Updated: Apr 22
The red carpet is rolling out once more for the Oscars, and a new slate of films are stepping into the spotlight.
Following last year’s mid-pandemic ceremony, the 94th Academy Awards will air live on ABC at 7 p.m. CDT on Sunday.
Students and faculty in Belmont’s motion pictures department weighed in on this year’s frontrunners as well as the evolving film industry.
Dr. Richard Gershman, a professor of practice in the motion pictures program and member of the Directors Guild of America and Canada, said that although the Oscars have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, the upheaval of the industry allowed some smaller films to step into the spotlight.
Many studios held back their major releases during last year’s pandemic, making the 2021 Oscars a more intimate and inclusive event by comparison.
“The award show itself was fairly scaled-down,” Gershman said. “As a result, a lot of groups that aren’t always represented, such as women or people of color, were more featured — more prominent in the awards nominations last year.”
But this award season, the industry’s major players are back. The popularity of streaming services has also massively affected the award slate, said Gersham.
“If you look at the nominations from this season, Netflix dominates,” he said. “Where in the past it would be Fox or Sony … predominately it’s Netflix, Amazon and HBO Max in terms of the nominations and awards.”
With the rise of direct-to-streaming releases, a trend that skyrocketed during the pandemic, movies are a convenience that fans don’t have to leave home for.
“It’s a good thing for Netflix and HBO Max, but for the nearby movie theaters, they’re losing money,” said Donovan Myers, president of the Belmont University Film Society.
But there are still some pop-culturally significant pictures that more are willing to venture out and watch; some of the most anticipated tickets of the season included superhero blockbusters, a feature film formula that has continued to result in record-setting sales over the last decade.
For example, December’s addition to the 27-film-strong Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” was the highest-grossing movie of 2021 and the sixth highest-grossing of all time. Climbing past $1.8 billion in revenue, the film is nominated for an Oscar in the best visual effects category alongside various fan-loved franchises like “No Time to Die” and Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic “Dune.”
“Dune” on its own stands as one of the season’s award juggernauts with 10 nominations, including one for best picture. It competes in the coveted category against the most nominated film of the year, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and its 12 nods.
Campion is a frontrunner for best director, said Gershman, alongside Kenneth Branagh for “Belfast.”
And as far as best picture, the strongest contenders Sunday will be “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast” and “Dune,” he said.
Other notable nominations include Adam McKay’s socio-political satire “Don’t Look Up,” which surprised many by making its way to the best picture slate.
A polarizing film, both for its messages and its technical aspects, the Netflix original received four nominations. And despite mixed reactions, Myers and Gershman agreed “any press is good press” in the industry.
Stephen Spielberg, whose name is often synonymous with filmmaking, picked up seven nominations of his own for his remake of the classic movie musical “West Side Story.” But among critic darlings Campion and Branagh, Spielberg just might be considered the underdog this season.
“You can never rule out Spielberg and ‘West Side Story,’ even though that was not a huge success at the box office,” Gershman said. The film made $74.6 million on a $100 million budget.
“It’s hard to avoid the popularity contest aspect of any award show. It’s not supposed to be that, but there’s a lot of people who vote who don’t see every film,” said Gershman. “They’ll go through and they say, ‘Oh! Spielberg! I’ll vote for him.’ And that happens, it just does.”
No matter what reasons members have for voting, this year’s awards mark somewhat of a return to normal in the industry — and hint at what’s to come.
PHOTO: Lillie Burke / Vision Multimedia
This article was written by Tucker Jennings. Contributory writing by Anna Jackson.