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Goodbye to the Worst Oscar Season Ever, and Apologies to the Good Movies Stuck in It

Despite the fact that some very deserving films were honored, this pandemic season was a mess

AWARDS BEAT

A year ago, after a rushed season that at one point crammed five awards shows into a single night because the earliest-ever Oscars were happening on Feb. 9, Hollywood was looking forward to a nice, normal 2020-2021 awards season.

Oh, what fools we awards-watchers be.

Nice and normal, it turns out, are not words that will ever be associated with the Oscar season that will come to a merciful end at Union Station on Sunday night. Five awards shows in one night feels like a luxury when compared to an endless season that won’t stop until April 25 (when, by the way, Emmy season is already in full swing). And an accelerated season that ended in delight when “Parasite” claimed Best Picture is definitely preferable to a season spent giving movie awards to films that people didn’t see in movie theaters.

The season we’ve just been through — with its string of virtual awards shows, complete with acceptance speeches on mute, pre-taped winners’ statements and the awkwardness of trying to re-create an in-person experience when everybody’s apart  — has left many with an overpowering feeling: Why are we doing this?

It was, sad to say, a messy awards season that made us wonder about the point of giving out awards.

One of the points, of course, is money. According to the Academy’s latest annual report, “Academy Awards and related activities” brought $131 million into the organization’s coffers in 2019; every other income source combined totaled $40 million. The embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s income is even more lopsided: A 2019 IRS filing reveals that the $30.4 million brought in by the Golden Globe Awards was almost 97% of the HFPA’s total revenue for that fiscal year.

So there’s too much money in awards season to just walk away — but beyond that, the pandemic-caused theater closings of 2020 didn’t stop worthy films from being released. The year’s movies deserve to be celebrated, whether it’s the empathy of “Nomadland,” the humanity of “Minari,” the fire of “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the provocation of “Promising Young Woman,” the subversion of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the heart of “Soul,” the soul of “One Night in Miami,” the passion of “Another Round,” the revelations in “Collective,” the power of “Quo Vadis, Aida?” or the beauty of “Wolfwalkers.”  

Those movies, and many more, have earned the right to be applauded and, yes, even awarded, if those awards get more people to pay attention to them. But it’s hard to take much satisfaction from a season as disheveled and elongated as this one, with each new virtual or hybrid awards show giving you new reasons to wonder if the latest kudosfest shouldn’t just have been canceled or turned into a press release. (The Screen Actors Guild Awards, which condensed everything into a one-hour TV special, had the right idea but might not have gone far enough.)

Meanwhile, theaters struggled to reopen, Hollywood’s favorite multiplex, the ArcLight, went out of business and a long-overdue reckoning for the HFPA threatened to end the Golden Globes entirely. That would not necessarily be a bad thing, mind you, but it was another messy distraction in a season full of them.

The bottom line: Terrific movies, occasionally heartening awards shows (thank you, Grammys) and some fresh new friends (nice to meet you, Maria Bakalova, and sorry we didn’t notice you before, Yuh-Jung Youn) couldn’t hide the fact that for the most part, this awards season has been no fun.

So in two days, it’ll be time to bid a not-so-fond farewell to the worst awards season ever. And to offer a meek apology to all the good movies that deserved better.