The Awardist podcast: Oscar controversies, final predictions, and Kevin Feige

Voting is underway for the 91st Academy Awards, the ceremony is just over a week away, and the drama is at a fever pitch.

First, there was the Kevin Hart hosting controversy, then the flap over which nominees for Best Original Song would be performed, then questions about who would be presenting, and then the back-and-forth over handing out some Oscars during commercial breaks — and that’s just the behind-the-scenes stuff. At the same time, the race for Best Picture seems as wide open as it’s been in years, with contenders including the lush black-and-white drama Roma, the superhero smash Black Panther, the controversial racial dramedy Green Book, and the crowd-pleasing musical romance A Star Is Born.

Here to make sense of the Oscar landscape is the latest episode of EW’s The Awardist podcast, hosted by EW digital director Shana Naomi Krochmal. This week, Shana is joined by EW deputy editor Bill Keith and EW senior writer Piya Sinha-Roy to get in some last looks, make one final set of bold predictions about what will happen and who will win, and take a look back at the people who get the very last word on Hollywood’s biggest night: the producers who accept the award for Best Picture.

Plus, Piya talks to Roma producer and Alfonso Cuarón whisperer Gabriela Rodriguez, and EW’s Anthony Breznican asks Marvel chief Kevin Feige who will get the mic if Black Panther wins the top prize.

The Awardist podcast is part of EW’s comprehensive awards coverage, online and in the magazine. Listen to the full discussion below, or on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Even NBA All-Star Game Can’t Escape Latest Twist in Ongoing Anthony Davis Saga

General manager of the New Orleans Pelicans Dell Demps, second from left, presents the All Star Game jersey to forward Anthony Davis, right, before an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Jazz won 127-94. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Max Becherer/Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — In the second year of scheduling the NBA trade deadline before All-Star Weekend, the expectations were that transactional distractions would not overshadow the league’s marquee event.

Anthony Davis’ pre-deadline trade demand created an interesting precedent. Could the league hold its signature All-Star festivities without Davis’ desire to be traded to the Lakers getting in the way?

Yeah right. 

Saturday at the NBA All-Star media availability, all eyes shifted again to Davis, who was asked in a very public setting about his preferred trade destinations: Lakers, Knicks, Clippers, BucksOh and the Celtics, too. 

Wait, since when?

“I never said Boston wasn’t on my list,” Davis told reporters Saturday.

This, just a day after the Pelicans fired GM Dell Demps. So much for limiting the collateral damage.

“The timing’s odd,” a Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report. “I think [Demps] handled it well in terms of just being patient. I think the majority of us in front offices thought he did the right thing. There was no rush.”

Indeed, why should Demps have rushed to trade Davis to the Lakers when, in a few short months, the Celtics could come calling with an offer flush with draft picks, plus possibly Jayson Tatum?

Now it’s clearer than ever that’s a viable option. Demps could have also better bargained with the Knicks, who in July could come calling with, perhaps, No. 1 pick Zion Williamson and other assets?

“For them to fire him at this time is interesting,” the Western Conference exec said. “I guess they got frustrated with the way things were handled and the fact that he walked out of the arena.”

Turns out, the last straw for Temps’ tenure in New Orleans came Thursday night, when Davis hurt his shoulder in a collision and came out of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He then went to a local hospital for an MRI with his agent, which infuriated Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Benson fired Demps on Friday and installed former Hawks and Cavs GM Danny Ferry as his interim replacement. The team will hire a search firm to find a permanent replacement, league sources confirmed to B/R.

“As Alvin [Gentry, the Pelicans coach] put it, it’s a dumpster fire,” a prominent agent in the league told B/R. “It had to be the last straw, because obviously they had been thinking about firing him. You don’t fire someone over that incident alone.”

So to recap: Demps didn’t cave to the power play from James, Davis and their common agent to get the Pelicans’ All-Star shipped to the Lakers. And the Pelicans and Lakers have both suffered as a result, as half of James’ teammates have been dealing with hard feelings from seeing their names floated in trade possibilities.

