The nature of the type of film picking up Oscars has drastically changed. Previous Oscar winners from Ben Hur, West Side Story through to Braveheart, Titanic and Gladiator were produced in Hollywood and distributed globally by, or on behalf of, the major studios. In case you did not notice, these types of films have been abandoned by Hollywood in favour of superhero blockbusters. The logic for this transition is both simple and obvious, Superhero blockbusters are what today’s audiences want to see and are prepared to pay for the privilege.
The Academy recognises this change and has introduced a new award for ‘Achievement in popular film’ which is effectively an award for, and a nod towards, popcorn movies.
Today, the films that are picking up the awards are produced on much lower budgets, where subject matter such as that of Birdman may be classified as niche and can be generally be categorised as Arthouse productions.
These films need the Film Festival Circuit to be shown and to be sold to distributors, which can in turn lead into the global market. This is why the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals have soared in prestige and importance. In the past 10 years Oscar winners such as ‘The Shape of Water’ and ‘The Hurt Locker’ were first shown at Venice. Five major Oscar winners were first shown at Telluride including ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. ‘The Artist’ was first shown at Cannes.
However, not all festivals are equal. Berlin and Cannes are held in February and May respectively, which is considered too early to influence Academy voters. The ballots for the Oscars which are held in February are completed during the previous winter.
So, what do we have on this year’s Festival Agenda? The opening film in Venice was ‘First Man’ based on Neil Armstrong’s life; and the London Film Festival opens with the Steve McQueen film, ‘Widows’ these two films plus the Coen Brothers’ ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ are my tips for next February.