Awards Season Proposal: Calendar Shuffle
You want me to get up when? To watch who announce what? Don’t we already know who’s getting nominated, anyway?
Year after year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the Oscar nominees in mid-to-late January – or, in the strangest of strange years, in March – and year after year, a resounding “yeah, sure, I figured” echoes across Hollywood. Okay, so the directors’ branch religiously includes one “surprise” candidate per year. But I can’t live off videos of Thomas Vinterberg screaming his head off in shock as Mads Mikkelsen dances around him. For the most part, anybody remotely tuned into the film world can successfully predict most of the nominees in advance of the announcement. In fact, they usually do. The Gold Derby-labeled “experts” got over 77% of the nominees correct this year.
The predictability of the Academy is no surprise. When you’re so far back in the timeline, you can’t help but be behind the curve. Just this season, for example, the Academy voters got to see the Gotham Award winners; Golden Globe nominees and winners; Critics Choice nominees and winners; critics’ picks from New York, LA, countless other cities, and the National Board of Review; nominations from the Screen Actors’ Guild, Directors’, and Producers’ Guilds; and BAFTA nominations – all before voting on Oscar nominations closes. And with countless awards prognosticators littering the internet (hello), voters cannot possibly avoid what I call “Inception of the Narrative.”
But what if they didn’t have to? What if the Awards Season calendar kicked off with the Oscar nominations, putting the biggest and most prestigious awards first rather than last? Would we get more people to wake up to watch a potentially more unpredictable nominations announcement? Would this have toxic effects later in the season? Would critics groups and the guilds resist? I’ve come up with a proposal that I think all parties could get on board with.
Here’s how it works.
My proposed timeline hinges on one key change: move the Academy Award nominations announcement before all the critics’ awards and slide everything back about a month. The new season would look as follows (in a normal year):
Early/Mid-December through Early January: Voting open for Academy Awards nominations
First week of January: Academy Awards nominees announced
Last week of December through Late January: Voting open for Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes
Second and Third weeks of January: Critics’ groups, including NYFCC and LAFCC, announce awards; Voting open for Guild awards
Late January/Early February: Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice awards
Early-Mid February: Guilds announce awards
Late February: Academy Awards
The Oscar Taste-Makers
Without numerous pre-cursor awards creating a series of digestible narratives of frontrunners, comeback stories, ingénues, and inevitabilities, the Academy would have to do the work of separating the wheat from chaff themselves. Pundits will always be pundits, but without precursor awards, even online prognosticators will struggle to coalesce behind a consensus list of nominees for each category. Without this unanimity, Oscar voters will be free from the subtle influences of hearing about the same 7 movies or 4 actors or 3 directors for months. Voters will be more likely to pick the films and performances and work that they truly believe deserve the nomination.
Could you argue that it’s often the smaller groups – the Gotham juries and the critics’ circles – that actually put the time in to watching and analyzing each film before selecting their winners? That when Oscar voters follow a narrative, they are following one that has been carefully culled by attentive aficionados? That if left to their own devices, the larger academy may resort to laziness, rewarding already well-known performers instead of searching for the diamond in the rough? Sure. That might be true. But if we want to consider the Academy Awards the most prestigious in film, then we should treat the Academy accordingly – like the most prestigious group. Give them the chance to prove it.
And this proposal has safeguards to those potential pitfalls. As the Academy does today, in my plan they would continue to have each branch select nominees, rather than the entire academy. Directors know direction. Cinematographers know cinematography. And so on. We would be placing our trust in those who know each branch of film-making best.
With Oscar nominations announced a few weeks earlier in January, many late November and December releases could see a box office boost in the new year as movie-goers rush to the theater to see the newly Academy-certified films. A couple of weeks can make a difference – with the holidays in the rearview and kids still home from school, the box office bump would be more than marginal. Whether you’re a film purist or you have green dollar signs for eyes, you can’t deny the troubling trends taking place at the box office in the last few years. Increased numbers – especially for the best of the best films – are better for everyone.
Critics’ groups – both geography-based critics’ organizations and the larger bodies that make up the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice juries – appear to be the big losers here. Not only do they lose their ability to set the tone and establish a narrative, but they also lose relevance. Once the Oscar nominations are out – the average film fan might not care about some lowly, random group of critics.
But the way the rest of the process plays out, my proposal merely shifts the influence of the critics’ groups to the back-end. Instead of culling hundreds of films down to the eventual list of contenders – a process that, let’s face it, often ends in heartbreak for the critics’ favorites anyway – critics’ groups now have a chance to winnow the field of nominees to a single favorite or two. After the Academy Award nominees are announced, critics would spend the next several weeks offering their take on who the ultimate champion should be.
As critics continue to announce their favorites, Oscar voters will be selecting their preferred candidates from among the list of nominees. And here’s where I think my plan triumphs again over the current schedule: with the entire Academy voting on the winners, guidance from critics plays a crucial role in informing the voters. Instead of trying to exert influence early in the process on knowledgeable, experienced members of each branch, my proposal would give critics the opportunity to guide the conversation for the thousands of Academy members who don’t have detailed information on each category – and who might otherwise vote for the name they know best or the movie their friends like.
Perhaps even more appealing for critics should be the opportunity to rectify the errors of the Academy – the snub-correcting. Fresh off the Academy Award nominations, critics can cast a light on the performances and the films that they see as the best of the best that Oscar chose not to recognize. Their awards will come about a month after nominations are revealed – the box office bump will have winnowed, and cinemas will be in the middle of their early calendar dearth of quality movies. There’s no better time for critics to direct eyes to underseen films and performances.
“But nobody will watch the Golden Globes,” you say. Okay, get rid of the Golden Globes. That one’s easy.
Shaking It Up
This proposal isn’t designed to be a panacea for every problem that the Academy has – there is no quick fix. But as Americans increasingly lose interest in “prestige” film and awards season, a shake-up of any kind could serve as an antidote – even if a temporary one.
During some awards seasons, this change would have a marginal impact. During others, it could completely change the game. But changing something – anything, even as seemingly small as the awards season calendar – is necessary as the Academy looks to stay relevant.