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EW's Oscar Guy: Predictions, Backstage Tales

Feb 23, 2013
Originally published on February 23, 2013 6:40 pm

Like millions of Americans, Anthony Breznican will be watching the Oscars this Sunday night. But unlike the rest of us, Breznican, a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, will be watching from backstage. As EW's chief Oscars correspondent, he escapes the confines of the press rooms for a more intimate look at the ceremony — the kind of view most journalists can only dream of.

"I get a badge where I get to kind of roam, free-roam around behind the wings of the stage," Breznican says. "My job is to be a fly on the wall, talk to people a little bit, but mainly kind of observe moments."

Breznican's Oscars coverage starts long before those backstage moments. Ever since the nominations were announced, Breznican has been talking to the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to determine which nominees are current favorites. He joins NPR's Jacki Lyden to talk about what he learned in those conversations, name his predictions for key categories and share some of his favorite moments from his years behind the scenes.


Interview Highlights

On the best picture and best director categories

"It's been a very interesting year, as most people are aware, with some prominent figures being snubbed in the nominations. Ben Affleck, in particular: Losing a directing nomination kind of propelled Argo to best-picture front-runner, even though you would think that might hold it back. So I've been talking to voters about where their heads are and what they're voting for. Argo, I think, is a lock to win best picture. The question is, who wins [best] director?

"If everyone's feeling bad about Ben Affleck not being nominated, you can't cast a ballot for him in that race, so it's kind of between Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee, and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

"Steven Spielberg is such a successful figure in Hollywood — he's probably the most successful filmmaker who's alive today — and it's very difficult for people in the academy, even if they admire him, to vote for him. There's sort of this attitude of, 'How do you give employee of the year to the guy who owns the store?' So there's a bit of envy there, and even though I think everyone agrees Lincoln was a pretty remarkable film, a lot of folks are leaning toward Ang Lee for Life of Pi, because that, above all, was a directorial achievement.

"It pulled together a lot of complicated elements: working with not a child actor but certainly a young newcomer, [plus] CG elements, the creation of the tiger, a real tiger on occasion, and water. So he worked with all the things that you usually don't want to work with, including 3-D, and pulled it off magnificently."

On why he thinks Jennifer Lawrence will win best actress

"So many voters said they were voting for her. And that film, Silver Linings Playbook, is kind of a rarity in the Oscar race — it's the first film in close to 30 years to have nominations in each one of the acting categories, as well as for best picture and best director and best screenplay. ... So the fact that so many actors — the nominations are determined by people within that branch, so actors nominate actors, and the whole academy votes for them — so the fact that so many actors seem to love and appreciate this movie, and they're the biggest voting block within the academy, so that [means] a lot of support for her. But I also heard directors, writers, editors, sound people saying they loved that character, they loved what she did with it. ...

"I think Jennifer Lawrence is my prediction, because we have to make predictions, but I think she is facing very serious competition from Emmanuelle Riva, the French actress who will turn 86 on Oscar night. She of course starred in Amour, the tragic end-of-life love story; lots of voters like her as well, and you could see her claiming the trophy on Sunday."

On whether anyone could mathematically predict the Oscar winners

"There are certainly attempts to do it. [But ] I think it's hard to measure passion in such a small group. ... I think there are over 6,000 voters in the academy. I tried to sample as many of them as I can, but still, it's an anecdotal sample. And you find, week after week, you go back and ask the same voter that you polled two weeks ago and said, 'Well, how do you feel about best actress,' and they give you a different answer. You know, people change their minds. That's why you get surprises. And in the end, you never find out what the actual tally was — all you know is who won, so you don't know how close the race was. So there's no way to look at past results and try and determine the future."

On what he sees behind the curtain, thanks to that backstage pass

"You see a lot of emotion back there, as you can imagine, and it's kind of interesting to see people who are so used to putting on a face at a moment when maybe they can't contain what's inside them.

"Last year I remember how poised Meryl Streep was when she accepted the best actress award, and she walked offstage, and of course she was just very graceful and very elegant, as you expect Meryl Streep to be. And then as the lights went down and they went to a commercial — and this is toward the end of the show — she was just overcome with emotion. And you wouldn't expect that. ... You'd think, 'Oh, she's been to the rodeo a number of times. Meryl can handle it.'

"She just asked for a chair, and she just sat in, you know, a little plastic chair right off of the curtain, just sat there and, like, took a moment. Kind of gathered her thoughts, took a breath, watched the rest of the show. And then she was graceful and happy and Meryl again — but it was just kind of interesting to see that.

"And you see actors and actresses come back and they're just bawling, or overwhelmed. Or in the case of Alan Arkin a few years ago, when he won for Little Miss Sunshine, he walks off and he's surrounded by Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell, who co-starred in the movie with him. They were about to present another award, they're clapping him on the back, congratulating him, and he holds it and he goes, 'You know what, now everybody's gonna think I'm an expert in something, because I got a trophy. ... '

"Those moments, that's film history, and it's kind of great to observe it."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Tomorrow night, we find out who will take home the top prizes at the 85th Academy Awards.

Now, very few people have an all-access pass to the Oscars. You usually have to be an A-list celebrity or dating one. But Anthony Breznican does have such a pass. He's a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly magazine, and he's got a sweet spot watching the action behind the red curtain. Anthony Breznican, we're envious. Welcome.

ANTHONY BREZNICAN: Thank you.

LYDEN: So you are Entertainment Weekly's chief Oscar correspondent. Quite a gig. You get all kinds of special access Oscar night. So you've been talking with voters in the industry as soon as the nominations are released. And, you know, we're just really curious about what you've been hearing.

