The Oscars. Yup, those. "They're too political." "They're not representative of the best films of the year." "They're so self-congratulatory."
These might be some complaints of yours. Some people have stopped caring about the Oscars entirely. Their viewership is down as well. Nearly 20% to be exact.
So why do we care? Why should we care?
COVID and the Impact on the Oscars
This year is going to be very interesting as far as what films will be eligible and nominated. With the onslaught of films being delayed or postponed until 2021 or indefinitely, it's hard to know what will even qualify or be nominated. Many have joked around that Bad Boys For Life will win Best Picture as a result of the delayed and postponed films. It's worthy of noting the Academy did in fact move the ceremony from its typical end of February, early March date to April 25, 2021. This will give a wider berth to the films that can be considered during that timeframe. I aim to bring you the films that are in consideration currently, and what have the chance to be upon their release. As I had mentioned in a previous article, streaming platforms will be the homes to the majority of the films we may see nominated or at the very least in the conversation. Seldom few of these films will have proper theatrical releases, but the good news is, they don't need to.
Considering the circumstances, the Academy has suspended the normal requirements of a filming needing a theatrical release for 2 weeks in order to be considered. Now, they can just be dropped right to a streaming platform. This opens up chances for a great many films. Granted, the Academy was all but forced to make this change as a proper theatrical release during these tumultuous times is not feasible in certain crucial areas of the country. Not to mention, it still boils down to a film's campaign, set up by the company that distributed it. Campaigns are equally as important to the Academy as the quality of the films are. Whether this is right or wrong, that's the way it is. What is meant by campaigning is that the people behind the creation and distribution of the film must keep the momentum of the film going by keeping it in the public consciousness, or even in the private eye. Behind closed doors, often times there is a viewing party or debut put on by that team behind the film just for members of the Academy to see. They can include food, drink, and lots of free stuff. Very elegant, very exclusive, and at times, very costly. But in the end, it can be worth it to that film and its team if you bring home a golden statue or two. Then, it's payday. More Oscar attention can, at times, bring in more money for your movie.
Depending on how long this goes on, we could see this as the new standard for the Oscars. If things calm down, we could see a return to normalcy. But, this is important if the spread of the virus cannot be controlled.
Why We Can Care Again
You might be thinking, remind us again why we should care about this? Which is fair. Reason being is because this might end up being permanent. On the other hand, it could be temporary just for the special circumstance we're living in. But, what if it's not. Strictly streaming films now being eligible for the Oscars is a game changer. This could mean that independent films and other films that wouldn't normally have a chance at a proper theatrical release now have an opportunity at Oscar contention. Granted, they could also fall by the wayside as Academy members in the past have admitted to not watching all the films in consideration. In 2018, some older Academy members had actually passed on watching Get Out because they didn't feel it was an "Oscar film" nor was it worthy of their attention. If you don't believe me, feel free to look it up.
What's more, a David and Goliath scenario has always been a great story that has repeated itself in Oscar history. For example, Moonlight upset La La Land back in 2017 in an infamous ceremony that will forever live on as the Moonlight/La La Land debacle, very aptly named. The main reason this was a David and Goliath scenario was not just because La La Land was the favorite to win Best Picture that year, but also, we were dealing with a David-esque production/distribution company that was still in its infancy at that point, A24. La La Land was distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment, which was a much larger company at the time.
You might say I'm a champion of the little guy. But, I also do see the world as it is. And the truth of the matter is, the larger company with the most power, influence, and money typically does end up on top. This is why we see a lot of companies who have been at the table longer than some of the smaller ones like A24, do win out because they know how to campaign and position themselves and their films just right with the Academy. However, we did see another company much like A24 win best picture, and that was with the most recent Best Picture winner, Parasite. NEON owned the distribution rights to the film, and they now hold the rights to director Bong Joon-Ho's other films as well. NEON had some experience in campaigning with 2017's I, Tonya. But, much like A24, they were very much in their infancy during those times.
The main reason I believe we can care about the Oscars again, beyond the reasons I'm about to delve into in the paragraphs to come, is that I feel the Best Picture of the year CAN actually win now. This was seen at this past year's ceremony when Parasite made history. This can open the door for more foreign language films as well as smaller films from a smaller company that can actually make a difference. Parasite was much more than a small(er) international feature in a different language, but also the film had a lot on its mind regarding class structure, class warfare, and the wealth gap. Films that entertain and shed light on important issues are often the best, in my mind.
On the other hand, the Oscars tried to get us to care about them again when they discussed implementing a "Best Popular Film Oscar" which would include films that gained the most attention, at the box office or otherwise. Typically, this meant it would likely be a Superhero or other franchise film that tend to dominate the summer box office and attention in the public eye. This was met with massive protest and the Academy immediately took action in removing the category. The Oscars have now turned to more meaningful change in order to have audiences and industry members to care.
