It's never been easier to catch up on all the potential movie award nominees, and it's never been more expensive.
The 2021 Oscars will be as strange as everything else these days — starting with it being the first year they will be given to movies that almost nobody saw in movie theaters.
Studios postponed many big-budget titles that need butts in seats to be profitable ("Black Widow") and shifted others to streaming platforms ("Soul"). That has altered the field of contenders for the nominations coming Monday morning — although not as much as you might think — and made it possible for Jane Moviegoer to watch potential honorees exactly the way Oscar voters have for years: in the privacy of their own BarcaLoungers.
One big difference: Oscar voters get DVDs or screening links sent for free, but you might have to hock that recliner to get caught up on everything that's streaming before the awards ceremony on April 25.
You'd need to subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max and the new A24 Screening Room. On top of all those are titles such as "Promising Young Woman" and "The Mauritanian" that are available on-demand on a few platforms for 20 bucks or so.
The reopening of theaters in January in Minnesota has helped — that's where you can see "The Father," and let's face it, where movies were meant to be seen. Even then, some theaters may be unwilling to show titles that have been available online for months. There are no announcements yet about the annual Oscar best picture marathons that some theaters host, but they'll be tricky.
'Nomadland' or bust
What about the movies themselves? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pushed back its calendar two months, hoping to allow time for the pandemic to subside and blockbusters to sneak into theaters. A few titles took advantage of the extended window — "Judas and the Black Messiah," notably, and "French Exit," which has not yet opened in theaters here and seems likely to be skipped over for awards — but the pandemic hasn't changed the field of contenders all that much.
Take a look at the delayed movies. A bunch are the sort of blockbuster titles that only score sound and visual effects nominations, anyway. The oft-postponed 007 movie, "No Time to Die," might have snagged a best song nom for Billie Eilish but that's about it. Only Steven Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story," Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights," Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel" and Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch" stand out as titles that would have been in the conversation for major nominations.
Sure, these four titles would have altered the race, but sight unseen, do any of those seem like game changers? (Side note: How sweet would it be to see Rita Moreno, 89, nominated for playing a new role in "West Side Story," the musical that earned her an Oscar 60 years ago?)
The truth is that "Nomadland" is so timely and exceptional that it would have dominated the key Oscar races no matter what (it's sort of a reverse "West Side Story" — it opened a year earlier than expected because of the pandemic).
"Nomadland" won't get the most nominations Monday — it won't score in categories such as costume design, score ("Nomadland" repurposes existing music) or production design (the Badlands aren't eligible) — but it will come up big in the most important categories. Its Chloé Zhao could become the first woman to earn four nominations in one year, for directing, writing, coproducing and editing.
Depending on how acting nominations shake out, look for Netflix's "Mank" and "The Trial of the Chicago 7" to earn the most. Major studios largely ceded the Oscar race to independents even before the pandemic (only two of the past 10 best pictures have come from traditional powers: Warner Bros.' "Argo" and Universal's "Green Book"). Streamers such as Netflix stepped in.
That accelerated this year. "Mank" looks exactly like an old studio movie with its big budget, top director (David Fincher), prestigious stars (Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried) and golden-age-of-Hollywood subject matter. Oscar would have loved it whenever it was released and the same goes for "Trial," "One Night in Miami" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." They're the sort of safely liberal crowd-pleasers the little gold guy embraces year after year.
Year without blockbusters
The biggest beneficiary of 2021's Oddscars could be "Minari," Lee Isaac Chung's drama about a Korean-American family that settles in Arkansas.
It didn't exactly come out of nowhere; it was a smash at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the top prizes from audiences and the jury, so it's been steering toward Oscar glory for more than a year. But it is the sort of quiet movie that could get lost in the midst of flashy December titles from Spielberg and Scott. Not having that year-end onslaught of blockbusters gave "Minari" room to build a constituency. A best picture nod is almost certain, but if it racks up several acting nominations, that's a sign that it hit voters where they live.
Another big change will come down-ballot, those early-in-the-evening categories that send casual viewers to the pantry for another bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos. Action movies like the delayed "Fast & Furious 9" and franchises such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Batman/Superman usually dominate the sound and visual awards. Without them, it could be a good year for "Tenet" and "Mulan" — and for "Sound of Metal," where inventive techniques help us understand how a man who's going deaf experiences the world.
If you want comforting reminders of bygone Oscars, look to the international feature film race. Each country submits its own candidate, which a panel of voters winnows down to five finalists, a long process that was already beginning in some countries before the pandemic hit. In the Twin Cities, we don't usually get a look at most of the contenders until after nominees are announced. That'll probably be true this year, too, although touted titles such as "Collective" (Romania) and "Another Round" (Denmark) have played here and are streaming now.
The ceremony will be different, too, obviously. Coproduced by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, the telecast will presumably combine recipients at home with presenters in a theater, much as the Golden Globes did, but don't be surprised if the ingenious Oscar winner for "Traffic" has a few surprises to make these weird Oscars even weirder.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367