This year’s Oscars are billed as the great democratic race. Eligibility for all awards has been relaxed, so films don’t have to have had a conventional theatrical release. This has led to a larger number of titles in contention – 41 on Monday’s shortlist – as well a greater diversity of voices.
But such egality of access has not yet stretched to UK viewers. While audiences in the US are uniquely able to see all the hottest films from the comfort of their own homes (streaming costs permitting), UK audiences are left in the familiar position of playing catchup, hearing exciting things about films still months away from release.
This is because the streaming infrastructure in the UK is less well-established than in the US, so outside major players such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and Apple, distributors do not have the deals in place for straightforward online premieres.
And while US cinemas have only begun reopening in the past fortnight, UK distributors have had periods in which they could screen films in cinemas, and so have sought to delay releases to fit in with these windows.
These goalposts, however, have shifted continually, with a domino effect on films. A smattering of awards movies are now due out in the UK in early April, a hangover from the hope that cinemas would be allowed to reopen in late March. The earliest they can now do so is 17 May; hence a sudden flurry of activity over the past few weeks on digital platforms for titles such as Judas and the Black Messiah, with distributors eager to capitalise on awards buzz and conscious such films might struggle to secure a sizeable cinema audience many weeks down the line.
Judas is also one of a number of contenders this year with a strikingly American focus. As with One Night in Miami, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Da 5 Bloods, it is a fictionalised riff on a moment in US history, while Mank, The United States Vs Billie Holiday and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom give us new takes on American cultural icons.
Even leading contender Nomadland – Chloé Zhao’s elegiac look at the life of retirees in US who live in their vans – feels distinctly domestic. That film, originally financed by 20th Century Fox, will make its UK debut on the unlikely platform of Disney+, following the company’s buyout of Fox.
Films more likely to prove catnip to the UK crowd are being strategically repositioned around the current plan for the easing of lockdown. Sound of Metal, starring best actor nominee Riz Ahmed as a drummer with hearing loss, is now scheduled to open in cinemas on 17 May following a brief spell on streamers, while best picture contenders such as the Anthony Hopkins dementia drama The Father and Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, have opted to play even safer, shifting to June releases.
The presumption is that by then UK cinemas may be more fully operational and blockbuster counter-programming will pay dividends. Such optimism is currently shared by the distributors of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die. Following a series of delays beginning last spring, they recently brought the release date forward by 10 days to late September.
How to watch this year’s Oscar movies in the UK
Another Round – in cinemas on 25 June
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – on video on demand (Vod) now
Better Days – now on Vod
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – now on Amazon Prime Video
Collective – now on Vod
Crip Camp – now on Netflix
Hillbilly Elegy – now on Netflix
Judas and the Black Messiah – now on Vod
Mank – now on Netflix
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – now on Netflix
Minari – on 2 April on Vod
My Octopus Teacher – now on Netflix
Nomadland – on Disney+ on 30 April
One Night in Miami – now on Amazon Prime Video
Onward – now on Disney+
Over the Moon – now on Netflix
Pieces of a Woman – now on Netflix
Promising Young Woman – “coming soon”
Quo Vadis, Aida? – now on Curzon Home Cinema
Soul – now on Disney+
Sound of Metal – Amazon Prime Video on 12 April
The Father – in cinemas on 11 June
The Man Who Sold His Skin – no UK release yet
The Mole Agent – now on Vod
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – now on Netflix
The United States Vs Billie Holiday – now on Sky Cinema
The White Tiger – now on Netflix
Time – now on Amazon Prime Video
Wolfwalkers – now on Apple TV+