The movie industry has been turned upside down, and the people behind Hollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony are scrambling to recalibrate. Today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a board of governors meeting to essentially figure out WTF to do about the 2021 Oscars.
Quite obviously, the well-worn way of doing things is simply not an option for the 93rd annual Academy Awards, set to be held February 28, 2021. Since movie theaters are closed, that means the minimum standard for Oscar eligibility—a one-week run in a theater in L.A.—is totally off the table. According to the Hollywood Reporter, there’s a new plan in place that’s way more workable given the new normal: “Films that were scheduled for theatrical release, that meet the other eligibility requirements and that are made available for Academy members to view on the organization’s members-only streaming service, Academy Screening Room, within 60 days of being made available on a publicly available streamer or VOD service, will be in the running.” (Good news for Trolls World Tour, bad news for theater owners, in other words!)
These new rules are meant to be a temporary adjustment; theatrical screening qualifications will return if and when movie theaters are deemed safe to visit again, with New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta joining L.A. on the list of cities that can host that one-week run.
In a statement quoted in Variety, Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson were careful to emphasize that the group is well aware of the importance of the theatrical experience. “The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules,” it reads in part.
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THR also notes that the Academy board made a few other adjustments to the Oscars—fortunately, none of them involved the revival of that bizarre “popular movie” category that caused such a stir a few years back and was seemingly scrapped. There will be one fewer category at the 2021 ceremony, with Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing being combined into one prize for Best Sound, to honor sound editors and sound mixers in one stroke. Best Original Score will now require “at least 60 percent” of a film’s music to be original rather than the less-specific “predominantly” original; “sequels and franchise films” must have a minimum of 80 percent new music, per Variety.
And finally, Academy voters will no longer be required to attend special screenings at the group’s Southern California headquarters in order to vote on the shortlist for Best International Feature; instead, those preliminary submissions will also be made available on the group’s private streaming system. Across the board, DVD screeners are being phased out after this year.
How will these new rules shape which kinds of films get those coveted nominations? How will Hollywood’s anti-streaming contingency react to this news (as if they have a choice)? Will we even be in a place to see a traditional Oscars broadcast in February, or will the event be transformed into some kind of social-distancing virtual ceremony? (And what would that mean for the fashions?) How will other big awards ceremonies, like the Emmys for example, adjust their own events? Too early to say, of course, but we’ll be keeping an eye out for updates.
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