A Harsh Task-Master, The Movie Calendar Takes A Break

A small side-effect of the pandemic—very small, given the scale of the overall disaster—has been an obvious buckling of the film calendar. Dates have been pushed. Release dates revised. Decisions postponed. The awards season is a mess.

In a normal year, like dimly remembered 2019, the movie media and their minders would now be suspended between events like New York’s  IFP Gotham Awards, bestowed last year on Dec. 2, and the Los Angeles-based Golden Globes nominations, last announced on Dec. 9, possibly with some Kennedy Center Honors in between.

And from there, things would only get busier, until a late February Oscar show paved the way for a fresh cycle of festivals and awards in Cannes, Manhattan, and Austin, stretching on toward San Diego’s Comic-Con in mid-July, which is barely over when it’s almost time for Telluride.

But this year, amid the lockdowns, the Gotham Awards have been delayed for six weeks, the Globes nominations for nine, and the Kennedy Center gala for about 13. That makes early December, ordinarily crammed with “must-do” events, almost a dead spot.

Which isn’t all bad.

Anyone who has covered the film business for a while—or has worked on the inside, promoting movies—would probably admit that the calendar has become something of a tyrant. Over the years, movie awards expanded (as the Oscars begat the Governors Awards, for instance) or claimed increased attention from online news platforms, while internal checkpoints for the more important prizes—shortlists, eligibility counts, nominees luncheons and such—piled up. At the same time, festivals became more muscular, as they became qualifying grounds for the Oscars, and built themselves into year-round ventures that were demanding clips and credentials applications for the next round from reporters and critics who were still recovering from the last. All this, and the number of films kept growing, particularly on the lower end, where streaming companies force-fed the festivals and a few screens before turning their wares into online inventory. (Too many movies! the New York Times critics privately worried; serious viewers could only process so much.)

For a while, of course, the annual cycle of events was great fun. Who didn’t want to handicap the Oscars? Drink and ski at Sundance? Escape a New York newsroom in March for the sunny environs of Texas and South-by-Southwest.

But in the last decade or so, the movie calendar finally circled around on itself, forming a perfect treadmill. You got on. And, as a reporter, it was possible to spend an entire year typing up lists, patrolling red carpets, monitoring panels, and filling the bottom file drawer with strap-hanger credentials from the endless get-togethers—and nothing else. You could let the bylines pile up without ever claiming a genuine scoop or an original thought.

That wasn’t much fun, and it wasn’t really good for the movies. Films, and the audience, need time to breathe—and so do those who make a business of covering or promoting them.

So a little dead spot just now is okay. There’s plenty to think about, and lots of time for the usual frenzy of events—virtual or otherwise—when the air clears next year.

Enjoy the weather (at least, here in Los Angeles). Watch whatever films you can find. And who knows? Maybe you can even slow down, and get excited about movies again.






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