Let’s not mince words. This pandemic sucks donkey balls. Over the last few weeks I’ve dealt with major family issues and medical emergencies, lost two jobs (temporarily), and returned to bachelorhood. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go see a movie right now. However, I am not an idiot or an asshole, and it’s worth way more to NOT DIE than to satisfy my personal desires. How did Mr. Spock put it? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of FUCK YOU!
Still, the ennui and lethargy have certainly gotten the better of me over the last six weeks. I still have a review to write for the last film I saw before the cutoff, and we’re two days from May, which means I need to compile the next edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable.” But honestly, motivation has been basically non-existent.
However, I got a small glimmer of inspiration today in the form of news from the Academy. With theatres shuttered nationwide (and chains like AMC stating they won’t open back up until at least July, despite idiot Republican governors re-opening their states before it’s safe), there has been wide speculation that maybe the Oscars won’t even take place next year. There’s a logic to it, as the studios will have basically lost half the year, including the big budget blockbusters that fund the prestige pictures. I could easily see a scenario where they release the cash cows during the fall and winter instead of the Oscar bait, leaving the Academy to either postpone the 93rd Oscars and combine with 2021 films, or give Best Picture to Bad Boys for Life. It wouldn’t be all that unprecedented of a move, either, as the first few Oscars were actually split years, though for obviously different reasons.
But all that guessing is firmly put aside now, as the Academy has officially released their rules structure for next year’s Oscars, confirming that they will indeed happen. There are two major changes coming, both of which are for the better, as well as some rules and procedural changes that don’t really apply to us, but I still find interesting nonetheless.
You can find the Academy’s official press release here, so let’s dive in to the method of the madness.
The biggest change is to eligibility. My friends and I were discussing this just the other day, musing about whether the ceremony would even take place, or if they’d make accommodations for streaming content in the wake of the pandemic. Simply put, the eligibility rule for the general ballot (everything but documentaries, foreign films, and shorts) is that a film must screen for seven consecutive days during the calendar year in a public theatre in Los Angeles County, and screen the film at least three times per day during that week. That’s really not that tall an order. Even streaming films do this before they’re released on platforms, as the other caveat of eligibility is that a film must debut publicly in a theatre before any other medium. All those Netflix movies that got nominated this go-round? They all screened in an L.A. theatre for a week beforehand.
Due to the pandemic closing every theatre in Los Angeles, this rule has been amended. For the duration of the lockdown, any film that debuts on a streaming service will now be considered eligible, so long as the studio originally intended for it to be released theatrically. This is only a temporary change, though, as the Academy states that once theatres reopen, they will determine an end date to the exemption, and the normal eligibility rules will apply once more.
I am more than okay with this, as it gives me something to do. I had been planning at some point to just binge all the original movies Netfilx released so far this year, if nothing else than to have content for this blog. Now I have more reason to, as everything will be 100% eligible for Academy consideration. And depending on how long it takes for the world to resume some semblance of normalcy, this may end up being the primary source for films being considered next winter. Might as well get as far ahead of the curve as I can. I might even finally splurge on Amazon Prime or Disney+ to see what they offer.
But more importantly, it shows that the Academy is adaptable. Many things have changed this year, and a lot more will down the road. We have to at least accept the possibility that this disaster might alter the marketing and distribution models for major studio releases in the future. I don’t think theatres will die off, because if nothing else, there are still obsessive schmucks like me who love the movie-going experience too much to ever let it fail. But if there’s more profitability in streaming first, the paradigms may shift permanently, and if so, the Academy would do well to lean into the change rather than against it. This is a sign that they’re at least willing to entertain the thought. Trust me, I don’t want the model to shift to streaming first, but time and tide wait for no man. If that’s where things eventually go, I’m not going to deprive myself of my favorite form of entertainment due to sheer obstinance.
The second major rule concerns the Sound categories. In a rare, and welcome, return to tradition, the two categories of Sound Mixing and Sound Editing are once again being combined into an omnibus Best Sound category, which will be shared by mixers and editors during the ceremony (up to six recipients).
