May 22, 2024

I’m in competition with no one but myself in trying to view all the major-category nominees for the Oscars before the ceremony tomorrow night. I’m doing well this year, probably because the slate is fairly small: Most of the films with acting and screenplay nominations are also contenders for best picture. If I can get over my aversion to biopics that I wish were documentaries instead, I have a good chance of going into the ceremony with the confidence of a dorky student who’s done all the reading for the final exam.

The problem with cramming for the Oscars, as I do every year to varying degrees of success, is that it renders one cinematically wearied. A putatively enjoyable activity becomes homework. If I fail to squeeze in a nominated film before the ceremony, I’ll probably never see that film at all. It becomes associated with the grind. I love the Oscars, with all their pageantry and pomposity. I love big-scale spectatorship, the rare moments in modern life when many of us are looking at a screen showing the same thing at the same time. But I also love when they’re over and I can get back to less goal-oriented culture consumption.

And so it is that a recent piece by Mark Harris in The Times’s Opinion section with the dreary headline “How Bad Can It Get for Hollywood?” has me paradoxically hopeful for post-Oscars 2024, and for the inevitable changes to come to the moviemaking business.

Barbenheimer notwithstanding, 2023 was a bad year for Hollywood. Harris cites lingering effects of pandemic shutdowns, the writers’ and actors’ strikes, the decline of the streaming business model and the looming menace of A.I. “If ‘Hollywood’ were a big summer movie,” he writes, “we’d be right at the end of Act II, at the always-darkest-before-the-dawn moment in the story, when all seems lost.”

But Harris sees a silver lining: The strikes prevented big franchise movies from being completed, and audiences’ appetites for superhero movies that require deep knowledge of complex lore (more homework!) seem to be, if not eliminated, then at least diminished. These pressures, he suggests, might lead to some necessary creativity, to projects with smaller budgets and less complicated postproduction, to “self-contained films that don’t demand moviegoers have a Ph.D. in previous installments or extended universes.” The same happened in the summer of 1989, Harris notes, when moviemaking was at an impasse and films like “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Do the Right Thing” and “The Little Mermaid” showed there were audiences to be cultivated and money to be made from unexpected genres.

I’m excited for tomorrow night’s ceremony (The Times’s live coverage starts at 4 p.m. Eastern; the ceremony’s at 7 p.m. Eastern on ABC) and I’m excited for what comes after. I’ve already set my sights on some of the more exciting fare coming soon-ish: “Hundreds of Beavers,” a low-budget black-and-white movie with no stars but, yes, hundreds of beavers, played by humans. “Sasquatch Sunset,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough in heavy prosthetics, featuring a script with no words and lots of grunts. And it’s not slated to come out until Christmas, but Robert Eggers’s take on “Nosferatu” stars Willem Dafoe (who made “The Lighthouse” and “The Northman” with Eggers), Lily-Rose Depp and, evidently, 2,000 live rats.

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