Davis—whose status for the rest of the season was already a question mark—left the arena Thursday night to be examined outside the team’s medical protocols. And the next day, the GM was fired.

So much for off-court storylines no longer overshadowing All-Star Weekend.

“You can’t let agents dictate the law of the land right now; this is crazy,” the Western Conference exec said. “If [Demps] would’ve caved on that, you would’ve seen more of the top agents doing the power play. And that would be a big issue in our league.”

During Demps’ tenure, which began with the 2010-11 season, New Orleans made the playoffs three times and won one series. In 2014-15, then-coach Monty Williams was issued a playoff mandate with a team that hadn’t won more than 34 games in any of the past three seasons.

The Pelicans won 45 games, made the playoffs and got swept by the eventual champion Warriors in the first round. Demps fired Williams after the season anyway in a move that may well have doomed him and the franchise going forward.

On the flip side of that argument, Demps needed to be more creative than he was in putting winning pieces around Davis for the limited time that he had such a superstar on his roster. He wasn’t able to.

Despite the additions of Elfrid Payton (far left) and Julius Randle, GM Dell Demps saw the Pelicans parlay a 4-0 start dissolve in to a 26-33 mark by the All-Star break.

Despite the additions of Elfrid Payton (far left) and Julius Randle, GM Dell Demps saw the Pelicans parlay a 4-0 start dissolve in to a 26-33 mark by the All-Star break.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

“With small-market teams, you’ve got to be real creative,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “You’re not going to get the big stars [in free agency]. Your job was to get that team good now with him. Guys make all this money, but they want to win championships. They want to win now. AD sees LeBron and Kevin Durant moving around and winning championships, and he says, ‘I want to do that too.’”

The general consensus among rival front-office executives who spoke with B/R is that Demps was well-liked and tried to do the right thing. The general consensus also was a sense of surprise that Demps lasted as long as he did in the job.


Rachel Nichols, host of ESPN’s “The Jump,” chats with Howard Beck about the All-Star Game, the latest twists in the drama surrounding LeBron James and how small market teams can avoid the same fate as the Pelicans.


While no one could fault Demps for bringing in Jrue Holiday in 2013, the Pelicans also made their share of curious moves. Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore are capable complementary pieces, but when they help clog your cap without advancing your playoff hopes significantly, that’s a problem. Demps proved capable of building a playoff contender, but that only gets you to trade demands when free agency is visible in the distance. 

“My first reaction was, ‘What took so long?’” one agent said.

But that’s beside the point. The question other agents and executives have to ask themselves is, “What do we do about the growing perceived power of Paul and his Klutch Sports Group?” And the question the NBA has to ask itself is, “Has player power grown to the point where we can no longer keep it from ruining our sacred All-Star Weekend and interfering with our sport?”

On the latter point, the evidence is already in.

   

Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA.

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Karl Marx monument vandalised again

Karl Marx GraveImage copyright
PA

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Karl Marx’s memorial in Highgate Cemetery has been vandalised for the second time in two weeks

Karl Marx’s memorial in north London has been vandalised for the second time in two weeks.

The words “Doctrine of Hate” and “Architect of Genocide” are scrawled in red on the Grade I-listed grave in Highgate Cemetery.

This latest incident follows a “deliberate and sustained” hammer attack on 4 February that left the memorial badly damaged.

There have been no arrests in connection with either attack.

Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust said the German philosopher’s memorial would “never be the same again” following the previous attack.

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Maxwell Blowfield/PA

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The words “Doctrine of Hate”, “Architect of Genocide” and “Memorial to Bolshevik holocaust” were painted in red on the memorial

Maxwell Blowfield, from the British Museum, said he was “quite shocked” to see the most recent act of vandalism when he visited the cemetery earlier with his mother.

The 31-year-old said it was particularly sad because tourists regularly visited the site.

“It’s a highlight of the cemetery”.

“It’s a shame. The red paint will disappear, I assume, but to see that kind of level of damage and to see it happen twice, it’s not good,” he continued.

“I am just surprised that somebody in 2019 feels they need to [go] and do something like that.”

