tweeting and sharing the scene — please join me on Twitter at @moiraverse, and watch seattletimes.com for a story Monday morning. Here’s hoping Oscar brings us a few magical surprises.

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