What will other film festivals do, and could Netflix be a big contender?
And the Oscars go to … April.
The movies’ biggest night has been delayed until April 25, 2021, the latest the Academy Awards has been held since 1932, making an already long awards season feel even more drawn out. That’s a delay of nearly two full months, and it also means we won’t see shortlists until February, nominations won’t drop until March 15 and the already long wait for the opening of the Academy Museum will have to wait a little longer.
But the change also impacts more than just impatient movie fans. So much of the awards season calendar depends on when the Oscars happen, which is why there was so much grumbling over this year’s earlier-than-usual Feb. 9 ceremony.
Due to the impact of the coronavirus on movie theaters, the Academy has already made adjustments that could drastically impact the shape of the nominees. Movies that premiered exclusively for digital streaming will be eligible for Best Picture even without a theatrical run, as long as they can demonstrate that they had such a run scheduled. Documentaries, meanwhile, can qualify for the Oscars simply by being selected for the right film festivals, even if those festivals don’t take place.
One might wonder what could happen if the Oscars didn’t have time for the same glad-handing campaigns, glitzy galas and endless promotion that tends to elevate some movies over others that are equally worthy.
“What would be exciting, Oscar-wise, is if voters didn’t extend the year but instead extended themselves. If 2020 is a year in which film festivals, meet-and-greets, parties, talkbacks, etc. don’t determine the frontrunners, we might see some surprises,” journalist and Oscars pundit Mark Harris wrote on Twitter.
If anything, these changes invite so many opportunities and chances for surprise, which is exactly what makes the Oscars still worth watching in the first place.
1. Everyone Will Move to Meet the Oscars’ Schedule
The Golden Globes, the SAG, DGA, WGA, PGA and other guild awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards and countless more awards shows serve as stepping stones on the long road to Oscar gold. They build buzz for movies that look as if they could go the distance, and they provide fodder for those in the press reading the tea leaves.
And though many awards shows often talk about trying to distinguish themselves from the Oscars, where the Academy goes, so too will many of the awards. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts already shifted its BAFTA ceremony to April 11 on Monday almost immediately after the Oscars’ announcement. Virtually all of the other awards shows that typically crowd the calendar in January and February are expected to do the same.
2. Film Festivals Might Feel the Heat
While film festivals like Toronto, Telluride and Venice often provide launching pads for awards players, studios may rethink debuting their buzziest titles when those late summer-early fall festivals are now seven months removed from the actual Oscars. And there’s no shortage of examples of one-time Oscar front-runners peaking too early and losing steam as awards season wears on.
Last year’s winner, “Parasite,” and nominee “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” both premiered at last year’s Cannes, which canceled this year’s physical edition and opted instead to just bestow films with a “Official Selection” logo. Venice, where “Joker” claimed the top prize last fall, has already said that the September festival will proceed as planned. The early-September Telluride Film Festival, which typically curates a couple dozen top awards contenders, said it will take place as usual, with an extra day added to the typical four-day schedule to allow for more social distancing. The Toronto and the New York Film Festivals, which launched 2019 contenders like “Jojo Rabbit” and “The Irishman,” respectively, have similarly said they are exploring virtual options for their fall dates.
But if films with hopes for awards (Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” for example) do debut at a September festival, will they try to keep their profile up for the long haul before Oscar voting begins in March, or will they lay low for a few months? It’s hard to imagine there won’t be some kind of campaigning over the intervening months.
The new Oscar date also raises questions for the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Those two Southern California events normally take place in early and late January, respectively, and attract star-studded talent to galas that provide another chance for would-be winners to mingle with voters. Those events, which might be locked into their dates without virtual alternatives, could serve very different roles in this awards season.
3. Netflix Could Be a Huge(r) Player
While other studios might still need to finish production on their awards titles arriving late in the year, Netflix has already banked film content months in advance and has an advantage with a slew of early potential contenders for this year’s race. Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” which debuted on the streamer last Friday, might be the year’s first big Oscar contender, and critics have been buzzing about the performance of one of its stars, Delroy Lindo.
Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” David Fincher’s “Mank,” George Clooney’s “Good Morning, Midnight” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman could all be in play for the streamer, as long as they had theatrical runs scheduled or can do such runs when movie theaters reopen.
Other studios may need more time to finish postproduction on their films and get them into theaters — but one of the reasons the Academy moved the Oscars by nearly two full months is that studios had told AMPAS they needed that much time to be sure they can finish and release their prime contenders.
The new eligibility requirements, which will be altered once enough theaters reopen, also help other streamers and indies debuting their movies only online.
4. Will Movies Adjust Release Schedules Further?
Film fans know there’s often a glut of movies that often open in a handful of theaters in the waning days of the year to qualify for awards — before opening wide in January or February. But with eligibility extended until the end of February, the first time the Oscars’ eligibility period has not conformed to a calendar year since 1934, that could all change.
Movies generally get more eyeballs during the fall and holiday months than in January. This past December brought in $1.1 billion at the box office compared to just $897 million this January. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see studios prioritize dollars over trophies — even if it means losing precious awards buzz or momentum.
Still, the movie release calendar has been a constant moving target for all studios as they juggle for 2020 and beyond, and we’ve seen potential contenders like the Tom Hanks war movie “Greyhound” jump to Apple TV+, or Sony acquire the rom-com “The Broken Hearts Gallery” to slot into theaters as they reopen more widely in July. It’s not hard to imagine the December releases of some films shifting slightly to better fit the awards calendar. Be on the lookout for new landing pads for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” Paul Greengrass’ Tom Hanks drama “News of the World,” the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” and Ridley Scott’s Matt Damon-Ben Affleck epic “The Last Duel.”
Steve Pond contributed to this report.