Oscar Season Wrap: ‘Tenet,’ ‘Wonder Woman,’ Pundits & Germs

Tim Gray
·3 min read

A column of random thoughts:

Whatever you think about the year’s movies, you have to admit the titles were confusing. For example, we had “Pieces of a Woman,” “Promising Young Woman,” “I’m Your Woman,” “I Am Woman” and “Wonder Woman 1984.”

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That last title could also confuse future film historians. In the old days, when studios included the year in a title, it was straightforward, like “Golddiggers of 1933” (which came out in 1933). That was also true of other films such as “Broadway Melody of 1936,” “Big Broadcast of 1936” and “Hit Parade of 1941.”

However, in the 21st century we’ve had “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), Wong Kar Wai’s “2046” (2004) and Sam Mendes’ “1917” (2019). With so many new titles each year and so many platforms, you’d think the studios would want to clarify things for us, not the reverse.

Speaking of future historians, it will be interesting to see what they make of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” It’s impossible to watch some films without thinking of their backstories, such as “Citizen Kane” and “Apocalypse Now.” Any film fan who watched “Tenet” this year was no doubt aware of its often-delayed journey to the screen, and its role as a canary in a coal mine as observers made the film a test of COVID-era moviegoing.

When it finally bowed Sept. 4 on 2,800 screens, the $20 million domestic opening was described as “disappointing” and “underwhelming” by mainstream media, picking up its cues from Film Twitter (unfortunately). In truth, we had no standard of judging COVID box office. Its $363 million cume is … incomparable. So it will be interesting to see if COVID is part of “Tenet’s” legacy.

For the record: The longest best-picture winner is “Lawrence of Arabia” at 222.11 minutes. Runner-up: “Gone With the Wind” at 221 minutes. Vigilant reader Bob Morris (co-author of “Lawrence of Arabia: The 30th Anniversary Pictorial History”) pointed out I had previously written the running time of “Lawrence” based on the later director’s cut, but 222.11 is what the Academy voted on back in 1962. And FYI, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is 242 minutes, so if that wins best picture next year, it’s a whole other ball of wax.

On March 17, two days after Oscar nominations were announced, Vanity Fair ran the online headline: “Did the Oscars Actually Get It … Right?” It’s an odd habit, in which journalists/editors declare that they have the final word on whether the 9,000 members of the Academy made the “right” or “wrong” choices.

Last year, after “Parasite” won the top Oscar, one major news outlet gasped, “They gave the Oscar for best picture of the year to — wait for it — the actual best picture of the year.”

This attitude is also evident in all the “who will win/should win” lists. It’s a reminder that entertainment journalists take themselves very seriously (myself included).

Last year, many people (myself included) complained of the Acad’s decision to hold the awards so early, Feb. 9, which was generally conceded to be an experiment that didn’t work. But there was one sunny side effect: We avoided the early days of COVID, which would have been disastrous. So the Awards Gods were taking care of Little Oscar. I’ll never complain again. (Actually, I’m sure I will.)

Another personal note: Awards time always coincides with cold-and-flu season. So this year, for the first time ever, all of us were spared from the hug-kiss from someone who then adds, “I probably shouldn’t kiss you, I’m coming down with a cold.” This happens EVERY YEAR!

After a crazy 2020, we are all looking for blessings, no matter how small. So I’m grateful for readers, for editors, co-workers and colleagues, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to not catch others’ germs.

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