Image copyright
Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust

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The marble plaque on the memorial was attacked with a hammer on 4 February

In 1970 a pipe bomb blew up part of the plaque’s marble face, that was first used for Marx’s wife Jenny von Westphalen in 1881.

The plaque was subsequently moved when both Marx and his wife were exhumed and moved to a more prominent location within the cemetery in 1954.

It has also been covered in Swastikas and emulsion paint has been thrown at it, in the past.

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Antonio Brown Rumors: Steelers Planned to Deal WR Before Trade Request

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) warms up before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Antonio Brown‘s trade request earlier this week did not catch the Pittsburgh Steelers off guard.

Per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers had already determined they were going to explore trade possibilities for their disgruntled wide receiver.

Brown’s trade request came after he posted a cryptic message on Twitter, thanking Steelers fans for their support over the past nine seasons:

The saga involving the Steelers and Brown seemingly began leading up to a Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown refused to practice following a dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was benched for the game, per Bouchette and Gerry Dulac.

Steelers president Art Rooney II told Dulac last month it would be “hard to envision” Brown returning to the team next season.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Brown will meet with Rooney in person to discuss the situation.

If the Steelers do trade Brown, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler cited one NFL general manager who said the team would likely want a first-round draft pick in return.

Brown, 30, has the highest cap hit among wide receivers for 2019 ($22.2 million), per Over the Cap. He remains one of the most productive players in the NFL.

Last season marked the sixth straight year in which Brown recorded more than 100 receptions and 1,200 yards. He also led the league and set a career high with 15 touchdown receptions.

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Nine rescued from flooded Zimbabwe mine

A man being dragged out of a mine by many rescuersImage copyright
Reuters

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The men are reported to have had water up to their necks while they waited in hope of rescuers

Nine illegal miners have been rescued from a gold mine in Zimbabwe days after a burst dam flooded two shafts.

They are reported to have survived by finding higher ground and waiting while up to their necks in water.

Dozens are feared to have died 40m (130ft) underground since the accident happened on Tuesday night.

The government has declared the accident near the town of Kadoma, south-west of the capital Harare, a national disaster.

Miners say those trapped are mostly under the age of 24.

A video taken by a Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation reporter showed a rescue team cranking a cable system by hand to pull one of the men out, tied to a rescuer.

Hopes for the missing miners had waned during the four days since flooding started, as rescuers had to pump out large amounts of water, slowing their progress.

“We are yet to assess and find any more people down there who are still alive,” government deputy chief mining engineer Tapererwa Paswavaviri told reporters.

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Reuters

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Nine people were pulled from the mine

The company that owns one of the mines, Rio Zimbabwe, says people entered the shafts illegally to look for gold. Illegal mining accounts for a large part of the country’s gold output.

Heavy rains on Tuesday night then destroyed a dam upstream and caused flooding in the soft ground.

Anxious family members at the scene became frustrated with the slow pace, with one telling Reuters news agency that it was “so painful” to see many rescue workers present but no successful rescues.

Previous mine disasters in other parts of Africa have cost the lives of numerous unauthorised miners.

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Reuters

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The miners had entered the shafts illegally to look for gold

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Reuters

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Some mine entrances were completely flooded

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Reuters

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Rescuers built wooden platforms over unstable and muddy entrances

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EPA

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Family members and other female locals watched the rescue effort

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Payless will begin to shutter its US stores Sunday

Payless ShoeSource will begin to close its U.S. stores on Sunday, a spokesperson told CNBC in a statement, as the shoe retailer prepares for what could be another bankruptcy filing.

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The retailer will begin liquidation sales for its U.S. stores on Feb 17. It is also winding down its e-commerce operations. It expects all stores to remain open until at least the end of March and the majority until May.

CNBC previously reported the chain was preparing for a potentially imminent bankruptcy. In hopes of keeping some stores open, it had been seeking a buyer for swaths of its domestic real estate.

Founded in in 1956 in Topeka, Kansas, Payless has more than 2,700 North American stores, according to its website. The liquidation will not impact its franchised or Latin American stores, the spokesperson said.

