Why 2021 Could Be One of the Best Oscar Years Ever

Months ago, as the pandemic raged and we were all sent home to do our best to get through it, movies and television became both a means of escape and a way to feel a slight bit of normalcy in our upended lives.

“Schitt’s Creek” — PopTV

This year’s 72nd Emmy nominations were a great look at how sheltering at home impacted television viewing across the industry. A cursory glance at the winners might give the impression that it was something of a business-as-usual attitude among the Television Academy, but the reality was much different. A record number of Black actors were nominated for awards, representing groundbreaking shows from Black-ish to Watchmen to Euphoria. Schitt’s Creek, which swept the top seven comedy categories, had never been nominated for a single Emmy before its fifth season. The tide had started to shift for the CBC/Pop TV series as it moved into its sixth and final season, but there is little room for doubt that the show’s final bow came along at exactly the right time for viewers to catch up.

In March, AMPAS made two big shifts for the 93rd Oscars. One was the “temporary” rule change allowing films to bypass the eligibility requirement for theatrical releases. The other was to extend the eligibility deadline from December 31, 2020 to February 28, 2021, subsequently rescheduling the ceremony for April.

At the time, both of these moves made sense because everyone assumed we would surely be returning to theaters by the summer. This would only affect a few spring releases. O how innocent we were! Since that time, studios have taken different approaches in how to move forward with their 2020 slates. Highly anticipated releases were moved to 2021 or temporarily dropped from schedules altogether. Others were sold to streaming services. Disney has shifted some of their films to next year and released others on Disney+.

“Soul,” ©2020 Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.

And now that it looks like movie theaters will mostly stay closed for the rest of the year, the shifts have continued. In the last few weeks, presumed awards contenders like The French Dispatch, Dune, and No Time to Die vacated their fall theatrical openings and relocated to next year. In all, around 30 films moved out of the 93rd Oscar race and into the 94th, which prompted some like Alyssa Rosenbury of the Washington Post to ask whether we should bother with the Oscars this year at all.

The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why. Last year, there were 344 films eligible for the Academy Awards. These days, the average is between 320-350. With streaming and PVOD releases allowed into the conversation, the number of films to consider will be close to normal. Just as we have every year, some will be great, many will not be.

Kevin Jacobsen, Host of the popular Oscar-centric podcast, “And the Runner Up Is,” explained on Twitter, “The Oscars partly exist as a historical document representing the year in film and should be some reflection of how the industry felt about the work produced during that period of time.”  He added, “The idea of canceling them… completely undermines all the great art that has come out this year, even if few were released in theaters.”

Obviously there won’t be a huge push to get Adam Sandler nominated for Hubie Halloween. But others like Steven Yeun, who stars in the Sundance darling, Minari, have a chance to draw attention that normally might have gone to Ansel Elgort for West Side Story, or one of the men from Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. Chloé Zhao’s stunning Nomadland might have been largely overlooked if Denis Villeneuve was around to wow the Academy with the visual design of Dune.

The 93rd Oscars will celebrate just as many films as any “normal” year. But we look to the possibility of celebrating the most diverse Academy Awards in history. Not only could we see the sixth woman nominated for Best Director, but the seventh too. We have the chance to see a second female nominee for Best Cinematography, a record number of Black nominees, as well as Asian and Latinx performers, writers, and artisans. And a Best Picture lineup that is comprised of mostly non-white stories.

A year after Parasite‘s historic win, what better way to celebrate our more inclusive and diverse Academy than with a collection of nominees that more closely reflects the world in which we live?

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