I know we are seven months away from the start of awards season, but this coming year is setting up to be really interesting. To be eligible for an Oscar nomination, a film must usually be released in a theatre in the Los Angeles area for no less than 7 days during the eligibility period. For the Golden Globes, a special screening must be scheduled for the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. Well, 2020 may look to change that, since all of the movie theaters have been closed since March 13th, with no firm plan on when they’ll reopen.
This leads to an interesting thought experiment. The release calendar for any given year for movie studios looks something like this:
Note: The schedule is a generalization, and the table is only there to make a point. With theaters closed and film festivals canceled, the only films that were eligible to be nominated in 2021 were released during Dumping Season #1.
Below are the movies that were released in theaters in before March 30, 2020:
Before April 28th, those films were the only would-be Oscar contenders. Vulture did an outstanding job with this thought experiment. Their Best Picture nominees are quite varied, but their winner is predictable.
However, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences met on April 28th to avert this fate. They have adjusted the rules for this year. If the film had a scheduled release date that was canceled due to social distancing measures and the film was released on streaming or video-on-demand service, it will be eligible for nomination in 2021. Once theaters reopen, the original rules are back in effect with additional qualifying theaters outside of Los Angeles County to make it easier for films to qualify. These changes will capture all the films released straight to streaming this Spring. According to firstshowing.net, Hollywood believes the theaters will be open by Mid-July, the first wide release, Untitled Purge Sequel, is still scheduled for July 10th. We can hold out hope that they open over the summer otherwise movies that have already been pushed back may be pushed back again.
What makes this change fascinating is that scientists are predicting that in the Fall the world could see a second wave of COVID-19 infections. This may lead to social distancing regulations being extended, and theaters closing in the middle of the Oscar season. Those films could use the new rule, release to streaming, and still qualify for nomination. This leaves me wondering if studios with Fall/Winter releases are in negotiations with the streaming platforms in case of an emergency. Which now brings me to Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg is scheduled to release a new adaption of West Side Story on December 18, 2020, clearly Oscar Bait. However, he may end the year, picking shoe leather out of his teeth. Spielberg has spoken with disdain about Netflix’s Oscars eligibility, saying in 2018, “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie.” He championed a failing effort that films released in theaters and onto streaming platforms at the same time should be ineligible for nomination. Spielberg’s remarks are from fear, be it of competition or change.
Netflix and its competitors are willing to make bold choices with original content. The quality of the productions that they submit “for your consideration’ show it. Since 2018, Netflix Studios have been nominated for an Oscar in at least one of the top six award categories. A film released by Netflix took home Best Director in 2019 and they have Best Pictures nods in 2019 and 2020. It won’t be long before Netflix or one of the other streaming platforms wins Best Picture, thus beating ‘old Hollywood” at their game.
Spielberg has been making movies since the ’70s, and understands the studio system. Consequently, he knows how to make it work for him or around it when the circumstances require. Spielberg knows how to beat other studios for box office or awards but streaming platforms are a new playground and he clearly doesn’t want to learn how to play in that sandbox. Spielberg has to figure out how to adjust his thinking because with all the variables in play this year, he will have two choices come December: push the release date into 2021 or figure out how to chew and swallow Italian leather and release West Side Story on streaming.
Let’s see what he does.