Hollywood is gearing up for an unprecedented awards season, after the pandemic took a hammer to the release schedule and triggered profound changes across the industry.
After cinemas around the world closed in early 2020, studios were forced to act and either delayed their blockbusters or, controversially in some cases, made them available to stream.
Films shifted into 2021 include James Bond flick No Time To Die, sci-fi epic Dune, horror film A Quiet Place Part II, Marvel superhero movie Black Widow and action sequel Top Gun: Maverick.
Mulan and Wonder Woman 1984 pivoted to streaming, in the latter case at the same time as in US cinemas amid a fierce debate over the sanctity of the theatrical experience.
In response to the disruption, the Academy, the body which oversees the Oscars, moved the ceremony from February to April and said streamed films without a theatrical run will be eligible for awards contention this year.
That led to the other major awards shows, including the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild, to follow suit.
While the release calendar took a hit from the pandemic, studios still produced some acclaimed films.
The early best picture contenders include Netflix project Mank, director David Fincher’s visually stunning drama about a drunken screenwriter and the creation of Citizen Kane; Nomadland, which stars two-time Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as a dispossessed wanderer travelling through the American West; and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, another Netflix production and actor Chadwick Boseman’s final film after he died in August at the age of 43.
Other movies earning Oscar buzz include One Night In Miami, Regina King’s directorial debut; The Father, a poignant portrayal of a daughter’s love starring Olivia Colman and Sir Anthony Hopkins; and Promising Young Woman, written and directed by The Crown’s Emerald Fennell.
And Netflix, which may finally win its first Oscar for best picture, also released political drama The Trial Of The Chicago 7 and Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, both of which received critical acclaim.
In the acting categories, Sir Anthony has been tipped for a second best actor win, as has his fellow Briton Gary Oldman, for his starring role in Mank.
Boseman may earn a posthumous nomination for playing an ambitious trumpeter in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom while Delroy Lindo’s turn as a Donald Trump-supporting Vietnam War veteran in Da 5 Bloods also won plaudits.
Actresses who may earn nominations include McDormand, Glenn Close for Hillbilly Elegy, Meryl Streep for The Prom, Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman and Amanda Seyfried for Mank.
In the best director category, Fincher is widely seen as a frontrunner alongside Chloe Zhao for Nomadland, King for her debut and Florian Zeller for The Father.
As well as the pandemic, 2020 was marked by social unrest which provoked another conversation on diversity and representation in Hollywood.
The Academy responded by introducing new diversity and inclusion guidelines, which will come into effect within the next three years.
A renewed focus on representation could lead to a more diverse list of nominees.
And to add another factor to the uncertainty swirling around the forthcoming awards season, it is likely the ceremonies themselves will look starkly different to those of previous years.
Los Angeles County, which includes Hollywood, is gripped by a raging Covid-19 outbreak and it is unclear if a vaccine will arrive in time to allow audiences to gather indoors for the traditional glitz and glamour of an awards show.
Other major ceremonies that have taken place amid the pandemic, including September’s Emmys, have gone virtual.
The unprecedented nature of the year may provide Hollywood with an opportunity, according to one expert.
Veteran entertainment journalist and broadcaster Sandro Monetti, author of Confessions Of A Hollywood Insider, believes Tinseltown should flex its creative muscles to find a solution.
He told the PA news agency: “Awards shows have been stuck in a rut for so long and I see a long-overdue opportunity here to do something fresh and different with the format and presentation.
“There’s no reason and no excuse for the ceremonies to be anything less than stellar because the Hollywood community is full of creative talents and we’ve had nine months to prepare and perfect new methods of presentation in the new normal.”