Last year, during the pandemic, theaters were no longer a means of escape but rather a place from which to escape. Confinement on the couch became the new movie theater for millions of Americans, and their escape came from the multitude of streaming providers.
Hoping to change that, Coral Gables Art Cinema is inviting the community to experience — or re-experience — some of the year’s best films theatrically. April 16-22, during its annual Oscar Week leading up to the Academy Awards presentation on Sunday, April 25, the theater is presenting all 2021 Best Picture nominees.
“The Academy Awards mark the end of a year in film, and this time the end of a dark saga,” says Brenda Moe, the cinema's co-executive director.
Moe views Oscar Week as “a way to highlight what’s to come while showcasing the great films of the past year — of which there are plenty.”
This year the cinema will screen all the films vying for Best Picture, which collectively account for 51 individual nominations.
The films competing for the American film industry’s top prize:
- The Father, in which a man and his daughters struggle with his memory loss
- Judas and the Black Messiah, which spotlights the progressive work of Fred Hampton and the FBI conspiracy to neutralize him and the Black Panther movement
- Mank, a behind-the-scenes telling of the making of Citizen Kane
- Minari, which chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Korean immigrant family setting down roots in rural Arkansas in pursuit of the American dream
- Nomadland, wherein a middle-aged woman navigates the rootless consequences of America's new economy
- Promising Young Woman, a young woman’s quest for revenge on date rapists
- Sound of Metal, a drummer’s attempt to come to terms with his degenerative loss of hearing
- The Trial of the Chicago 7, the aftermath of the antiwar protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention
A few years after the #OscarsSoWhite campaign took over social media, the Academy is recognizing the work of Riz Ahmed, Chadwick Boseman, Andra Day, Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya, Leslie Odom Jr., LaKeith Stanfield, Steven Yeun, and Yuh-Jung Youn, as well as the behind-the-camera work of Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami), and Zhao.
With so many variables at play over the past year, it's hard to ascertain why so many worthy BIPOC nominees finally broke through now.
Chavez hopes it signals that “the Hollywood establishment is listening and making changes.”
Of course, it could be the result of the Academy’s attempts to diversify its own membership. More cynically, it could be the industry realizing there is financial incentive to satiate a larger and more diverse cinema-going audience.
Either way, Chavez remains hopeful that “this trend continues and isn’t just a one-time response to the racial reckoning that was 2020.”
Another kind of reckoning has hit the film industry concerning the way films are consumed. Following the shutdown of theaters, studios and producers had to rethink their methods of distribution. Creating a kerfuffle among filmmakers, exhibitors, and studios, this seismic shift has empowered streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and Disney+. Experimentation and uncertainty render the long-term effects unknown. But the continually shrinking theatrical window during which films are presented in theaters does not bode well for exhibitors and cinema-going audiences.
This year, the Academy suspended the requirement that films even have a theatrical release, so long as a theatrical release had been planned pre-pandemic. That adjustment was necessary because nearly every film released in 2020 had to reimagine traditional theatrical releases.
Minari, Promising Young Woman, and The Father debuted successfully at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival mere months before the shutdown but had to postpone their general releases for nearly a year. Sound of Metal debuted earlier at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival, yet found its release limited to Amazon Prime. Nomadland made its fall festival debut at the 2020 Venice Film Festival at a socially distanced screening following the particularly deadly summer surge in Italy. The film went on to win Best Film at the festival before its distributor, Disney-owned Searchlight, decided to release it via Hulu in February.
In relation to the Academy, a promising sign for exhibitors is that five out of eight of the nominees seemed to have benefited from waiting out the pandemic as long as possible as theaters slowly reopened, while award-worthy films released earlier during the pandemic seem to have been forgotten.
Chavez points to films like First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Da 5 Bloods, which failed to garner a single nomination.
At the Coral Gables Art Cinema, which has resumed in-person theatrical screenings while maintaining virtual screening options for certain titles, it's all about adapting in a constantly changing landscape. Chavez applauds virtual screenings as an opportunity to take more chances in the cinema's programming and hopes they can continue in some way in the future.
Aside from fueling debates over representation and distribution, the Oscar Week screenings provide an opportunity to reflect on how this year’s nominees engage with the greater cultural zeitgeist. While none of the nominees respond directly to the pandemic — that will occur in a year or two — they can be viewed as responses to changing social, economic, and political values in American society.
After the previous presidential administration's unremitting assault on the immigrant community, the personal and humanistic storytelling of Minari is a welcome respite. A tale of economic hardship and a woman who dares to break free of consumer culture in Nomadland is a needed meditation on our capitalist system. Promising Young Woman is a candy-coated dissection of rape culture.
A trio of nominees also took politics of the past to hold a mirror to our contemporary times. Beyond a meta-Hollywood tale, Mank addresses how gatekeepers used their power, wealth, and media to stymie a socialist revolution in America. The Trial of the Chicago 7 debuted after a summer of protests demanding racial justice. Likewise, Judas and the Black Messiah illuminates look at how policing and established institutions are used to systematically dismantle progressive attempts at racial equality and equity.
Beyond the themes, there's certainly reason to see all the nominees in the theater — even for those who already enjoyed the films at home. The sound design of Sound of Metal deserves the proper Dolby surround-sound treatment. And no matter how many inches a television screen covers, the open vistas of Nomadland cry out for the big screen. The tension of thrillers like Judas and the Black Messiah and Promising Young Woman are calibrated to the true cinematic experience of the movie theater.
Even The Father, adapted from a stage play, employs a cinematic technique that inspires empathy. And the cinematography nominations for Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7 will make so more sense when freed from Netflix's compression algorithm.
Mank leads all of the Best Picture nominees in nominations, proving the adage that Hollywood really loves films about Hollywood. But Chavez and program director Nat Chediak are betting on Nomadland to win Best Picture this year, which would prove that the only thing Hollywood loves more than Hollywood is something completely anti-Hollywood.
Perhaps the populist themes and transcendentalist take on America is what the Academy and country need right now.
- Promising Young Woman 6:25 p.m. Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17
- Judas and the Black Messiah 9 p.m. Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17
- Mank 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 3:15 p.m. Sunday, April 18
- The Trial of the Chicago 6:05 p.m. Sunday, April 18
- The Father 6 p.m. Monday, April 19, and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 20
- Nomadland 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 19, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20
- Sound of Metal 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, and 8:40 p.m. Thursday, April 22
- Minari 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, and 6 p.m. Thursday, April 22