Numlock Awards: Welcome to the 2020 Awards Season

Weird year, huh?

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition comes from Walter.

We’re back! When last we talked, it was February of 2020. Some stuff went down. Hope you’ve been alright in the interim.

Naturally, awards season had a big shift in timeline given the decision to move the Oscars to late April rather than their traditional date of late February. As a result, right about now is when things are poised to get really interesting, so we’re starting up again!

Here are the three reasons why this might be the most interesting awards seasons in a while.

  1. The traditional ground game of the Oscars race is utterly out of the picture, with the in-person screenings and the events and the meet and greets and the roundtables and all the myriad ways that contenders try to press the flesh completely out of the picture.

  2. This year is a bit of an inflection point for the Academy as a whole, and one I’ve been looking forward to personally for years: by my reckoning, and I’m still clarifying the numbers on this, it appears that for the first time since the Academy set out to expand its numbers to better encapsulate the film industry here and abroad, with the 819 invitees brought in this past spring, the voting members inducted since 2012 now exceed the voting members inducted prior to 2012. Members inducted in the past decade are most of the voters now. We will talk more about who these people are over the next few weeks, but my project of the past several years has been to design a model that can endure the changes of the Academy, and this milestone is one long in the making.

  3. I would argue now that, barring the traditional events and screenings and push that underscore a top-flight Oscar campaign, not to mention the unprecedentedly dismal year 2020 was for the movie business, that the precursor prizes are very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to what Academy voters pursue. We’ve long held that precursors are exceptional signals of the state of the race, but in a year when all other signals are stripped away — namely, audience reaction, box office, and the subsequent conversations that mass distribution is really great at stoking — people are going to look to the critics’ prizes to figure out what the precise hell is a contender this year.

Anyway we will have much more on these three points over the coming weeks! After covering an altogether different campaign for much of 2020 I’m incredibly grateful we get to talk about some movies.

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I’ll finish off with a general sense of the timeline of the next couple weeks. A bunch of the early, tone-setting critics’ awards are going down over the next few weeks, but given how we tend to average the critics in groups I’m not going to call out each of them.

  • First week of February: A bunch of nominations drop. This week’s huge, in terms of understanding who’s in play. On the 3rd, the Golden Globes nominees are announced. This will be the serious start of Oscar season. On the 4th, we have SAG nominations, which will give us the genuine contenders in the acting prizes, as SAG is very close to the ballgame in most of the acting categories.

  • Second week of February: More nominations! Sunday the 7th there’s the Critics’ Choice, which more than anything will tell me what isn’t a contender. If your movie hasn’t had love yet, it’s a rough road to Best Picture. The Academy drops some shortlists this week too, which for you Documentary and Short fans that’s on the 9th.

  • February 28: The Golden Globes. Winning a Golden Globe usually means jack, but in a year where getting your movie in front of couch-bound voters is critical, whatever the hell this ends up being is a must-watch. Why? Well:

  • March 5-10: Oscars Nominations Voting.

  • March 7: Critics’ Choice Awards. Great timing, folks.

  • March 15: The Ides of March, best known as the date when a bunch of voters got together and stabbed a guy with big dreams. Incidentally, Oscar nominations get announced today.

  • Late March: The Writers give their awards on the 21st, the Producers on the 24th. The producers are always the one to watch.

  • Early April: Things happen very fast! SAG is on the 4th, then the DGA on the 10th, then the BAFTA awards on the 11th. At this point we’ll pretty much know what the final forecast is going to be.

  • April 15-20: Oscar voting.

  • April 25: The Academy Awards.

That’s that: we’ve got about 13 weeks between now and then, with most of the serious action, in terms of high-stakes precursor prizes, going down in a quick window from March 21 to April 11.

I, for one, am so excited for that first week of February, because right now I have absolutely no idea what’s happening and I’ve genuinely tried to stay up on things.