It’s Only October, So Why the Oscar Rush?

The movies pile on as the calendar speeds up; plus, Ted Sarandos’ theory of 9


steve pond What’s the hurry, Oscar? That seems to be the mood these days on the awards circuit, where everybody has come face-to-face with the fact that the 92nd Academy Awards are going to be two weeks earlier than usual, and that means everything else is coming more quickly than usual, too. The realization, which we’ve all known in theory for months, was brought home when the Academy’s Governors Awards took place on Sunday, the first time that classy ceremony/campaign stop has ever been held in October. Except for 2012, when the fourth Governors Awards were held on Dec. 1, the event has been a mid-November staple – but with the Oscars themselves moved to February 9 from its usual slot on the last Sunday in February, everything else shifted forward too. And in the past week, as actors and filmmakers from every potential nominee have made their way to town to schmooze with Oscar voters and press at a packed Dolby Ballroom on Sunday, I’ve been hearing it everywhere: Wow, this season is coming on fast. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so rushed and torn,” said one voter, which is a succinct way to sum up how most of the voters, consultants and Oscar-watchers are feeling, particularly as they look toward what will be a hugely crowded January. (Example: On Saturday, Jan. 25, which also happens to be the first Saturday of the Sundance Film Festival, five awards shows will be taking place simultaneously.) A common question I keep hearing is “Why are they doing this?” And the answers I’ve guessed at — the Academy wants less time to have elapsed between the release of the films and the Oscar show; they don’t want to follow months of the same movies winning other awards; they’d like to nudge the Golden Globes into insignificance by coming soon after that show — don’t seem to have satisfied anybody. On the other hand, we should probably check back around the middle of February. People might be thinking differently when they suddenly get their post-Oscar break two weeks earlier than usual. Here, by the way, is the Oscar math so far in three of the categories whose voters will be voting to compile short lists in advance of nomination voting: Voters in the Best International Feature Film category are watching a record 93 films, which are screening at the Academy between now and Dec. 9, the day before final short list voting ends. Each Los Angeles-based voter must see and score at least 15 films (in theaters, not via streaming) for his or her vote to count. Best Animated Feature has also set a record, with 32 entries. That list of films has been split into separate lists, and voters — who are drawn from the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch and also from volunteers in other branches — must see all the films on their list, plus enough others to reach a total of 16, or 50% of the eligible animated films. And members of the Documentary Branch have received monthly emails since June listing the films that are available to stream on a secure members’ site. So far, they have 154 films to view, with each member being assigned 20 percent of those films – or 31 movies – as mandatory viewing. Last year, a final group of films was added to the streaming site in November.
Eddie Murphy Jamie Foxx Governors Awards
The consensus at the Dolby Ballroom on Sunday night, by the way, was that this year’s Governors Awards were one of the best of the 11 ceremonies the Academy has presented — loose, well-paced and brisk but emotional. Partly that was due to honorees David Lynch, Geena Davis, Wes Studi and Lina Wertmuller, but it also had to do with the show’s two-hour-and-10-minute running time, which came after a short dinner and didn’t include the usual hour of schmoozing and table hopping. The tone was set by Jamie Foxx, who came onstage at the beginning of the night with instructions, he said, to stall for three or four minutes. He did so with an exuberance and ramshackle charm that ran through the entire show, and he also used his time to single out a few of his favorites in the audience: Tom Hanks, Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo Di Caprio, Scarlett Johansson and especially Eddie Murphy. Foxx called a confused Murphy up onstage and then lavished praise on his performance in “Dolemite Is My Name” – which, in a room full of voters and press, was about as high-profile a shout-out as “Dolemite” could get this awards season, particularly given that the event has the official imprimatur of the Academy. “Jamie was great for everybody except the people who were there from the films he wasn’t singling out,” said one attendee afterwards. “If you’re somebody who’s going to be competing against Tom Hanks or Eddie Murphy, you were probably sitting there going, ‘What the f—?’”
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
Something else I learned at the Governors Awards: Netflix’s Ted Sarandos has a theory that years ending in 9 tend to be very good movie years. He might be saying that, of course, because his company has three major Oscar contenders in “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “The Two Popes,” along with “Dolemite” and a hefty group of international films and documentaries. But the theory extends far beyond this year. Sarandos mentioned his “9” theory to me after as the awards were winding down, so I immediately mentioned 1999, the year whose films included “The Matrix,” “The Insider,” “Magnolia,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Man on the Moon,” “Election,” “Fight Club,” “All About My Mother” and the Oscar-winning “American Beauty.” “And 1979,” he quickly added. “‘Kramer v. Kramer,’ ‘Alien’ … ” I checked the theory with the 250 highest-rated films on IMDb, admittedly not the most unassailable of critical yardsticks, and found that the top films are pretty evenly distributed. For the record, years ending in 4 had the most entries, 35, while years ending in 9 finished second, with 29. This is one in a series of weekly dispatches about the 2019-2020 awards season on WrapPRO.