July 17 was supposed to have been the day that we’d all start going to the movies again. The bait dangled to lure us out of lockdown was to have been Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bending puzzler, but on Friday, Warner Bros. postponed Tenet’s release to July 31. As Variety’s Rebecca Rubin and Brent Lang report, the studio has also “shifted Wonder Woman 1984 from August to October, pushed Godzilla vs. Kong from November to May of 2021, and moved Matrix 4 into 2022, by which point, for civilization’s sake, let there be a vaccine.” But it’s not just the studios reshuffling the calendar. Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it’s moving the presentation of next year’s Oscars to April 25 and extending the awards eligibility period to February 28, a decision that’s come in for some severe criticism.
Guy Lodge, a critic for Variety and the Guardian, calls the move “idiotic. New films are being released constantly, many of them good, and many voters have nothing but time on their hands to watch them. Dig deeper.” Carlos Aguilar, a contributor to the Los Angeles Times and TheWrap, agrees: “Plenty of great eligible movies have already been released this year and more are still on the way,” he’s tweeted. “Rather than cater to the studios, maybe celebrate films you would often overlook in a typical year?”
Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri expands on this argument, noting how easy it is for him right now, just halfway through 2020, to list ten viable contenders for best picture, including Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. “The Academy’s decision seems, in some ways, like a slap in the face to those films, as if the Oscars were saying to them that even though they’re technically eligible, they should sit back and wait for the big boys to come out and grab their trophies,” writes Ebiri. “An Oscars built around smaller releases that are nevertheless great movies might actually serve as a necessary reset for AMPAS, and return the awards back to what they should be about in the first place: honoring excellence.”
In the New York Times, Brooks Barnes grants that it’s “easy to mock the annual Emmy and Oscar contests as frivolous, especially when the United States is heading toward 140,000 Covid-19 deaths and demands for police reform are roiling seemingly every corner of American life. But awards do form a crucial part of the Hollywood economy.” Tens of millions of dollars are spent on awards campaigns and related events vital to the hospitality industry and the careers of actors, directors, and their crews are “directly affected by wins and nominations.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp floats the possibility of another side effect of the Academy’s rescheduling. Even if the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals actually do take place this fall, “eight months ahead of the Oscars, their relevance to this year’s awards season seems iffy.” Sundance, he suggests, might become this awards season’s “Oscar launch pad.” Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux, ever the optimist, tells Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman, that despite all the theater closings and festival cancellations, cinema’s “uniqueness will emerge, that innate power it has that no other art form can rival. But for this to happen, we need to take action, we need to have conviction, and we need audiences to contribute to the cause. But going to the cinema strikes me as a wonderful duty to bear!”