Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in Mank.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
The 93 Academy Awards, after an unprecedented 14-month eligibility season and a pandemic that closed most of the country’s theaters, will finally be delivered on Sunday, April 25. Exactly how normal this ceremony will feel and how normal the industry should be. they see it as if it were – it is up for debate: some see it as the steadfast continuation of a tradition that began with Douglas Fairbanks handing Clara Bow the Best Picture statuette for the 1927s At and it has endured all manner of national calamities without interruption since then, and others like the weary end of a year like no other. But below both positions … this is the year the show must go on and this is the year the show did not continue – lurks a degree of dread about this year’s “Oddscars”, the fear that they aren’t so freaky after all. Surely, at some point, things will go back to the way they used to be, right? Doesn’t it have to be true?
No, it is not.
The truth is, there’s not much to be argued that this year’s Oscars are some kind of shocking break with tradition. The show won’t look exactly the way it usually does: Awards will be handed out at the social distancing-friendly Union Station in Los Angeles, and the guest list will be limited to nominees and more. But the hiring of broadcast director for six Oscars Glenn Weiss and the ban on Zoom’s acceptance speeches (we’ll see if the latter, which is already generating considerable pushback, sticks) are gestures meant to connect the 2021 ceremony with its predecessors. . Sure, many top-tier studio offerings were delayed out of contention this year, but no asterisks are needed when it comes to the solid list of Best Picture nominees: The father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising young woman, Metal Sound, and The Chicago 7 trial – any of which could have been credibly nominated.
The lack of great studio movies this year has led to some first welcomes. An Asian woman, NomadlandChloé Zhao, will compete for Best Director, and she will not be the only woman or the only Asian director in the category. Viola Davis has become the first black actress to achieve four career nominations, and Zhao, with four nominations this year alone (for producing, directing, writing and editing), becomes the first woman to join a highly rated list. short previously reserved for him as Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. But take a step back, and there is nothing overtly unusual about the field this year: It includes newcomers like MinariLee Isaac Chung, but also modern teachers like David Fincher and establishment favorites like Aaron Sorkin. And the divide between the featured artists who get their first nominations (there are 11, ranging from Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun to Andra Day and Vanessa Kirby) and the returning veterans (Anthony Hopkins returns for the sixth time, Glenn Close for the eighth) is pretty typical. .
But any hopes that the 2021 Academy Awards will mark a return to business as usual for Hollywood in an increasingly vaccinated, near-post-COVID world, one in which theaters will open and film production will surge, faded on March 23, when Disney announced that its next Marvel movie, Black widow, was abandoning both its planned May 7 release date and its theatrical-only strategy; the film will now hit theaters on July 9 and, for a hefty premium, on Disney +. The symbolic impact of that decision is immense, since as the Marvel Cinematic Universe advances, so does the world of mere mortals who go to the theater. Widow It was the first summer-style giant blockbuster to cancel its release (originally scheduled for May 1) when COVID hit, and the industry has long regarded its return to theaters as the time when everything can come back. to normal. exactly where it was in early 2020.
It may be time to stop waiting for that moment. If you suspend the rules long enough, new rules emerge to take their place, both at the Oscars and in the industry they celebrate. Those in the industry who still insist on seeing these Oscars like a flash, a bizarre event that doesn’t celebrate movies that garnered attention just because the real contenders were benched, and a broadcast that’s expected to drop to record low ratings – a fate that has happened at every other award. this season, he’s not paying attention. While nearly all of this year’s nominees are available to anyone with the right television and streaming services, these revengeists complain that hardly anyone has seen them. (The insistence that these films are culturally invisible is something of the old-guard movie business; Hollywood uses gross proceeds to gauge impact, and the collective reach of Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video means nothing to the studio’s establishment in absence of a metric that can be verified every Monday morning). You talk to these people and what you hear a lot is, “Wait until next year.” You know, when warner turns off Dune and In the heights and Disney releases West Side Story And critics swoon for Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson and 83-year-old Ridley Scott has not one but two great movies and festivals are no longer virtual and December is a crowded disaster and everything is as it always was and is destined To be. But this year? Nah. This is the sad The Oscars, a memorial service for an event that is not a season on a night that will likely be remembered for the pain of a Best Actor tribute to Chadwick Boseman, is gone too soon in a year in which hundreds of thousands of Americans too. they left a lot. too soon.
