Movie News & Reviews

And the Oscar will go to: Spike Lee and this KU professor are favorites to win Sunday

University of Kansas film professor Kevin Willmott is up for his first Academy Award, and, most prognosticators say, he and his “BlacKkKlansman” co-writers are the favorites to win on Sunday.

The movie — the true story of an African-American policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s — was nominated for six Oscars: best picture, director (Spike Lee), supporting actor (Adam Driver), original score (Terence Blanchard), editing (Barry Alexander Brown) and, here’s where Willmott figures in, adapted screenplay.

Willmott shares his screenwriting nomination with Lee, David Rabinowitz and Charlie Wachtel.

They are up against Joel and Ethan Coen for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”; Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth for “A Star Is Born”; Barry Jenkins for “If Beale Street Could Talk”; and Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The latter film, starring Melissa McCarthy, pulled an upset at the Feb. 17 Writers Guild Awards, beating Willmott’s front-runner. However, “BlacKkKlansman” won the adapted screenplay award at the BAFTAs (the British Oscars) the week before and started strong last May by winning the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

In “BlacKkKlansman,” police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, right) talks his way into joining the Ku Klux Klan. His fellow officer (Adam Driver) is the one who has to meet them face to face. David Lee Focus Features

And, despite the Writers Guild loss, “BlacKkKlansman” is still most likely to win the adapted screenplay Oscar, according to such experts as the Los Angeles Times, Variety and, a site that compiles predictions from several prominent sources.

In fact, they say, the film is not as strong a contender in its other five categories, meaning the academy may show its support for Lee by coalescing for a screenplay win.

On the other hand, an Associated Press movie critic said the triumph of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” at the Writers Guild Awards is a sign of how Oscar will lean on Sunday.

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Director Spike Lee (left) co-wrote “BlacKkKlansman” with KU film professor Kevin Willmott and two other writers. File photo

Regardless, Willmott plans to attend the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

“You grow up as a kid watching the thing,” he told The Star when nominations were announced last month. “I used to watch it with my mother, and you fantasize about things, all of that, never really believing it would come true. It makes you think about where you came from, your parents and your teachers and all the people that help you along the way.”

Two other local connections to this year’s ceremony: Shawnee Mission West grad and Big Slick Celebrity Weekend host Paul “Ant-Man” Rudd will be one of the presenters. And Jim Mahfood, a Kansas City Art Institute alum, was one of the animators of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” a favorite to win best animated feature.

Where to watch

The 91st Academy Awards will air at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, on ABC.

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Sharon Hoffmann is an enterprise editor at The Star. She grew up in the KC area, graduated from the University of Kansas and promptly moved away. After she married and had kids, she just had to come back. She has been editing Kansas City Star stories since 1999.