By Mark Carnochan
Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the entire world throughout much of 2020 has left many questions unanswered, particularly in the film industry; movie theaters closed, productions delayed and sets shut down. It leads one to question whether cinema can survive the rest of this pandemic (but hey, Orson Welles claimed that the “film industry is dying” in the 1950s, yet here we are). One thing is for sure, in a time where ”The New Mutants” gets a cinema release and ”Soul” goes straight to streaming, anything is possible. Cinema is currently in an incredibly unique position.
With the likes of “Dune” and ”No Time To Die” getting delayed until next year and many before having been delayed (and surely more to come), what is there to dominate the box office between now and the new year? Though there may be a slew of releases that are sure to do big business at the box office, the latest closures of cinemas underneath the Blackstone private equity group umbrella (Regal Cinemas, Cineworld, Picturehouse, etc.) worldwide appears to have paved the way for further delays.
Picture a world where the biggest release between now and Christmas day is ”Death on the Nile.” Of course, Poirot’s latest outing would most likely do well at the box office even during this time of uncertainty, but with Hollywood having delayed their biggest pictures to next year (or pushed to streaming), cinemas would have nowhere else to turn but to independent and foreign movies.
Given the massive success of independent films throughout both the ‘70s and the ‘90s, this is not too hard of a future to imagine. Add in Bong Joon-Ho’s massive win at last year’s Academy Awards with ”Parasite” becoming the first-ever non-English language film to win Best Picture, and it just might seem possible. The mainstream is arguably more susceptible to a type of cinema that they were previously unaccustomed to more than ever.
With nowhere else to turn and cinemas desperate to keep their doors open, only indies and foreign films can fill the screens. With fewer “big pictures” to see and with that big-screen experience being missed by many all over the world, some might just take that gamble on a small indie picture like ”Minari” or ”Saint Maud,” or maybe even a foreign movie such as ”Summer of 85” or an experimental film like “I Carry You With Me,” bringing more money to smaller films if only for a few months. But it is those few months that could be a game-changer.
Now take a look at the upcoming awards season; with close to no big blockbusters released since the 92nd Academy Awards and many possible contenders delayed, what can compete? The latest delays show that there are a few big pictures that could contend at the upcoming Academy Awards. However, the newest rules set out by the Oscars; the eligibility period lasting from January 1 2020 to February 28 2021 and theater openings are not essential for Oscar eligibility, which means that the Oscars are as open as ever for smaller pictures. Pictures such as “Nomadland,” “The Father,” “One Night in Miami” and a whole slew of other smaller films could very well receive more than a few Oscar nominations.
Regardless of any attention that an awards campaign would bring to any of the aforementioned movies, the next few months of theater releases could very well prove to be, as stated previously, a game-changer. Nothing but the smaller film in theaters means, possibly, a few months of streamlining money directly to smaller movies. Smaller films making a bigger splash at the box office proves that those involved have a good investment, thus allowing them to green-light their next feature or even take the helm of a bigger studio picture. In recent years, Hollywood has seemingly had their finger on the pulse when it comes to directors of independent feature films (the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone has employed the likes of Ryan Coogler, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck to direct entries in the MCU) and so the next few months could be vital in the progression of the next big thing.
Whether it be from possible awards campaigns or good performances at the box office, or both, the next few months could have a long term effect on the film industry. Perhaps it will be the rise of the writers/directors of tomorrow, maybe it will be the growing interest in independent film, leading to a slew of incredibly successful indies the likes of which have not been seen since the 90s, or even a whole new type of Hollywood filmmaking similar to the Hollywood Renaissance of the 60s and 70s.
One thing is for sure, the next few months in cinema are set to be (possibly) the most interesting in some time. If not for the rise of the indies then for the state of cinema and its willingness to survive even the most extreme circumstances. Will the indies take over once again at a time when the bigger budget box office behemoths seemed unstoppable? Who is to say. Is it impossible? Never say never.
Which independent films do you see doing well at the Oscars this year? Check out Next Best Picture’s latest Oscar predictions here and let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Mark and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @MarkJurassic