The point is, neither the Academy Awards nor the industry they celebrate have been “normal” for a long time and will never come back. If you’re surprised by the fact that Netflix has more nominations than any other company, including two Best Picture nominees, you shouldn’t be: Netflix also had two Best Picture nominees last year, and one the year before, when there were still. worried he mutters about whether he should be allowed to compete at all. (That The conversation ended the moment it became clear that apparently half the Academy was making Netflix movies.) And the diversity of this year’s cast roster (six black actors, two Korean actors, the first Muslim nominated for Best Actor) is not a COVID anomaly: it is the reflection of a new and much more diverse Academy, half of whose voters joined after 2012, just a couple of years before a completely white list of acting nominees triggered the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and led to a remarkably successful multi-year effort to diversify its ranks. . Similarly, the dominance of streamers, the two hopes for Netflix’s Best Picture, Chicago 7 and Mank, they are joined by the first Prime Video contender Metal Sound – is normal, the new normal, which everyone should get used to. Hybrid launch strategies like those of Nomadland (a movie from Disney’s Searchlight division that was released simultaneously on the company’s Hulu streamer) and Judas and the Black Messiah (a Warner Bros. movie that debuted on HBO Max the same day it was released in theaters) may have been specially designed for this year, but that doesn’t mean the model will never be used again, even if the pandemic ceases to be. a factor.
Movie studios have always feared outside threats, be it from television in the 1950s and 1960s, indies in the 1990s and 2000s, or streamers in later years. Those legacy companies have somehow managed to survive, often co-opting their upstart rivals. But this moment is different: As new models emerge, the old ones really seem to be giving in. Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are not brave little underdogs; They are giants, in some cases trillion dollar giants, that make even the largest movie studios look like quaint little boutiques. And about those studies: there aren’t many left. Only five from the golden age, two of which, Disney and Warner, made it clear this year that fueling their new streaming services, including movies, is their priority. Of the remaining three, NBCUniversal owns the new Peacock streaming service, ready to become a home for its movies when the company decides it matters; Paramount has been delivering movie after movie to streamers (including Chicago 7) and just released his own, Paramount +; And Sony, the only studio without its own broadcast arm, is rumored to be about to strike a deal with one of the big boys.
Add to that the first real redefinition of “Hollywood” outside of the studios in the century since they were founded, and anyone who imagines that the Academy is going to fight that to insist on the preservation of historical norms, has not. done. I haven’t had a look at the Academy lately. Venerating the past could work very well for AMPAS ‘humble new Death Star-shaped Los Angeles museum, a star architect-designed money pot that has been in the making for a decade and is finally scheduled to open in September. . But as for the Oscars, the war is over and the traditionalists, those who believe that the purpose of the Academy is to celebrate the most successful mass entertainment produced by Hollywood studios, have lost. Most studios don’t even make those movies anymore: Warner’s Argo and Universal’s Green Book they are the only two studio films to have won the Best Picture award in the last 15 years, and they were even anomalies for their companies. But beyond that, the Academy voters most dedicated to preserving those traditions, the ones who were the heart and soul of the organization not long ago, are now a niche, just one among many. That is not to say that they could not rally behind a traditionalist choice (The Chicago 7 trial, a candid liberal white-type movie, it’s probably the closest thing to an old-fashioned Oscar winner, and everyone saw it at home, on Netflix), or they won’t see it again; tastes vary from year to year, as do the options available. But except for Green Book, voters haven’t gone down that road recently; this Academy seemed to herald its reinvention with an inadvertently impressive flourish three years ago, when Moonlight beat La La Land in what appeared to be sudden death overtime, and he confirmed it last year with a historic win for Bong Joon Ho. Parasite. That’s the new normal, pandemic or not. No wonder everyone is so eager.