Best Picture Requirements Change
Another notable change that's coming to future Oscar ceremonies is their call for diversity and inclusion for Best Picture nominees. Films must now adhere to a specific set of requirements for their film's production, theme/storyline, distribution, and marketing. After the onslaught of criticism for 2016's ceremony's "Oscars so white" debacle, the Academy has responded to the call for change. 2017 saw Moonlight taking Best Picture, which features an all black cast. 2018's ceremony saw a Hispanic-American director take home Best Picture for Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water. 2019's ceremony saw a "racism is bad" film take home Best Picture in Green Book, albeit by a white director and writer. If they wanted to go that route, they could have chosen Spike Lee's BlackKklansman, but I digress. And, as stated, South Korean writer/director Bong Joon Ho took home the BP win for his masterpiece Parasite at 2020's ceremony. Three out of the past four years have seen diverse filmmakers take home the titular, pivotal award. But, many people feel this isn't enough.
That's where the new requirements come in. Even though the Academy has made strides, viewers and members of the industry alike have seen that underrepresented groups have not been recognized at the annual awards show. This was made abundantly clear when at the most recent ceremony, all five of the directors category were men, and only one of the nine best picture nominees were primarily made by and/or cast with people of color. Many feel that works by women or underrepresented ethnic groups are not gaining the recognition they deserve. To not even be in the conversation is the problem, not just the fact that they aren't winning. For instance, Greta Gerwig was overlooked for a nomination this past year for her achievement in direction for 2019's Little Women. Granted, this would have only been one woman to be recognized in the category, but it's a start. Only one woman in Oscars history has won Best Director, and this was for 2008's The Hurt Locker by director Kathryn Bigelow. It seems that the only ceremony concerned with awarding women when it's deserved is the Film Independent Spirit Awards, who honored Lulu Wang for her grand achievement with 2019's The Farewell, winning its top prize. This film, of course, garnered no recognition at the Oscars, even though it was one of the year's best films. It's entirely possible that A24 dropped the ball on the campaign for this film, but this goes back to the argument for quality over bribery. I'm in the camp of awarding who is most deserving, but women did and have been creating worthy projects over the years.
Greta Gerwig Directing Little Women (2019) The Academy did her dirty.
2021 Oscar Frontrunners
Let's move to this upcoming Oscars. As I mentioned before, this will be an intriguing year for the ceremony, all things considered. We have already seen a film festival come and go. Yes, those. They still exist, despite everything. Venice Film Festival awarded Chloe Zhao's Nomadland its top prize, the Golden Lion. The Golden Lion winner has not only gone on to be nominated for Best Picture, but it has also won it on several occasions. Most recently and notably, Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water won back in 2018. Additionally, Nomadland took home the People's Choice Award, the top prize, at Toronto International Film Festival. This is the first time in history a film has won both The Golden Lion at Venice and the People's Choice Award at TIFF. This bodes mighty well for Zhao and her film. What's more, if Chloe Zhao is nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, she will become the first Asian woman to be nominated in Oscars history.
Another notable Best Picture contender is Regina King's One Night in Miami. The film is King's directorial debut, as most will likely know her for her acting performances and most recently her Oscar winning supporting performance in 2018's If Beale Street Could Talk. There is much buzz around this film after its premiere at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). TIFF used zoom and virtual premieres for its viewers, filmmakers and critics. So 2020 of them.
More Oscar buzz to come out of that festival is Vanessa Kirby's performance in Netflix acquisition, Pieces of A Woman. Whether or not this film will pick up steam for a BP nomination, I don't know. But one thing is for certain, all eyes are on Kirby's performance, and we can expect to see her as a lock for a nomination, if not in the conversation at the very least. Other notable performances that will be in contention for Best Actress are Kate Winslet in Ammonite, even if the film did not hit big with critics, and Oscar favorite Frances McDormand in Nomadland.
Another notable performance in the discussion for Best Actor is Delroy Lindo in Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods. It has been announced that Netflix is campaigning behind his performance, and will be a strong contender. As for other categories for the film, I'm not sure. But Netflix will be gunning hard for recognition behind Lindo's lead performance. The other performance I've heard buzz around is Anthony Hopkins in The Father, which has been widely regarded as a career best for him. Expect to hear more upon the film's wider release. It's uncertain what other films will have this type of buzz in the months to come, but I expect they will likely be David Fincher's Mank, and Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7.
As of right now, it's too early to tell. But, these are the biggest stories in Oscar talk currently.
A Still from Regina King's 'One Night in Miami'
Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf in 'Pieces of a Woman'
Do We Care Yet?
If you still don't care by this point, I understand. But, it's worthy of conversation and discourse in the film community and the industry at large. These are important changes for the future of film and filmmaking. This could also open the door for films that we are not used to seeing, and therefore broadening our horizons. This is all in the name of ensuring underrecognized filmmakers are earned their due as they have been overshadowed for years by possibly less deserving films and filmmakers, depending on your viewpoint. Alas, it is a subjective art form and therefore impossible to judge what is truly the 'best.' That's the difficulty of awarding cinema on merit. But, the idea here is to eliminate the possibility of another "Oscars so white" scenario from 2016 which presented the awards ceremony and the industry in general in a bad light. Additionally, the hope is to recognize women filmmakers for their achievement in direction, writing, producing, etc in a (white) male dominated industry. This is not to prop up or to give out participation awards, this is an attempt to level the playing field.
This is important. We should care.