Oscar season proper has just started. You might have noticed the For Your Consideration ads springing up. As it’s been almost every day for the past four years, to paraphrase Springsteen, our lives have been “one long emergency.” By the end of it, by now, most of us – Oscar voters included, are spent. We’re feeling tapped out emotionally. We’re exhausted by the news cycle, social media, and the utter absence of normal life due to a global pandemic. How do you get both? How do you get the Trump era AND Covid? Well, we did. But the powers that be deem that Oscar season must thunder onwards, regardless. We are in the thick of it right now, what has been, in the past, the hottest time for films and performances and publicists to make their case.
Gone are the glitzy screenings – Clarence Moye and I attended a few of those last year which feels now like the last time civilization pulsed with unknowing life. In a sense, they had gotten a wee bit out of control. They were getting too exclusive, too “rich”, creating a Hollywood process that was too cut off from the country to have any worth beyond a very tightly contained machine that supposedly is about finding the year’s best. But it isn’t that, and it never has been. It is about what thousands of people can agree upon is best.
Had there never been yet another national catastrophe on January 6th, there is a chance we could have rallied back into the awards season, and pulled together with enough cohesion to make it all go down as usual. April is still a long way away and who knows, maybe most of our anxieties will be a fading memory by then. Maybe they won’t be. In a sense these past few weeks of real life moving much faster than any of us could keep up with it, have changed everything.
Even if we wanted to, there is no way we can all put on a happy face. Not unless we are meeting the demands of the moment and the reality show just lost its popular villain. Or did it? Will the Democrats go forward with an impeachment trial in the Senate? It seems inevitable. Partly because the Democrats are nowhere near done with Trump. He’s still the main focus of Twitter even after he’s been permanently banned. The Never Trump Republicans want to purge Trump permanently because they know what a force he is in their party and they fear no candidate can win without Trump’s ideology (which is partly his false promise of taking on the “radical woke left”). Both sides want a conviction to prevent Trump from being able to run again. I could not help but see the glint in Trump’s eye when he gave his last televised speech, like any good villain on a reality show that tells the audience, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
Season Two of the Donald Trump show might be even more off the hook than Season One. How could anyone resist? How could Twitter resist? They can’t. AOC will ensure that Trump be held accountable for however many legit crimes can be pinned on him, and the war will rage on. The show will continue to dominate the ratings and the Oscar race will somehow be happening underneath it. Unless that doesn’t happen. Honestly, Twitter did Trump a huge favor by banning him. Now he’s free from that awful addiction. I sort of wish they would ban me too so that I could be free. But that’s besides the point.
I think this year’s Oscars will look an awful lot like the Democratic National Convention with inclusion and talented diversity taking the spotlight, peppered with the odd celebrity making awkward jokes written for them by the same old wisecrack dad-joke hacks. (I guess that was last year. And the year before. And the year before – not that there’s anything wrong with it.) In a nightmare scenario, they’ll get Alec Baldwin to play Trump and host it. Honestly, it might do better in the ratings that way. Half of America, as I’ve come to find out, hates the Oscars, along with Hollywood, since the Oscars have gone all on left-leaning ideology, unapologetically — and again, because petty sour-grapes Trump injected into their heads that Hollywood and books and stuff are the “enemy of the people.”
The Oscar race might be able to slide by unnoticed by Twitter. It’s theoretically possible that voters will do finally do everything right this year to escape being hashtagged into submission. That is not outside the realm of possibility. Not to sound cynical but one always wonders who is really being helped by Hollywood going woke. Is it the marginalized groups asking for equal time or is the upper middle class folks who feel they must repent for their wealth and privilege. Or perhaps that is too cynical of a way to look at it.
This might be the year, for instance, the first woman of color wins Best Director and Best Picture. It might be the first year that a black actress wins since Halle Berry in 2001, making her only the second in 94 years of Oscar history. There might be a Best Picture lineup that is full of great films by and about women, people of color, women of color. There might be a black woman in Best Director for the first time if Regina King makes it in for One Night in Miami.
It also might be the year streaming becomes the norm and more widely accepted as part of our new reality. Maybe a lot of people will simply decide they can live without theaters. After all, those of us who cover the race have long been granted unprecedented access to movies, and even many of the movie writers who don’t live in New York or Los Angeles are able to see movies before actual screeners arrive. That means anyone can cover the race and live anywhere. Will studios revert to the old way when all of this is over? Or will they continue to offer screener links to people like me, giving me a good reason to move away from Los Angeles.
