The awards season won’t be any longer this year. But it’s definitely going to be stranger.
With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pushing back the date of the 93rd Academy Awards from Feb. 28 to April 25, citing the production shutdown from the coronavirus pandemic, the window of campaigning — and releasing would-be contenders — will likely be delayed two months as well, setting off a domino effect that will affect film festivals, the Golden Globes and every other awards show that rides on the coattails of the Oscars. (The British Academy Film Awards, England’s equivalent of the Oscars, immediately followed suit Monday, punting its ceremony two months back as well.)
Practically, the eight-week delay provides, in the words of academy President David Rubin, additional time for filmmakers to “finish and release their films without being penalized for something beyond anyone’s control.”
Movies that suspended production, like Ridley Scott’s medieval thriller “The Last Duel,” could resume filming without having to rush to meet the traditional year-end qualifying release date. And effects-heavy blockbusters like Denis Villeneuve’s intriguing adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi/fantasy opus “Dune” will have extra time to complete post-production.
But the shift will also generate all kinds of unforeseen ramifications — provided, of course, that a second wave of COVID-19 doesn’t arrive in the next few weeks or months, necessitating a new round of postponements.
Typically, awards hopefuls play at the fall film festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York, looking to build buzz in late August, September and early October ahead of their theatrical runs. Six of the nine movies nominated for best picture this past season screened at those festivals, with “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” premiering at Cannes (as did Oscar-winner “Parasite” before moving to Telluride and Toronto). “Little Women” and “1917” arrived in December.
Those fall festivals have so far held their dates this year, with organizers saying they’ll take place in some modified form, likely a hybrid of digital and in-person events incorporating, in the words of Telluride organizers, “necessary safety tweaks.” (Toronto will update its plans later this month, a spokesperson says.)
But as the Venice, Telluride and Toronto festivals will now take place eight months ahead of the Oscars, their relevance to this year’s awards season seems iffy.
“Awards season is long enough in normal circumstances,” says a veteran Oscar campaign consultant, who asked not to be identified because of client relationships. “I can see a lot of movies bailing on those festivals, if, for no other reason, the idea that it’s crazy to think about A) air travel and B) sitting in an enclosed space breathing recirculated air with hundreds of other people right now.”
“Eight months is an eternity,” added another campaigner. “Any momentum you get from those events will be gone by Christmas.”
The delay could turn the 2021 Sundance Film Festival into an Oscar launch pad for a ceremony that is now scheduled to take place just three months later. The academy’s date shift will likely mean that indie Oscar hopefuls will use next year’s festival, slated to take place Jan. 21-31, to gain attention just weeks before voting begins on March 5. In any case, look for best picture awards contenders to fill up January and February dates once studios begin to set their release schedules.
Then again, a spike in COVID-19 cases could make all these dates and plans irrelevant. Cancellations and postponements have dominated the news since the pandemic began, and even as states reopen, the circumstances that would lead to any semblance of normalcy remain in flux. Last week, amid coronavirus hospitalizations increasing in 18 states, Warner Bros. delayed the release of Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated “Tenet” by two weeks to July 31. And with no timeline on when movie theaters in New York may reopen, even that date could be an exercise in optimism.
But indulging for a moment in optimism, the current climate could level the playing field a bit, with streaming movies now eligible and pricey parties and galas taken off the table, allowing voters to focus on the films absent much of the hype. And though the academy’s streaming site for members won’t be going year-round until the 94th Oscars, one would presume that voters will use some of that extra time on their hands this year to keep up with great movies like (hint, hint) Kelly Reichardt’s fabulous “First Cow.”
Or they could just be watching whatever Netflix’s all-seeing algorithms put on their homepages. If so, everyone should be watching Spike Lee’s essential, inventive drama “Da 5 Bloods” right now. I can’t tell you if the Oscars will actually take place in April or be delayed yet again. But whenever they happen, Delroy Lindo will be leaving with a trophy.
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