- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Finally, after last year’s Oscar season — or, technically, this year’s first Oscar season, which stretched into April — the cinephiles among guild voters and the media have reason to rejoice. Movie theaters (and screening rooms) are open once again, and awards hopefuls can be seen the way they were meant to be: on the big screen.
After months of watching via screening links on laptops, hoping that precarious Wi-Fi networks could stream an Oscar contender without endless buffering (after navigating logins and two-step verification), the movie screening is back in full force — even if there are plenty of adjustments in a post-lockdown landscape. Proof of vaccination is required, as is mask-wearing in theaters and screening rooms. Netflix, taking extra safety measures, has required all attendees at screenings and events not only to be vaccinated but also asks for proof of a negative COVID test within the past 48 hours (the streamer has been sending out at-home PCR tests to its guests in advance).
For many who spent months at home, it’s a blissful feeling to be in a theater again, even if that elation comes with a new crop of social anxieties. (How long can one remove a mask to eat a handful of popcorn? And did someone just cough in the back row?)
While recent box office reports suggest that moviegoers nationwide might still be hesitant to shell out for tickets at the multiplex, Hollywood players are ready to celebrate their return to theaters.
“I really want cinema to survive. I really want some exhibitors to still be there in a year, and the important thing is also just going back yourself,” says Wright. “I go back as a customer. As soon as they reopened in the U.K., I was there. As soon as I got to L.A. the other day, I was there,” he notes of the double feature for which he paid to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Malignant. “That was a good afternoon.”
For the true extroverts — on whom social distancing took its toll — the return of the post-screening reception must feel like a gift. As wine flows from open bars and waiters with appetizers make their way through outdoor event spaces while guild voters hobnob with talent, it almost seems as if things have returned to normal — even if conversations about a best picture front-runner can quickly turn to one of the most frequently asked questions of the moment: “So, Pfizer or Moderna?”
And those events have returned with a force. They began with a trickle of FYC screenings at the tail end of Emmy campaigning and have exploded into a deluge of Hollywood invites. On Nov. 3, four competing industry events took place in one evening: the premiere of Netflix’s Red Notice at L.A. Live, where Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds walked the red carpet; a screening of Apple TV+’s Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry at Harmony Gold, followed by a Q&A with director R.J. Cutler and the documentary’s Grammy-winning subject, moderated by Apple Music host Zane Lowe; the world premiere of Disney’s Encanto at the El Capitan; and the first L.A. screening of House of Gucci at the new David Geffen Theater at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where director Ridley Scott appeared with his stars Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino and Salma Hayek.
After being welcomed to the front of the Regency Bruin Theatre in Westwood on Nov. 4 for a Q&A following a second early showing of House of Gucci, Leto grabbed a microphone and said, “Good to be in a theater, my God!” Later, when asked whether the film met his expectations, the Oscar-winning actor again focused on the fact that he was sitting in front of an in-person audience: “I feel really lucky to be here with you guys celebrating in a theater, which is just incredible.”
It’s not just a big screen that’s so vital — as Leto says, the social nature of seeing a film is just as important. According to a 2019 study conducted by University College of London’s Department of Experimental Psychology and Vue Entertainment, seeing a film has a positive impact on brain function and social connection. The most emotional moment in a film might tug at our heartstrings — but the person sitting next to you is, at the same time, experiencing the same feelings, resulting in a communal physiological response.
Seeing a film also has an effect on focus — a two- to three-hour break from checking emails or doomscrolling Twitter always should be welcome, as a respite from a mental-health perspective, in turning one’s attention to a large screen rather than one that fits in a pocket. According to that UCL study, the immersive experience of seeing a film alongside others offers the chance to concentrate and practice mindfulness.
As we embark on another awards season full of FYC events and parties, it’s important to remember the reason for all of this partying in the first place: the craft and artistry of filmmaking. While a poolside party at the Sunset Tower is as good a place as any to toast a film’s Oscar chances while famous unmasked faces make their way through a vaccinated crowd, it’s at the theater where the celebration of cinema truly begins.
Chris Gardner contributed to this report.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
West Side Story
The Harder They Fall