The 2021 Academy Awards ceremony has been delayed from Feb. 28 to April 25, extending the release window for eligible movies. It’s very rare for the Oscars to be pushed back like this; the last time it happened was after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Many of 2020’s high-profile films were delayed due to the coronavirus, which left viewers with several months of no theatrical screenings. The Academy already chose to waive some of the usual rules for eligibility, allowing direct-to-streaming movies to be nominated. This may not continue through to the next Oscars in 2022, but it’s a necessary move for 2020 films, some of which were released online despite plans for a cinematic release.
By pushing back the ceremony, the Academy extends the eligibility deadline until Jan. 15, 2021. This gives distributors more time to get their release schedules in order as the industry begins to reopen.
However, it’s still unclear when moviegoing will go back to “normal.” While cinema chains like AMC and Cineworld are planning to reopen theaters in July, does that mean audiences will actually show up? Unlikely. Not only is it dangerous to spend extended periods of time in a crowded, enclosed space like a movie theater, but people just don’t have much disposable income at the moment.
Audiences aren’t going to flock to the cinema as soon as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet comes out (allegedly) in mid-July. The situation may be different by October or November, but for now, that’s pretty hard to predict.
Although the delay may seem like an obvious idea, it definitely has its detractors. Extending the release window arguably caters to big studios and the expensive marketing campaigns behind traditional “Oscar movies,” making it harder for small indie films that came out on digital release.
If the Academy stuck to its original schedule, the nominees would reflect the reality of which films actually came out this year. And many excellent films have already come out.
The big blockbusters are all delayed, but we’ve seen plenty of Oscar-worthy films on a digital release or at festival previews, including Emma, The Assistant, Saint Maud, First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Da 5 Bloods. Elisabeth Moss could easily earn two separate Best Actress nominations for Shirley and The Invisible Man.
Extending the eligibility window undercuts the choice to include digital releases in the first place, because some of these smaller films may be overshadowed by movies that could afford to wait until December for a big, splashy release.
But a benefit of a delayed schedule is that it allows for an in-person ceremony. The Academy still plans to host the Oscars with a live audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, quashing rumors of a more safety-conscious live-streamed telecast.
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H/T to The Hollywood Reporter