On Tuesday morning, exactly 10 months to the day before the 93rd annual Academy Awards on February 28, 2021, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors will gather virtually to discuss and approve changes in rules for eligibility and other issues regarding the next Oscar show. It comes amid the coronovirus shutdown that has forced a rethink of plans from just about every corner of the entertainment industry.
The April meeting was originally scheduled for April 14, but as Deadline reported at the time was delayed two weeks. I am told that not just the Academy but also many board members needed some more time out before proceeding. Following the Tuesday meeting, AMPAS will provide the answers to what the press, until now, has only been able to speculate on, like one click-bait headline over the weekend that asked, “Will The 2021 Oscars Be Cancelled?”
Sources tell me to expect not just eligibility changes (especially in light of all the ways movies are currently debuting directly on VOD and streaming platforms such as Netflix) but also likely some surprising and significant changes regarding categories themselves. What these changes will be are anyone’s guess, but due to the exodus entirely of many films from the 2020 release calendar, and perhaps several others currently weighing options to switch to VOD and streaming rather than first going theatrical (Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island was just announced as the second Universal film to skip theatrical and go straight to VOD, following Trolls World Tour, and Sony sold Seth Rogen’s latest to HBO Max), these changes are by anyone’s account necessary, and depending on world events out of everyone’s control may not even be enough. In that regard, I am told all the answers likely won’t come tomorrow as this is a fluid situation.
When first asked last month about making any alterations to its normally stringent requirements of eligibility — for most categories a consecutive seven-day run in a theater in Los Angeles County — the Academy issued a statement portending flexibility. “We are in the process of evaluating all aspects of this uncertain landscape and what changes may need to be made. We are committed to being nimble and forward-thinking as we discuss what is best for the future of the industry and will make further announcements in the coming days,” an Academy spokesperson said.
Now, nearly six weeks later, we are on the verge of getting the first concrete word since that lone statement. And indeed AMPAS officials have been working this entire time to come up with a plan. When you consider that the next Oscars are so far away — set nearly a full year after COVID-19 first shut down the industry and the country — you would think they probably in theory would not be severely affected. After all, the Television Academy has a much more pressing issue with the Primetime Emmys scheduled for September 20 (with two Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies the week before) and have made no public statement about canceling or, more likely, altering the format other than some relatively minor eligibility and rules tweaks of their own.
The New York TV Academy did experiment with a virtual live-streamed Emmy ceremony that seemed to go well this past weekend, and you have to believe that the TV Academy is looking at a new-age kind of format ahould an Emmy show as usual not be possible. I would imagine every awards-giving organization is probably trying to come up with some emergency blueprint to stay on course, as it were. For instance, ABC broadcasts the Oscars and is currently showing with its series American Idol that it is possible to take a live TV event and re-imagine it without taking a ratings hit. The NFL did it with the drafts last week and, if you ask me, actually made it work better than the previous format. Something similar down the road is needed to keep the Oscars on track if a re-occurrence in the of COVID-19 outbreaks in the fall or winter forces a change in plans. A virtual Oscars? Hmmmmm. Let’s hope though for the sake of the world and human life it doesn’t have to come to that, and our lives are closer to normal by then. The Academy proved recently with its $6 million contribution to the Actors Fund, Motion Picture & Television Fund and its own foundation to help those most in need at this time that some things take precedence, even over what happens with the Oscars.
Nevertheless, the Academy Awards are enormously important in terms of encouraging the making of movies good enough to be nominated and win (coronavirus cannot destroy egos in this town). The big picture of what films will look like continues to be a pressing question that affects every aspect of the so-called awards season, which is supposed to begin in September with the fall film festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York, etc. Actually, as last year proved with Parasite winning the Palme d’Or and then becoming the first film since Marty in 1955 to also eventually take the Best Picture Oscar, it really could begin at Cannes. But that now-twice-postponed 2020 edition that was to have started three weeks from now is looking to be a shell of its normal self when it figures out how to proceed if at all, and what effect that will have on the contest for Oscar’s International Feature Film category is another question with which the Academy likely is grappling. Venice, in one of the hardest hit places in the world, is determined to do something, but will it have its usual importance to the Oscar race itself? The same goes for Telluride and Toronto and what impact they can have, but it doesn’t seem likely to be business as usual. It’s all speculation at this point, but that is what we are left with as April turns to May.
No matter what changes are made for the Oscars, it still comes down to the movies themselves and, unless the changes being approved by the board are beyond anyone’s experience in the entire history of the Academy, how they can get into theaters. The AMC exhibition chain for one has said it will not reopen until there is major studio product to show — and that means by all accounts Warner Bros’ still hoped-for and planned July 17 release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Nolan is one of the industry’s biggest cheerleaders for the theatrical experience, and if this can happen on schedule we may be on the road to recovery and an Oscar season we might recognize. It could also help propel Nolan’s new film (still sight unseen, mind you) into the race as the first real Best Picture contender.
It might be helpful to remember that even with all this speculation of how ever-changing events will affect an Oscar show 10 months away, last year the first of what would become nine Best Picture nominees, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, didn’t even open until July 26, three months from where we are right now. And the other eight nominees didn’t begin their theatrical runs until October. Let’s look on the bright side.
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