Payless, which first filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2017, had been notable for its ability to emerge from complete financial collapse. That feat has escaped many other retailers, like Toys R US, which shuttered over a year ago.

During its four-month stint in bankruptcy, Payless eliminated nearly 700 stores. It blamed its initial bankruptcy on “antiquated” inventory management and port strikes in the West Coast that delayed its shipments before the crucial Easter holidays, and ultimately let to a glut of off-season shoes.

The retailer promised that, upon its reemergence, it would lean on its strong brand name in the U.S. and growth in Latin America. It was then the region’s largest specialty footwear retailer, according to court documents.

Much of its initial debt stemmed from the roughly $2 billion sale of its former parent, Collective Brands Inc Wolverine World Wide and private equity firms Blum and Golden Gate. Blum and Golden Gate held on to Payless, while Wolverine took control over Collective’s other brands, like Sperry Top-Sider, Stride Rite and Keds.

Yet like several of its peers that filed for bankruptcy over the past several years, Payless has found its stay out of court protection challenging. Retailers like Gymboree have emerged from bankruptcy in recent years, only to boomerang back.

The retail industry continues to be in a state of upheaval, as shoppers head online and demand more out of their shopping experience. The changes benefit giants like Walmart with scale or smaller, local shops − but leave those in the middle squeezed. Larger retailers have the resources to invest in supply chain and online capabilities, while local retailers can cater to regional tastes.

Payless, in particular, has faced competition from larger competitors like T.J. Max parent TJX Companies, which has a market-capitalization of $62 billion and shoe retailer DSW, which has a market capitalization of $2.2 billion.

Credit ratings agency S&P in February noted earlier this month Payless faced the “potential for continued supply chain issues, intensified competition, and lower store traffic.”

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The Biggest NFL Combine Snubs of 2019

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    Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

    The NFL Scouting Combine doesn’t always get it right. 

    Now the biggest stopping point ahead of the draft and a big reason the draft itself is a year-round process, the combine sent out invites to more than 300 players again this year. 

    And once again, the process missed several deserving candidates. 

    A year ago, the same process unfolded. Someone notable like P.J. Hall didn’t receive an invite and turned around and got drafted in the second round by the Oakland Raiders anyway. Ditto for Atlanta Falcons fourth-round pick Ito Smith, who went on to rush for four scores. 

    Granted, more misses than hits will pop up in the snubs section, and with so many prospects entering the league this year, it is hard for the combine to fit everyone onto the list. 

    But the following guys are this year’s most notable snubs. Keep in mind this list will omit anyone not invited due to past off-field incidents and focus strictly on the football itself. 

          

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    Given the combine stands as a chance for lesser-known players to improve their stock and seems to love the chance for wow-worthy athletic performances, it is odd to see Cincinnati’s Cortez Broughton omitted from the invite list. 

    A “smaller” defensive tackle at 6’2″ and 290 pounds, Broughton erupted for 7.5 sacks last season while disrupting opposing offenses from the middle of his defensive line. 

    Broughton was good enough to get an invite to Shrine Week, where he predictably stood out in an all-star environment of sorts, showing well in drills and practice. Almost predictably, he was the first player to register a tackle for loss in the game. 

    The depth of the defensive line in this draft class appears huge, to say the least. But Broughton put on the first great season of his career this past year and hints at immense upside, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see NFL teams end up valuing him quite a bit more on draft day than the combine selection process did. 

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Khalil Hodge is already a consensus solid linebacker prospect in a class somewhat weak at the position. 

    Unfortunately, the combine invite process doesn’t seem to agree right now, which is odd seeing as Hodge is the type of prospect who most needs a chance to prove himself among the best of the best after spending his playing days in the MAC. 

    It goes beyond that, too, seeing as Hodge only checks in at 6’1″ and 235 pounds. Yet the supposed “undersized” tag and level of competition didn’t prevent him from standing out in a massive way and would help to explain the Shrine Week invite and public meet with at least two interested teams

    At a time when the NFL seems to be shifted toward smaller linebackers to better cover the vast array of weapons offenses deploy, Hodge deserved a chance to show what he can do. The omission leaves him with only a pro day and team meets to leave an impression on teams. 