The Academy has gone back and forth on this over the years. When the Oscars first started, there was just Best Sound from the 3rd Academy Awards, given in 1930, to the 35th Oscars, awarded in 1963. The next year, the categories were split into Best Sound (How the West Was Won) and Best Sound Effects (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World). After five years, it went back to being just Best Sound until the early 1980s, with a few Special Achievement awards handed out here and there for sound effects. Starting with the 55th Oscars, Sound Effects Editing became a competitive category again, giving two Sound wins to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, with a couple more Special Achievements when there weren’t enough nominees for a full category. This pattern continued through the remainder of the 20th century, with five nominees for Best Sound and no more than three for Sound Editing/Sound Effects Editing. Best Sound officially became Sound Mixing in 2003, and Sound Editing became a full five-nominee category in 2006. Since then, only three times have there been less than four common nominees in the two categories (2010, 2012, and 2016), once the two categories were identical (2017), and six times the split resulted in different winners, basically 1/3 of the time.
So yeah, it makes perfect sense to go back to just Best Sound. I liked recognizing mixers and editors separately, but the brief history of the current split shows that the two categories were essentially superfluous. Also, I was kind of getting tired of explaining the difference between Editing and Mixing every year, much less expecting Academy voters to know the difference well enough to listen for them. Most of the time it seemed like highest profile effects-driven film won every year, or whatever film had the most friends voting at the bake-offs. The distinction is important, but not for the general public. Also, given that the Academy wanted to shunt three categories off to the side last year for more ad breaks, this will mitigate the issue somewhat, and apparently it’s one the Sound Branch came to on their own.
Those are the major changes for next year, but there are also some eligibility and procedural tweaks worth mentioning.
- The entire membership can now vote in the preliminary round for International Feature. However, they must watch a certain amount of the films on the Academy’s closed streamer for their vote to count. Love this. The last thing we need is somebody’s pretentious French friend getting votes without actually seeing the flicks. There are upwards of 90 films submitted each year, and less than half even get seen, much less seriously considered. That’s why half the shortlist consists of films voted in and the other half are those that the higher-ups at the Academy deem worthy of further consideration regardless of popularity. The Academy doesn’t say what the eligibility threshold is. I hope it’s 100%, but I’m realistic. I’d be happy if voters got a randomly generated submission to watch that they simply rate from 1-10, and you can’t vote without sitting through the entire thing. Then only have the ratings count if they end up watching something like 50-75% of the submissions.
- Original Score has changed its eligibility requirements to say that a film score must have 60% original material, while sequels and franchise films must have 80% new stuff. As much as I love John Williams, it really was lame the last few years where all the new Star Wars films got nominated for the score despite most of them being recycled cues from the original trilogy. It may sound discriminatory to hold franchise films to a higher standard, but most of them are cheap cash grabs anyway, so I don’t care.
- Screener DVDs will be phased out starting next year. The Academy has a closed-access streaming site for members to screen everything, so again, this makes sense. My main concern is that once nominations come out, not only will the films be online, but also songs and bake-off content. On the one hand, this allows the full membership to see why the respective branches nominated what they did, but on the other, it takes away from seeing these elements within the grand contexts of the films themselves, which only opens the door for more shitty films with one good tech element getting nominated and winning (looking at you, Suicide Squad).
Those are the big points looking ahead to next February. Again, I’m just happy that, at least for now, the Oscars are in fact going forward, and there will be options for the worthy films to be seen. There may be more updates along the way, as we’re still eight months away from the end of the calendar year.
More importantly, this may be the kick in the ass I need to get back to doing what I love and creating content for this blog. I’ve got some ideas for stuff I’d like to do, and like I said, I still have one new movie to review still. I think I’ll hold off until I know it’s available for you all to watch, as there’s no point in me opining if you can’t actually see it. Plus there’s still the regular features, and now I’ve got a huge backlog of Netflix movies to stream. If you’ve been waiting with bated breath for me to do stuff over the last few weeks, I thank you for your patience and eyeballs. Don’t worry. Figuratively and literally, I’m not going anywhere.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What are your thoughts on the rule changes? How are you coping with not being able to go to the movies? What would be the worst movie to get nominated due to lack of options? Let me know!