If you’ve been reading this site for a long time (long enough for my baby daughter I had when OscarWatch launched in 1999 to become my grown daughter, now 22 and living with her boyfriend in New York) you know that I’ve always been a bit preoccupied with the date of Oscar Night.
In its first decades as a television show, the Oscars were held later in the year, around Springtime. They were an event that, to many of us in California, signaled the blooming of the Jasmine and the prelude to summer. But in the past several years they have become most definitely a winter sport. That’s because around 2003/2004 the Academy moved their date back by one month, to late February. That ended up shifting the entire awards industry backward.
When I first started there wasn’t really an awards industry. There was Variety and the Hollywood Reporter who advertised For Your Consideration ads to Oscar voters. And that was it. Journalists like Peter Travers, Anne Thompson, Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan, and Janet Maslin wrote about the Oscars when the Oscars rolled around. There were definitely journalists who covered the Oscars but not like they do now, not as a sporting event that is talked about almost year-round. I pretty much started that kind of coverage. I don’t brag about it often but it’s true. No one was covering the Oscars the way I was when I started in 1999. Gold Derby was definitely out in front with Oscar predictions. But I was covering the race in terms of reviews, critics awards, industry awards, etc.
There were people who were covering the Oscars online, along with other movie news, like Jeff Wells and David Poland but I was covering ONLY the Oscar race. I called my site Oscarwatch.com until it was sued by the Academy and I changed the name to AwardsDaily.com. But David Poland was the first person who started taking “For Your Consideration” ads from the studios. He “broke the seal,” as they say. Now, you see them everywhere, even on billboards, on industry sites like the Editors Guild. They are in the New York Times and all over the many websites that have exploded covering the Oscars since I started. There is most definitely an “Oscar industry” now, for better or worse.
What the date change effectively did was separate the movie-going experience into two categories: awards movies and movies for audiences.
In the past, movies were released to the public, evaluated by critics, and assessed for overall success, with the public and the industry involved in that decision. But once they pushed the date back, it changed everything. This was happening at the same time as the rise of blockbuster tentpoles that ultimately alienated many adult moviegoers and aimed their fare at teenage boys for a while there.
Eventually, we would end up with the airplane scenario. (Airplane? What is it? It’s a big flying machine with little windows on the side but that’s not important right now.) The airplane hypothesis is that the plane – or the industry – is divided into first-class and coach. They get different meals. The Oscar industry has become a system designed for those in First Class, while Hollywood overall aimed its product at “coach.” That meant movies that appeal to Oscar voters might appeal to broader audiences, or they might not. But it doesn’t matter. The idea is that the first-class passengers are given exactly what it is they want.
Occasionally there is still crossover, like Black Panther, Get Out, Gravity, etc. It can still matter if a movie plays well but it doesn’t make or break the film’s success with the Oscars. It’s been a while since box office was even a factor for Best Picture but it used to be. The Hurt Locker made $15 million, for instance. The COVID pandemic further isolated the race from the general public because now it doesn’t even matter if the film plays at all in theaters.
Either way, last year followed the old pattern of films and contenders being mostly decided before October. With a few exceptions, most of the films that win are seen at festivals, or early. The last movie to win that wasn’t run through the mill of film festivals was The Departed in 2006.
2007-No Country for Old Men – Cannes
2008-Slumdog Millionaire – Telluride
2009-The Hurt Locker – Toronto
2010-The King’s Speech – Telluride
2011-The Artist – Cannes
2012-Argo – Telluride
2013-12 Years a Slave – Telluride
2014-Birdman – Venice
2015-Spotlight – Venice
2016-Moonlight – Telluride
2017-The Shape of Water – Venice
2018-Green Book – Toronto
2019-Parasite – Cannes
2020-Nomadland – Venice
But the problem was that once the race was decided, we then had to sit around for four months with those same movies in circulation – and suddenly the general public became aware of it. Usually, it goes by so fast no one really pays attention. But here they were, stuck at home in lockdown, noticing that the movies in the race were movies they’d never heard of.
This year, the Oscars will be held in late March. We’ll have the whole month of January for the contenders to be decided. Here is the timeline:
11/15-Oscars–General entry categories submission deadline
12/6 – SAG voting begins
12/10-Oscars–Preliminary voting begins
12/15-Oscars–Preliminary voting ends 5 p.m. PT
12/21-Oscar Shortlists Announcement
12/31-Oscars–Eligibility period ends
1/9-SAG voting ends
1/19-SAG final voting opens
1/27-Oscars–Nominations voting begins 9 a.m. PT
2/1-Oscars-Nominations voting ends 5 p.m. PT
2/8-Oscars- Nominations Announcement
2/25-SAG Final Voting closes
3/7-Oscar Nominees Luncheon
3/17-Oscars–Finals voting begins 9 a.m. PT
3/22-Oscars–Finals voting ends 5 p.m. PT
There are a few films that seem Oscar bound but are, at least from what we know right now, skipping the fall festival circuit and taking their chances with theaters. They might be doing it to skip the “dog and pony show” of the Oscar contest. They might be doing it in hopes that movie theaters will be “back” and there won’t be a “dark winter” keeping people at home (please make this true). Jeff Wells put together a list from Jordan Ruimy’s site of “Fall Festival No-Shows” :
Soggy Bottom – Paul Thomas Anderson
Cry Macho – Clint Eastwood
West Side Story – Steven Spielberg
House of Gucci – Sir Ridley
Being the Ricardos – Aaron Sorkin
Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay
A Journal for Jordan – Denzel Washington
Antlers – Scott Cooper
The films that will be in play for Fall Festivals (Venice/Telluride/Toronto/New York/AFI) would be films like:
King Richard – Reinaldo Marcus Green
The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion
The Card Counter – Paul Schrader
Spencer – Pablo Larrain
Dune – Denis Villenueve
One Night in Soho – Edgar Wright
Parallel Mothers – Pedro Almodovar
I don’t know if there will ever be a reunion between the broader public and the Oscars. It seems to be moving in the opposite direction as the Oscars cater not just to the first-class passengers but now to the rise of the new rules for the new left. Call it “woke” if you want, call it “social justice,” or “equity,” whatever it is – that is also something that is clearly turning off viewers to both the films and the awards. This isn’t to say they are sick of movies by and about BIPOC – that’s to say that most are beyond sick of being lectured at by the richest and most privileged people in the country. This is probably the biggest criticism of the Oscars I hear out there in the world – they’re too “political” and they’re too “woke.”
How do we fix that problem? Well, first people have to think there is a problem.
Either way, it will be interesting to see if the “late breakers” that do skip the fall festivals can break the pattern of only movies seen around October can win Best Picture. Does it mean box office will make a difference again? Does it mean movies might start appealing to a broader audience again? Or does it mean COVID will strike again, putting the Oscars themselves into another situation like last year. Only time will tell.
One thing to look out for is the “feel-good” movie. Ten films and a preferential ballot means that the films that push towards the top will either be movies that make voters feel good, or feel like they’re doing something good for humanity. That is why I am doubtful that films with ambiguous or dark endings will be Best Picture players. But we’ll dig more into that as time goes on.