Apple and Amazon, now in the news for Big Tech overreach (in my opinion), both have movies in the race and while these films are so good they are making the Oscars an offer they can’t refuse — On the Rocks, One Night in Miami, Wolfwalkers — they are also part of the myriad ways we interface with our own lives – you iPhones, what we buy on Amazon. At some point, Google is likely to get into the movie distribution game. It’s an odd point to be for sure, to see such an overlap all competing with the giant, Netflix, that still dwarfs all of them in subscribers. But that’s where the game is. That is where the money is so that’s where the heat is in film: streaming. It’s less at the studios which begin to look a little hoary and clunky now, having to coordinate with actual movie theaters and get actual people to come to the theaters, pay money and watch a movie on the big screen. Devoted moviegoers love that, but if they can somehow reach 70 million who are just sitting in their homes – all the better.
The long-resistant Oscars have become the validators for the streamers that offer other ways of connecting and contacting you, other ways of advertising to you. What it means for them to get Oscar nominations is a gold standard for breaking into the world of art and film. It should mean for everyone out there more opportunity, less dependence on the market to make that opening weekend (which is one thing that helped destroyed old-school Hollywood), and the critics have not helped. Actors, filmmakers and everyone else now has an open door if they want it to pitch an idea and get it seen in ways unimaginable before.
I still feel like the films that speak to the moment are at the top of the pile – and that pile has shifted a little bit, for me anyway. The best film of the year, to my mind, is still David Fincher’s Mank. And I know people think, oh she loves Fincher movies and so that is why. That’s true but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a perfect movie that reaches higher than any other, just from the pure filmmaking aspect of it. It’s such a high reach to say so much and to get so much about the era exactly right. I remain in awe that this perfect work of art exists at all, let alone that it’s about to have to run the gauntlet in the Oscar race, which destroys all beautiful things.
But Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is also a film that seems to speak to the sadness of the time we’re living through, or it does to me anyway. It’s a movie about the internal life of a woman that’s just beautiful and fascinating throughout. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari also resonates because it’s a film about America at a time when the world was not turned upside down. This is a family just making it work and there is something soothing about that.
I do expect these three films will be remembered by the Globes and by the industry. After that, it gets a little tricky with the many offerings from Netflix, all of them are good, but they all can’t get in. Mank is already one of those. But there is The Trial of the Chicago 7 which is well liked by Oscar bloggers so far and often predicted. It’s one of the few big cast Oscar movies that actors might take to. Then there is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom which has Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis as strong acting contenders and that seems well placed. Malcolm & Marie, Pieces of a Woman are two more.
We have several films that revolve around Civil Rights eras of the past that seem to be very much at the forefront now. Judas and the Black Messiah – which is excellent. And The United States vs. Billie Holiday, featuring a bravura performance by Andra Day. There is One Night in Miami, a meditation on the various points of view from black icons on one night in a pivotal time of American history.
There is The Father, which features two powerful performances by Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. And of course, there is one of the few uplifting films of the year, News of the World with Tom Hanks. Honestly, it might end up being the ONLY feel good movie in the lineup, the one film that doesn’t have a bittersweet ending. It’s just all the way sweet. There is something very attractive about that kind of movie right now. After all, movies have always served that purpose in year’s past. They take us away from trauma and into a happier, more easily understood place.
Either way, this was a year for the record books, 2020. Most of us have come out of it transformed. I know I have. I know it’s made me look differently at the world, at my place in the world. At the Oscars, and their place in the country, in the industry and in the world. We seem to be in the midst of big and dramatic changes with not a lot of leadership to put us in any kind of order that makes sense. Hopefully that will change.
This is the week the Golden Globes begin voting. Here are the other significant upcoming dates:
Screen Actors Guild Voting Begins (Jan 11)
January 11, 2021
Golden Globes Voting Begins (Jan 13)
January 13, 2021
Writers Guild (WGA) Nomination Voting Begins (Jan 29)
January 29, 2021
Golden Globes Nomination Voting Ends (Jan 30)
January 30, 2021
We’re heading into the thick of it. Let’s hope this thing holds together.