LOS ANGELES — The most tumultuous Oscar season in memory might pale in comparison to the aftermath.
The best picture race to Sunday's 91st Academy Awards remains unpredictable, but odds makers peg Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" as the film most likely to triumph at the end of the night. That would hand Netflix, the insurgent streaming service, the most prestigious honor in a movie business it has thoroughly disrupted.
Change is everywhere at this year's Academy Awards, from the nominees to the show, itself. For the second time in 30 years, there will be no host at Sunday's show, which begins airing live on ABC at 8 p.m. EST. The lead-up to the Oscars has been dominated by dispute over the academy's own attempts at innovation to counter last year's record-low ratings. But after uproar from academy members, those plans — not showing some awards live, introducing a "best popular film" category — were abandoned.
Even if the Oscars end up proceeding more conventionally, the winners promise to be untraditional. Marvel stands to win its first Oscar for either "Black Panther" (up for six Oscars including best picture) or the animated favorite, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse." Spike Lee, aiming for his first competitive Oscar, could become the first black filmmaker to win best director.
"Roma," which comes in with a co-leading 10 nominations, is favored to win best picture, best director, best cinematography and best foreign language film. If "Roma" won best picture, it would be the first foreign language movie ever to do so.
For Hollywood, the most significant milestone would be Netflix triumphing at the Academy Awards, an achievement the streaming giant has fervently pursued. Netflix, which has previously only won one feature-length film Oscar (in 2018 for the documentary "Icarus"), has spent more than $25 million on a lavish campaign to propel "Roma." It hired veteran Oscar campaign strategist Lisa Taback. It even purchased a Los Angeles billboard company to help promote its many films and series, including "for your consideration" ads along the Sunset Strip for "Roma."
"I'm very grateful for Netflix," Cuaron said in an interview ahead of the Oscars. "On paper, this is a film that wouldn't have this life. It's a Mexican film in Spanish and Mixtec with no recognizable actors when it was done. Black and white. A drama. What I'm so appreciative is that they saw through all those filters to the core of what the film was about and they saw the potential and they really believed in the film."
Cuaron noted that "Roma" has played for months in theaters, longer than it might otherwise have done. Major theater chains, however, have refused to screen Netflix releases since the company won't adhere to the traditional 90-day theatrical exclusivity window. Netflix altered its own policies for "Roma," playing it exclusively in theaters in limited release for three weeks before streaming it. The company declined to release box-office results.
"Roma" would be the first best picture winner ever to be primarily streamed, something some in Hollywood vehemently oppose. Steven Spielberg has said Netflix movies are really "TV movies" that should be eligible for Emmys, not Oscars.
After "Roma" won best picture at the British Academy Film Awards, J. Timothy Richards, the founder and chief executive of Vue, one of Europe's largest theater chains, criticized the British film academy for "choosing to endorse and promote a 'made for TV' film." France's Cannes Film Festival, where "Roma" was set to make its world premiere, also refused to enter any film without theatrical distribution into competition, causing Netflix to pull "Roma" from the festival.