CALLERI: The Academy Awards plan to honor movies with a fresh take

Sacha Baron Cohen (left) as Abbie Hoffman and Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin enter the Federal Courthouse in the Oscar nominated “The Trial Of The Chicago 7.” (Netflix)

It’s Oscar time. The Academy Awards have always been a little bit weird, occasionally wacky, and for many movie fans, absolutely wonderful.

Forget what you know about the 92 previous Oscar parties. The 2021 edition, airing on television this Sunday at 8 p.m., promises to be the most unique yet.

For the most part, awards shows, whether they’re celebrating movies, television, or music, or even famous people as with the Kennedy Center Honors, have their own format, style, and presentation rules that are basically set in stone.

The international pandemic has altered the landscape. For months now, Zoom-based awards shows have been scattered about like so many rose petals on a honeymoon hotel’s bedroom carpet.

Enter iconoclastic director Steven Soderbergh and his co-producers – Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher – of this year’s Academy Award program, which will be honoring movies released in 2020. This includes everything shown only on streaming platforms – essentially almost every movie – after the pandemic precipitated the end of the world as we knew it, including the shuttering of movie theaters.

In their statement, the producers said “Our plan is that this year’s Oscars will look like a movie, not like a television show.” Soderbergh’s manifesto – he’s the chief producer – calls for a “completely different take on the ceremony, which isn’t going to feel or look like any of the Oscar shows that you’ve seen.”

This, of course, begs the question, what does that mean?

Are we going to be watching an awards show that unreels like a movie, with a logo and some credits at the start, a few scenes setting up the story, and then a delightful fable filled with folks receiving their Academy Awards, which would deliver a happy ending as we understand happy endings?

However, what about those who don’t win? Is someone going to walk into the Pacific Ocean in bleak disappointment? Is our Oscar film on Sunday going to be a comedy? A musical? A dashing romantic tale? Will there be action? Any car chases? I think perhaps there will be some film noir elements and a rescue dog or two. At least I hope so.

After a year of pandemic film exhibition chaos that has compelled a change in historic eligibility rules, the Oscars were moved from February 28 to April 25. For trivia buffs, this is the latest date since the show was first broadcast on television in 1953.

The show will take place at the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and, cue the film noir locomotive steam, also at Los Angeles’s Union Station. A train station promises adventure. There will also be television broadcasting set-ups around the world, the largest one in London. Reportedly, every nominee will be seen somewhere on Planet Earth with one guest of their choosing. They don’t have to wear masks.

Soderbergh is adamant about this not being a Zoom Academy Awards. At first he wanted everyone to come to Los Angeles, courtesy of the Oscar people, but he was reminded that even folks arriving on private jets for free will have quarantine rules.

Soderbergh’s breathless rush to be utterly different was described by my next-door neighbor Colleen as “pandemic desperation.” Perhaps an understated Academy Awards wouldn’t have been a bad idea in this time of crisis.

I’ve seen every nominated movie, thus every performer, as well as all the choices in the documentary, short films, and creative and technical categories. Many others have not, including, understandably, many of you readers.

In fact, many fine folks in the Motion Picture Academy Of Arts And Sciences have not seen everything. A lot of members loathe streaming links. Famed director-screenwriter Paul Schrader told everyone in a wonderful fit of pique against streaming, “either send me a DVD screener or don’t send me anything.”

The hallmark of a truly good movie is that you’ve possibly watched it more than once. The eight best picture nominees are: “The Father,” “Judas And The Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound Of Metal” and “The Trial Of The Chicago 7.”

I am a strong proponent of all of them except “Nomadland” and “Promising Young Woman,” and I have watched two of them twice: “Sound Of Metal” and “The Trial Of The Chicago 7.”

“Nomadland” is the front-runner. It bored me. My choice is the powerful and emotional “Sound Of Metal,” but I would be happy with “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” winning. The one performance award I really want to see is Riz Ahmed for best actor for “Sound Of Metal.”

In a tough and complex year for choosing, here is who I think the Academy’s members will select for the 2021 Oscars in the 23 categories.

Picture: “Nomadland;” Director: Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland; Actor: Chadwick Boseman; Actress: Andra Day; Supporting Actor: Sacha Baron Cohen; Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn; Original screenplay: “Promising Young Woman;” and Adapted screenplay: “The Father.”

Animated feature: “Soul;” International feature: “Another Round;” “Documentary Feature: “My Octopus Teacher.” Animated short: “If Anything Happens I Love You;” Documentary short: “A Love Song For Latasha;” and Live Action Short: “Two Distant Strangers.”

Film Editing: “Sound Of Metal;” Cinematography: “Mank;” Sound: “Sound Of Metal;” Production Design: “Mank;” Costume Design: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom;” Visual Effects: “Tenet;” Makeup And Hair: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom;” Original Score: “Soul;” and Original Song: “Speak Now” from “One Night In Miami.”

Enjoy the show.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at

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