If 2020 were the least bit normal, it would already be clear — more or less — which movies are the likeliest to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Instead, we hardly know what will open between now and then. Warner Bros. says“Dune” is holding on to its Dec. 18 release plan, but with the studio already weathering tepid earnings for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” will another expensive sci-fi tentpole risk wading through the COVID-19 quicksand? Last week, Disney pushed Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remakefrom December of this year to December of next year, clearly unwilling to forgo an awards-friendly multiplex blitz. That’s one major contender gone. Time will soon tell whether Universal Pictures will nix its Christmas Day strategy for the Tom Hanks drama “News of the World,” rendering the holiday calendar rather barren.
The abnormality of this year’s awards season has become evident over the past few weeks as the Venice and Toronto film festivals staged skeletal versions of their usual hoopla. Along with Telluride, the other big Labor Day-adjacent gala, which was canceled altogether, Venice and Toronto act as annual springboards for Hollywood’s monthslong derby. Buoyed by festival fanfare, prognosticators tend to declare a Best Picture front-runner in early September, with only a few late-breaking titles left to screen for press. The whole chaotic scene — red carpets, crowd reactions, industry chatter, flashy parties — is part of what makes and breaks Oscar hopes. But Toronto went mostly virtual, limiting anyone’s ability to track individual movies’ momentum.
And thus begins an awards season without much of an actual season.
I know, I know: None of this really matters. We have far more pressing concerns than what movies come out in December. But awards season is a petri dish for America’s highs and lows. Through the entertainment business, we collect ideas about politics, technology, fashion, body image, race and...