BREZNICAN: Well, it's been a very interesting year, as most people are aware, with some prominent figures being snubbed in the nominations. And Ben Affleck, in particular, losing a directing nomination kind of propelled "Argo" to Best Picture front-runner, even though you would think that might hold it back. So I've been trying to talk to voters about kind of where their heads are and what they're voting for. "Argo," I think, is a lock to win Best Picture.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARGO")

BEN AFFLECK: (as Tony Mendez) What happened?

BRYAN CRANSTON: Six of the hostages went out a back exit.

BREZNICAN: The question is, who wins director? If everybody's feeling bad about Ben Affleck not being nominated, you can't cast a ballot for him in that race. So it's kind of between David O. Russell, Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LINCOLN")

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: (as Abraham Lincoln) Blood's been spilled to afford us this moment now. Now. Now.

BREZNICAN: You know, Steven Spielberg is such a successful figure in Hollywood - he's probably the most successful filmmaker who's alive today. And it's very difficult for people in the Academy, even if they admire him, to vote for him. There's sort of this attitude of, how do you give employee of the year to the guy who owns the store? So there's a bit of envy there.

And even though, I think, everybody agrees "Lincoln" was a pretty remarkable film, a lot of folks are leaning toward Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," because that, above all, was a directorial achievement. It pulled together a lot of complicated elements - working with CG elements, you know, the creation of the tiger, a real tiger on occasion, and water. So he worked with sort of all the things that you usually don't want to work with, including 3-D, and pulled it off magnificently.

LYDEN: So another surprise prediction that you made was for Best Actress. That was Jennifer Lawrence. I actually liked her a lot. We're talking, of course, about "Silver Linings Playbook." She's so gutsy and tough here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK")

JOHN ORTIZ: (as Ronnie) Hey. Tiffany, this is Pat.

BRADLEY COOPER: (as Pat) You look nice.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (as Tiffany) Thank you.

COOPER: (as Pat) I'm not flirting with you.

LAWRENCE: (as Tiffany) I didn't think you were.

LYDEN: What made you choose her?

BREZNICAN: Just the fact that so many voters said they were voting for her. And the nominations are determined by people within that branch. So actors nominate actors, and then the whole Academy votes for them. So the fact that so many actors love and appreciate this movie, and they're the biggest voting bloc within the Academy, I think, you know, that lends a lot of support to her. But I also heard directors, writers, editors, sound people saying they loved that character. They loved what she did with it.

LYDEN: But you actually have written that you think the Best Actress race is kind of tight.

BREZNICAN: Yeah. I think - Jennifer Lawrence is my prediction because we have to make predictions, but I think she is facing very serious competition from Emmanuelle Riva, the French actress who, of course, starred in "Amour," the sort of tragic end-of-life love story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "AMOUR")

EMMANUELLE RIVA: (Foreign language spoken)

BREZNICAN: A lot of voters like her as well, and you could see her claiming the trophy on Sunday.

LYDEN: You know, it's been a rough fall for a lot of people. The economy has been bumpy. We've been through an election. And speaking of an election, The New York Times pundit and analyst Nate Silver has used algorithms and formulas in the past. He has, of course, predicted the presidential elections. Is there any kind of formula to predict Oscar winners?

BREZNICAN: There are certainly attempts to do it. I think it's hard to measure passion on - in such a small group. There are over 6,000 voters in the Academy. I tried to sample as many of them as I can, but still, it's an anecdotal sample. And you find, week after week, and you go back and ask the same voter that you polled two weeks ago and said, well, how did you feel about Best Actress, and they give you a different answer. You know, people change their minds. That's why you get surprises.

And then in the end, you never find out what the actual tally was. All you know is who won. So you don't know how close the race was. So there's no way to sort of look at past results and try and determine the future.

LYDEN: You know, there's been some nice moments here. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" getting a nomination for its young - what is she - she was like 7 or 8-year-old star.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD")

QUVENZHANE WALLIS: (as Hushpuppy) The whole universe depends on everything fitting together.

BREZNICAN: She's 9 now, Quvenzhane Wallis.

LYDEN: Yeah.

BREZNICAN: She was 6 when she shot the film. Quvenzhane Wallis and Emmanuelle Riva. You have a 9-year-old and a woman who will be 86 on Oscar night. They each represent the oldest and the youngest ever nominee in that category. So that's kind of an interesting quirk this year.

LYDEN: Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: So what are you going to do with your backstage pass? Where are you going to wander, and who are you going to look for?

BREZNICAN: My job is to be a fly on the wall, talk to people, you know, a little bit, but mainly to kind of observe moments. And you see a lot of emotion, as you can imagine. And it's kind of interesting to see people who are so used to putting on a face at a moment when maybe they can't contain, really, what's inside them.

Last year, I remember how poised Meryl Streep was when she accepted the Best Actress award.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2012 ACADEMY AWARDS)

MERYL STREEP: When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, oh, no. Oh, come on. Why her? Again? You know?

BREZNICAN: And she walked offstage, and, of course, she was just very graceful and very elegant, as you expect Meryl Streep to be. And then as the lights went down and they went to a commercial - and this is toward the end of the show - she was just overcome with emotion. And you wouldn't expect that, right? You'd think, oh, she's been to the rodeo a number of times. Meryl can handle it.

She just asks for a chair, and she sat right off of the curtain and just sat there and, like, took a moment, kind of gathered her thoughts, took a breath, watched the rest of the show, you know, and then stood up and kind of - and then she was graceful and happy and Meryl again. Thought it was kind of interesting to see that. That's film history, and it's kind of great to observe it.

LYDEN: You could live for that all year.

BREZNICAN: Mm-hmm.

LYDEN: That's Anthony Breznican. He's a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly. Anthony Breznican, thanks. It was a lot of fun having you with us and have a great time.

BREZNICAN: It was a pleasure just to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.