So, what happens now?
With the 3 1/2 weeks early, lowest-rated Oscar show in the bag, the movies and those who love them are caught in an unaccustomed February vacuum. Normally, there would be cocktails, canapés and the whispers of publicists looking for last-minute advantage over competitors.
But Sunday’s Academy Awards implosion — what else to call a show that drew a rock-bottom 23.6 million viewers and made even that underwear turn by past host Neil Patrick Harris look good? — left the film world with way too much time to think.
Certainly, you could go to the movies. One option might be to catch up with Parasite, the Best Picture winner. With around $36 million in domestic ticket sales as of this week, it is among the least-viewed — in the United States, at any rate — among a field of nominees that included box office hits as robust as Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 1917 and Ford v Ferrari. Subtitles are an impediment, but you’ve got a month to clean your bifocals and deal with it.
Too, plenty of new releases are due in the coming month. But about 30 of them are “limited,” and a lot of those look suspiciously like niche films, targeted at a narrow, presumably receptive core audience. Hope Gap or Sometimes Always Never, both due on March 6, might appeal to Bill Nighy fans, but neither screams “breakout!” Among the wide releases, there’s Sonic the Hedgehog and a strong dose of horror, including a nightmare Fantasy Island for Valentine’s Day.
But this isn’t usually how we kill time between the Super Bowl and the NCAA’s March Madness. Normally, we’re still handicapping the contenders and scratching for screeners. Those films we didn’t quite see — Judy? Pain and Glory? — finally come into focus.
This year, not so much. We could wait for the next impeachment, or another Joe Biden gaffe. More likely, we’ll spend some time stewing about the Academy Awards. Why did they feel like the Iowa caucuses, a directionless mess that barely rose to the level of anticlimax?
I knew there was trouble when someone sent me a text asking advice about airline tickets between the Best Actress and Best Director awards. This person was a movie fan, or used to be, but she clearly wasn’t sitting at an Oscar party, consumed with suspense over the question of the night: Would Bong Joon Ho pull it off?
My millennial son dropped in around the time Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig were sparring over I’m not quite sure what. “I don’t think I’m the target audience,” he said about nothing in particular. It could have been the ads).
For me, it felt more like an evening of cultural instruction — ‘raising awareness,’ as Jane Fonda put it — than filmic celebration. Call me old-fashioned, but I was glad Ford v Ferrari got the sound editing and film editing awards. Still, I didn’t mind at all when Hildur Guōnadóttir won for Joker’s score. It was a great score, not just a great win for a woman.
What I did mind was a sinking feeling that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for all its inclusiveness, had wound up excluding more viewers than ever. Couldn’t they have promoted that dual appearance by Steve Martin and Chris Rock? Bang that drum just a little, and another 3 million viewers might have watched. Shouldn’t they have done just a little bit more of what Renée Zellweger attempted when she said something nice about those in the Armed Forces, or Bong when he devotedly quoted Martin Scorsese?
Extend a hand, and someone will take it. Deliver a muddled, dressed-up lecture (with music), and you validate what Ricky Gervais so chillingly said at the Golden Globes in January: “No one cares about movies anymore.”