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Wideout is another position where depth will create some notable whiffs. 

    Anthony Ratliff-Williams out of North Carolina is a prime example. 

    Ratliff-Williams was a stud in the wake of Mitchell Trubisky’s departure, averaging 18 yards per catch with six touchdowns in 2017. While the football program as a whole was in a dire state, it was clear he still played big-time football in a solid conference and has a ton of traits pro teams will like. 

    In other words, this one is a big oversight in large part because the Tar Heels weren’t making a ton of noise last year. Listed at 6’1″ and 205 pounds, Ratliff-Williams has ideal size and speed that holds up on film. He even showed an ability to go up and get the jump balls, hence the large average. 

    As hinted with other prospects here, Ratliff-Williams is one of those who will have to find his stock-bumping chances at pro days and workouts. He assuredly will, and NFL teams are bound to be higher on him than those in charge of the combine. 

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    Andres Leighton/Associated Press

    At wideout, a Penny Hart omission makes a little more sense. 

    After all, Hart spent his days playing at Georgia State. But even then, it’s hard to scoff at a pair of 1,000-yard seasons with eight touchdowns in each over four years. 

    Which isn’t to suggest the combine has much of an excuse, either. Hart went on to tear up the Senior Bowl, prompting praise like this from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: “Hart’s been really explosive at the top of his route. He’s very undersized (5-foot-8, 180 pounds), but he’s going to have a role at the next level as a fly-sweep guy who can produce out of the slot. He’s been tough to cover this week. Shawn Elliott, his head coach at Georgia State, told me Hart’s the most competitive player he’s ever coached, which speaks well for him.”

    With the way NFL offenses keep innovating, Hart finding a home and impacting games at the next level isn’t out of the question. Someone recent like Tarik Cohen in Chicago has shown how creative minds can put certain talents to use. 

    An explosive player who would have torn up the combine numbers, Hart has enough going for him on film and other draft events that he didn’t overly need the stage of the combine for NFL teams to be thinking about him. 

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Physical standouts like Donald Parham don’t come around often. 

    While he might have played against iffy competition as a member of the Stetson Hatters, Parham checks in at 6’8″ and 240 pounds, making him an obvious possible upside fit at the next level as a developmental big-play artist. 

    Interestingly enough, Parham doesn’t have to be relegated to playing tight end either, not after telling The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak at the Senior Bowl he’s comfortable in a flex wideout role. 

    Parham’s Senior Bowl was cut short due to injury, but the measurements registered him as a big winner, and it is a little odd the NFL didn’t want to see more if he’s healthy for the combine. 

    At the least, he’s one of the more interesting draft-eligible players who could spend a few years developing at the next level. Seeing him tower over others at the combine would have been a good time. 

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    Andres Leighton/Associated Press

    A running back served as an example in the intro and likely could each year given the depth and devalued nature of the position these days. 

    On paper, Darwin Thompson could be the back who in hindsight makes those crafting the combine rosters smack their foreheads. 

    Over the course of one season at Utah State, Thompson put up 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns on a 6.8 per-carry average, catching another 23 passes with two scores in the process. 

    Another 5’8″ prospect who can excel in many roles and would have posted some of the best possible times at the combine, Thompson spent his post-transfer time excelling against quality competition and putting some impressive traits on film. 

    If the combine invitation process isn’t built on preseason grading, Thompson’s omission certainly suggests it could at least partially be. 

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    Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

    Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo is easily the biggest snub of the process. 

    Ozigbo spent three seasons playing in a rotational role before receiving 155 carries in 2018. All he did with the chances was rumble for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging seven yards per carry. There was some versatility in there as well, with him chipping in 23 catches. 

    At this point, Ozigbo’s omission seems like a clerical error more than anything else. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller listed him as one of the biggest surprises, and Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network said he was the best prospect he saw at Shrine Week practices. 

    A biggish back (6’0″, 225 pounds) with shifter-than-expected moves and good power, Ozigbo looks like a complete back who will come off the board in the middle rounds and could even have an impact right away in a rotation. 

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