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But after a year of global pandemic, closed cinemas, film production halted and many movie releases postponed, the Academy Awards promise to be unrecognisable – and have rarely felt more inconsequential. With no audience-pleasing blockbusters among the contenders, insiders are predicting the Oscars’ lowest television audience ratings in years. It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for Hollywood’s self-congratulatory bash when few people have even seen the films vying for the famous gold-plated statuettes.
And though this year’s nominees mark a long-overdue – and much-needed – improvement in racial and sexual diversity and inclusion, experts fear it is an anomaly caused by the profusion of arthouse and independent movies that dared open in 2020 when major studios held their films back for later release.
In fact, many are asking: Do the Oscars even matter any more?
IT’S HARD TO CARE ABOUT OSCARS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIES…
There are eight best picture Oscar nominees, whose COMBINED worldwide box office earnings are £25million – a paltry sum that would be considered a flop if earned by just one film in normal times. Riz Ahmed’s acclaimed drama, Sound Of Metal, made just £70,000.
The front-runners – Nomadland, Minari, The Trial Of The Chicago Seven, Judas And The Black Messiah, Sound Of Metal – though undoubtedly good movies, have been seen by relatively few fans.
A recent survey of US moviegoers showed that the majority were unaware of all eight best picture nominees. A scant 18 percent had heard of Mank, the black-and-white drama starring Gary Oldman about the making of the movie classic Citizen Kane.
Even the most recognised film, Judas And The Black Messiah, remained unknown to 54 percent of audiences. Awards nominations usually bring an Oscar bump to the box office, but that didn’t happen this year, as Covid-shy fans stayed home. Some have screened on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, but streaming services don’t release viewing figures.
YES, IT IS GOING TO BE A VERY DIFFERENT ACADEMY AWARDS…
Far from the glamour of Hollywood, the ceremony is being held in a downtown Los Angeles railway station. Seriously. Union station is main stage for the proceedings, which will be convenient if the show is a train-wreck of a flop.
After an awards season of awkward Zoom video acceptance speeches by stars in hoodies and sweatshirts, celebrities have been pressured to attend in person and dress to kill, though at least a dozen are joining by satellite link. Stages have also been prepared in London and Paris for nominees unwilling to fly to Hollywood mid-pandemic.
Stars will walk “a teeny-tiny red carpet”, says , co-producing the Oscars show with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. But gone will be the fans and legion of TV crews, reporters and paparazzi. Also missing will be all five nominated songs – usually providing rare moments of relief in an often tedious telecast – now relegated to the Oscar pre-show.
For the third year there will be no Oscars host.
Producers hope to dazzle with presenters, including last year’s winners: Brad Pitt, Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix and Laura Dern, along with Halle Berry, Harrison Ford, Regina King, Reese Witherspoon and Zendaya.
“There’s so much wattage here, sunglasses may be required,” they boast. But don’t look for A-List faces in the audience: there won’t be one. “It’s going to feel like a movie,” says Soderbergh, who directed Ocean’s 11. “There’s an overarching theme that’s articulated in different ways throughout the show.”
FINALLY, SOME MUCH-NEEDED DIVERSITY – BUT IS IT TOO LATE?
After several years of complaints about #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale, this year finally sees nine of the 20 acting nominees being people of colour. And for the first time two women have been nominated as best director: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman (starring Carey Mulligan, right), the first British woman director to win a nomination.
Since 2016 the Academy has tripled its members of colour and doubled its female members, yet remains dominated by older white men.
Despite its apparent improvement, 2020 was a year without major studio competition. The contenders are films that grabbed the chance for Oscar glory while suffering at the pandemic box office.
This year the blockbusters return, likely bringing with them the racial and sexual inequities endemic in Hollywood.
AND SOME THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE!
The Oscars may be transformed this year, but to commemorate a year in which three million people died of Covid worldwide, the swag bag given to the acting and directing nominees is as lavish as ever, worth more than £210,000.
Gifts include a holiday in a Swedish lighthouse, four nights at a spa hotel, cosmetic surgery, acupuncture, personal fitness and lifestyle trainers, booze, jewellery, biscuits, shoes, shirts, socks and way too much more.
The few attendees will get on-site Covid testing, to create “an intimate, in-person event” and “a safe and enjoyable evening”. The stars still get to show off, of course. Among the couture gowns and tuxedos expect to see designer masks, with perhaps a few encrusted with diamonds.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Even in a year like no other, there’s more on the line than who takes home the statuettes on Sunday. The Motion Picture Academy receives around £54million for TV rights to the broadcast, but falling viewership could jeopardise that deal and tarnish Oscar’s golden sheen.
Coming at the end of a long line of awards shows, with audiences weary, an Oscars celebrating movies that few have seen could prove, like downtown Los Angeles’ Union station, to be the end of the line for the Academy Awards.
SO WHERE ARE THE BLOCKBUSTERS?
Audience-pleasing movies have helped capture public interest in past Academy Awards ceremonies. Dunkirk and Get Out were major hits contending for Oscars in 2018, and 2019 saw Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born. Last year’s Oscars lured massive audiences with The Joker, Little Women, and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood.
A slew of big budget Oscar contenders were poised for release in 2020, but studios decided to wait. Among them, director Steven Spielberg’s hotly anticipated remake of West Side Story, star-studded costume epic The Last Duel from Gladiator director Ridley Scott, and director Wes Anderson’s drama The French Dispatch.
And don’t even mention the new James Bond, No Time To Die, whose release has repeatedly been pushed back thanks to Covid-19.
Instead, audiences were given dour tales about a homeless woman, immigrant farmers, a deaf drummer, a political trial and an alcoholic screenwriter.
PARTY? WHAT PARTY?
Hollywood’s biggest night of the year will be a quiet affair. The Motion Picture Academy’s usually star-packed Governors Ball has been cancelled. Its 1,000 crew in a typical year feeds 1,500 guests with 800 lobster, 30 whole salmon, caviar and truffles, 1,000 bottles of champagne, 13,000 glasses, 6,000 cocktail forks, 6,000 candles, and 9,000 golden chocolate mini-Oscar statuettes. All gone.
The Vanity Fair after-party, always the hottest ticket in town, has also been axed, as have dozens of other studio celebrations. We’re all invited to Elton John’s online charity bash – if you don’t mind paying £14.99. Celebs and locals will gladly miss the worst of the traditional Oscars: traffic jams that snarl streets for hours. Gone will be 1,200 cars, SUVs and 400 limousines.
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