The Oscars and streaming have reached a detente.
For one year and one year only, streaming-only films can be nominated for the 2021 Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this week.
How generous of our Hollywood overlords.
Their saintly flip-flop is, like everything else, caused by the unprecedented disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. But shouldn’t it be due to common sense?
With movie theater closures lasting longer than hoped, the People’s Republic of Film was in a bind. Their rule for years has been that in order for a movie to be nominated for an Oscar, it must have, at least, a seven-day theatrical run in Los Angeles County. It is a silly bylaw, like turning your phone off on an airplane, or saying “God bless you” to an atheist with the sniffles.
Considering that LA mayor Eric Garcetti said last week that concerts and sporting events in the city wouldn’t be happening “anytime soon, and probably not for the rest of this year,” the idea of hundreds of patrons packing into bedbug-lovin’ blackboxes several times a day for a Wes Anderson movie is about as realistic as “Babe: Pig in the City.”
Oscar was screwed.
So, pouting, the academy relented and let streaming into the party. Desperate times, desperate measures, right? But allowing the most easily accessible films to participate in award season should not be a compromise, but a long overdue, totally rational shift in policy. The new streaming eligibility rule must not fade away with a vaccine, but be woven into the fabric of future Oscars ceremonies. That is, if the academy craves a sliver of relevance anymore.
The truth is that today, streaming and on-demand watching are audiences’ preferred ways for experiencing high-quality films. Plain and simple.
Examine your own viewing habits. This year, two major best picture nominees were produced by Netflix: “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story.” Both had wimpy, requisite runs in theaters to snag Oscar nods, but how did you really watch them? At home, I reckon. “The Irishman,” for instance, could not reach an agreement with AMC, one of America’s largest theater chains, for a short stint, so in New York, it instead played indie venues such as the IFC Center, Landmark and even the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. Regardless, most people around the country saw it on the couch. They didn’t mind a bit.
Why, then, are they determined to be #OscarsSoSlight?
Being a “made-for-TV movie” was once a trashy distinction, the Mr. Pibb to our Dr. Pepper. The genre became popular in the 1960s, beginning with televised stage plays and gradually transitioned to “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” While Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese churned out art, this televised mystery meat was lumping an extra half an hour onto soap operas. For example, in 1994’s “Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story,” the mother-daughter duo played themselves, semi-fictionally dealing with the death of Joan Rivers’ husband. Suffice it to say, Alfonso Cuarón did not direct.
With paid cable, the small-screen flicks got classier — think, HBO’s “Temple Grandin” or “Longford.” But the stubborn prejudice stuck.
Today, however, the lines between film and television have thankfully blurred — and quality has increased across the board. The “Game of Thrones” series was as brilliant as any blockbuster film, and this year’s Best Picture winner, “Parasite,” was as scintillating as an episode of “Killing Eve.” These acclaimed films and TV shows can be watched on HBO Go, Hulu and iTunes right now. At home. Still, there are plenty of grumpy, old-fashioned detractors.
“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” said elitist director Steven Spielberg in an interview with ITV in March 2018. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”
The pandemic has revealed Spielberg’s thinking to be pompous and misguided. Whether meant for the big screen or the small, for the time being, we’re sheltering at home with every film, regardless of its aspirations. Does that diminish the quality of the filmmaking? No way.
We haven’t yet reached peak Oscars season yet, but there has already been at least one potential nominee to get a direct-to-digital release: “Trolls World Tour.” It has a strong shot for a Best Animated Feature nod, and is a shoo-in for Original Song. Its 2016 predecessor, “Trolls,” was nominated in the same category for Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” The family film reportedly made over $100 million in revenue from content-hungry consumers.
Cooped up at home, viewers are discovering the magic of movies, for escape and enlightenment, more than ever before. After 2021, the Oscars should wake up, shake off their snobbery and embrace film’s most essential element: its audience.
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