The Dumping Ground

Isn’t it a little too early in the year to be bitching about the Academy Awards?

As usual, the Oscars brought it upon themselves.

This week, the organization announced three major changes to the awards:

  1. The addition of a new category: Best Achievement in Popular Film (the wording is still being ironed out).
  2. Shortening the broadcast to three hours (the actual ceremony will retain its now-signature ungodly runtime; home viewers just won’t be able to see every second of every acceptance speech, with “less popular” categories reduced to edited versions recorded during commercial breaks).
  3. The date of the ceremony will move up a few weeks.

I listed these overhauls in descending order of the amount of negative backlash they’ve suffered so far, with a vast majority inflicted, unsurprisingly, upon the first.

If I was a conformist sheep, this piece would cover how I will always support the Academy awarding more movies, but awarding POPULARITY would’ve been my last choice in terms of what aspect of film deserves greater recognition.

But I’m actually here to discuss that last renovation. In the race to shit on every decision the Oscars commit — because, really, is anyone even allowed to lavish praise on such a masturbatory tradition with a storied lineage of indefensible mistakes? — online commentators have noted how the shortened time between the announcement of nominations and the doling out of the awards may hurt the box office of the smaller nominees, which often garner quite the boost thanks to even the possibility of Oscar.

Alternative take: everyone who rushes to see the nominees will now just have less time to do so. I don’t think they’ll end up seeing fewer of them; rather, they’ll just pack in more over less time. Even if they miss one or two titles that they would’ve caught with a few more weeks, there’s a chance this marginally-diminished attendance will be balanced by their screens opening up for early-calendar indies worth everyone’s time and attention.

It’s basically an industry adage by this point to point out that movie studios treat January and February as a dumping ground for their more unfortunate releases. Though this is obviously a gross generalization — full of plenty of gross movies — like all gross observations, there’s some truth to it.

Yes, the likes of Black Panther, the early favorite to win this year’s new popularity contest, keep dwindling the number of weeks contained within these dumping grounds, as the dominion of tentpole blockbusters becomes ever more pervasive. But for the most part, studios reserve the movies they’d rather forget were ever funded for this time period, hoping they can dupe opening weekend audiences into buying tickets before putrid word of mouth spreads. There’s not much space to trash the sparse new offerings when everyone’s busy catching up with popular holiday titles and Academy Awards nominees.

The latter of these, and the subject of today’s diatribe, occupy most screens in art house theaters between their releases in late fall (riding that initial wave of critical fanfare), through Oscar nominations (always a box office bump, along with precursors like the Golden Globes), until the ceremony in early March. Whereas multiplexes find room to play what the major studios poop out — at least for a few weeks, before audiences hear to stay far away — independent cinemas simply don’t have enough screens to host the Oscar nominees AND new offerings.

Which is a real bummer, because in cities like New York, movies don’t stop; equally good, smaller-scale, lower-budget gems — Permission being merely one of a litany of examples from this year — are sold no matter the month. With an additional few weeks free from the overbearing shadow of the Academy Awards, perhaps these theaters will be able to raise the profiles of quality fare previously lost in the hubbub of the Oscars.

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