Oscars are a low key affair. Will future winners have a home on the big screen?
- Credit: Matt Petit / A.M.P.A.S.
It was always going to be an odd Oscars this year - with cinemas having been shut for the best part of a year, with many of the big blockbuster films being put on the backburner or slipped out on streaming platforms – and so it proved to be.
The profile of the films up for awards this year was at an all-time low. This was reflected in the lack of Oscar buzz on social media and the poor ratings for precursor awards events like the BAFTAs.
The lack of drama at the awards will also be a problem for programme makers trying to attract audiences to catch-up screenings in the UK. The lack of a glamourous audience and a consequently much reduced red carpet will also leave regular audiences wanting more.
Nomadland went into the Oscars as the favourite to pick up the big prizes – and it made good on those promises bagging Best Picture, Best Actress for Frances McDormand (adding to Oscars won for Fargo and Three Billboards) and Best Director for relative newcomer Chloe Zhao. Nomadland, which tells the true-life story of America’s largely female, transient older population, was only her third feature film.
Elsewhere, the Best Actor category was deemed to be a two horse race between Anthony Hopkins and the late Chadwick Boseman. In the event the Oscar went to 83 year old Sir Anthony, making him the oldest recipient of an acting award, beating the previous record holder Richard Farnsworth who won for The Straight Story in 2000 at the age of 80.
Other British success included Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya winning Best Supporting Actor for his role as Fred Hampton in the real-life Black Panther movie Judas and the Black Messiah and writer- actor-director Emerald Fennell wining Best Original Screenplay for revenge drama Promising Young Woman.
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British playwright Christopher Hampton shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar with The Father’s stage creator Florian Zeller.
So what of the future? This is the really big question of the night. It’s not whether the Oscars will ever be held in a train station again – this year it was held at Union Station in Los Angeles to help maintain social distancing and comply with Covid regulations – the big question arising out of this year’s much delayed event is how will the Oscars move forward? What will they represent, who will they represent, will there be an audience outside the industry for this previously much revered trophy?
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The controversy surrounding the nomination of Roma, the Netflix-funded, Mexican drama, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, in 2019 seems a long-time ago now. But, it’s inclusion in the Best Picture category sent shockwaves coursing through the film industry with normally level-headed elder statesmen like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese saying that they felt that films needed to be shown on the big screen, in a commercial cinema in order to be eligible for an Oscar.
The pandemic and the rise of streaming services debuting first-run Hollywood movies after cinemas were shut down has put paid to that argument for good. But, nevertheless, the future of Oscar-worthy films is far from certain as the role of cinemas in the modern entertainment landscape has yet to be decided.
It is very unlikely that things will return to ‘normal’ when cinemas do eventually re-open. Cinemas, film production companies, streaming services and distributors will engage in a lengthy and I suspect complicated dance to decide who screens what, when.
As companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime, even independents with their own digital platform like Curzon and the BFI, will insist on either an online premiere or a simultaneous physical/digital opening. They may even limit the number of physical screenings that maybe held.
Also, there has long been a certain type of ‘issue-based’ movie or an adaptation of a well-loved novel, released at this time of year, that was always regarded as an Oscar film and they were slipped into cinemas as the excitement over the big Christmas movies were beginning to die down.
Maybe, in future years, these ‘worthy’ movies may not see a big screen release at all? Maybe cinema chains wouldn’t mind forgoing an older audience, who tend to buy fewer fizzy drinks and popcorn, in exchange for some extra ‘date’ movies to help boost profits on the run-up for Valentine’s Day.
If these ‘Oscar’ films do go online then publicity will have to be much better because at the moment it is very difficult to discover which service is hosting which title and when they are released. At the moment films are tending to sneak out rather than be given a high profile launch.
I suspect that the mainstream high street cinema will increasingly become the home for big budget spectacles rather than thoughtful dramas. If Netflix and Amazon will share their Oscar-films with a few smaller cinemas, then this arrangement could prove beneficial to our important independent cinemas like Ipswich Film Theatre, Woodbridge Riverside, Leiston Cinema, Aldeburgh Cinema and Abbeygate in Bury St Edmunds.
It will mean that they can truly showcase a different sort of cinema and provide a communal alternative to sitting at home and watching a good film on your own.
It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. Make no mistake, this is a crossroads in the life of cinema as important as the coming of sound and the rise of television. Cinema will survive but it will change and I suspect that change will happen very fast.
The big Oscar winners
Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Director: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)
Best Actress: Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
Best Actor: Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Father)
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari)
Best Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt (Mank)
Best Original Screenplay: Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller (The Father)