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Carl Hoover: The socially distanced Oscars

Carl Hoover: The socially distanced Oscars

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For more than 30 years, the entertainment section before Oscars Sunday was usually when I shared my predictions about who should/would win and why.

The Monday after showed I was usually successful — I never had a perfect results card, but came within one or two picks some years — but honestly, it was more about reading tea leaves of pre-Oscar coverage and awards than any critical film acumen.

This year’s Academy Awards arrive nearly two months later than past ones, delayed to accommodate a film industry year upended by COVID-19 shutdowns and protocols that left hundreds of film multiplexes and theaters shuttered for much of 2020, with audiences largely staying home rather than coming out to the theaters that were open.

It drastically altered the films eligible for consideration this year and took popular buzz — and box office — out of the discussions that play a part in the voting by Academy members.

Personally, I’m hazy about when I last saw a film in a theater. February, I guess, though maybe early March — for many of us, time and memory in the year 2020 seems more relative than absolute.

The question of “Who will win?” doesn’t seem to have the same impact when the question “Who saw this?” is equally prominent.

Like millions of film fans, I saw several of the films and performances up for awards this year on my television: “Nomadland,” “Mank,” “Collective,” “The Trial of the Chicago Seven,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Another Round,” “The Mole Agent,” “Soul,” “One Night In Miami.”

In interviews with Reuters over the last months during what normally would have been a busy awards season, actors have reflected on what they have missed - or not - about the events and whether their absence has been a blessing in disguise.

I would have seen more, but I haven’t hit the mental comfort zone of spending two hours in a large room with strangers who may or may not have COVID-19, even though I’m fully vaccinated at his point. I also haven’t hit the comfort zone of shelling out $19.95 to see a first-run movie still in theaters on my 31-inch television.

Dealing with those comfort zones, I think, will be a major challenge for film and the performance arts in the months ahead as we try to find the new normal. Viewing films and plays on my television for more than a year have created new habits. I can pause them whenever I like to go to something else. Can’t do that live. I can change to something more interesting at the click of a remote if I get bored. Can’t do that sitting in a theater without leaving.

There’s a contextual change, too. Films and plays now compete with television programming and sports, both well-honed to catch and keep viewer attention. And watching something at home definitely provides a known, friendly audience compared to the Russian roulette of public screenings and performances.

Sunday will find me watching the Oscars again as I usually do — listening from another room and only coming to the television screen when there’s an award announced.

It’s my comfort zone — and should it grow with millions of others, next year’s Oscars and a promised return of film choices and audiences may find that normal has changed.

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