It’s time again to celebrate Hollywood’s grandest ambitions and most daring risk takers.
No, I’m not talking about Jackass Forever.
On Tuesday morning, nominations for the 94th annual Academy Awards will be announced. Nominations are occurring a little later than usual. To make way for the Olympics, the Oscars are to be held March 27.
And for the second straight year, the Oscars will unfold during the pandemic. The industrial complex of parties, galas and little gold statuettes known as “awards season” has again gone largely virtual, sapping the season of some of its usual buzz. The Oscars’ typical opening act — the Golden Globes — were much reduced and untelevised this year.
But the Oscar nominations, which will be announced Tuesday beginning at 8:18 a.m. EST by presenters Tracee Ellis Ross and Leslie Jordan, will try to again seize the spotlight after a year of profound change for the industry and a still-unfolding recovery for movie theaters. Nominations will be broadcast live on Oscar.com, Oscars.org, the academy’s social media accounts and on ABC’s Good Morning America.
But those are far from the only headwinds facing the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Last year’s Oscars, held in late April at an audience-less Union Station rather than the Oscars’ usual home, the Dolby Theatre, plummeted to an all-time low of 9.85 million viewers.
Can Tuesday’s slate of nominees stem the tide? Among the films expected to do well are Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic Dune, Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical coming-of-age tale Belfast and Jane Campion’s gothic western The Power of the Dog. Alas, Jackass Forever, the current no. 1 movie at the box office, will have to wait until next year.
Here are five questions heading into nominations.
Just how much will streamers dominate?
Streaming services have for years made inroads into the Oscars, but they may overwhelm this year’s best-picture field. After academy rule changes, 10 films will be nominated for best picture, and it’s possible that only a few of them will have opened traditionally in theaters. Netflix, which is still pursuing its first best-picture trophy, has three contenders in The Power of the Dog, Adam McKay’s apocalyptic comedy Don’t Look Up and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical adaptation Tick, Tick … Boom!
Apple has the deaf family drama CODA and Joel Coen’s Shakespeare adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth. Amazon is represented with Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos.
Two films that premiered simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max — Dune and the Will Smith-led King Richard — are in the hunt. That has made contenders like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza (MGM, Focus Features) and Belfast (Focus) stand out as theater-first throwbacks.
Will the biggest box-office hits crash the party?
Given the waning audience for the Oscars and a tumultuous year for theaters, some would like to see as many crowd-pleasers represented Tuesday as possible. Could Spider-Man: No Way Home, the biggest hit of the pandemic with $749 million in domestic ticket sales and $1.77 billion globally, or Daniel Craig’s 007 swan song No Time to Die ($774 million worldwide) score a best picture nomination?
As much as the Oscars’ populism could use some pop, don’t count on either to join the 10 nominees. The segment of the academy most supportive of big-budget box-office success — producers — passed up the chance to do so in their highly predictive guild nominations. That
would likely leave Dune ($399 million worldwide) as the category’s biggest ticket seller. But there are also other metrics to measure today’s most popular movies. Don’t Look Up is Netflix’s second-most popular movie ever with some 359,790,000 hours watched, according to the company.
How international will the nominees be?
Two years after Bong Joon Ho’s Korean thriller Parasite won best picture, a group of acclaimed international films could vie in several top categories. While no film has the broad support that made Parasite the first non-English language film to win Hollywood’s top honor, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s masterful three-hour Japanese drama Drive My Car could squeeze into best picture, best director or best screenplay.
Other films with strong support outside of the academy’s best international film category including Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers (look for Penélope Cruz in the uber-competitive best actress category), Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God and Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated Flee.
In expanding and diversifying its membership in recent years, the academy has grown more international — and enlarged the sway of overseas voters.
Will Kristen Stewart get in?
Kristen Stewart had once been widely expected to land her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Princess Diana in Pablo Larrain’s Spencer. But that film has proved divisive among critics and moviegoers, and Stewart’s once sturdy Oscar bid now appears far from certain.
The 31-year-old actor was looked over by the Screen Actors Guild and the BAFTAs. She could mount a comeback with the academy, but best actress is brutal this year. Among the favorites: Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Lady Gaga (House of Gucci), Jennifer Hudson (Respect), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Cruz, Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza).
If Stewart isn’t snubbed, someone — several someones — will be.
Will enough people watch?
This is probably the biggest question facing the Oscars this year, and it hovers over everything. Ratings for award shows all around have been declining for years, but the pandemic and the growth of streaming has accelerated the dismantling of Hollywood tradition.
This year, the academy has signaled that everything is on the table. Should Spider-Man star Tom Holland be called upon to emcee?
No details have yet been announced about the show, but the academy has said there will be a host for the first time since 2018.
Maybe Johnny Knoxville has a few tricks up his sleeve?