Rob Guenette has for years made it his mission to see all of the major Academy Award contenders in theatres.
The Toronto film buff would typically be at least halfway through that list before the nominees were announced Monday.
But this season, Guenette said he’s only watched one or two of the films vying for a golden statuette.
He’s among many Canadian Oscars enthusiasts who are finding it hard to get swept up in the awards fanfare as the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted communal cinematic experiences.
Moviegoing is a social activity, said Guenette, and it’s harder to muster the motivation to cross films off his to-watch list when there’s no one to discuss them with afterwards.
“It would be an activity for me and a buddy to go do together. That doesn’t exist anymore,” said Guenette, 30. “Unless it’s, ‘All right, let’s set up a Zoom call. Let’s sync up the movies.’ And that’s just really not the same.”
Still, Guenette said he’s determined to maintain his streak and see 17 films that are up for the big awards, although it’s taken a bit more legwork to find them.
Rather than simply checking theatre showtimes, he said, Canadian cinephiles have to track down where the titles are streaming, and may have to subscribe to a new service or pay a rental fee.
There are always a few films among the nominees that feel like “homework,” said Guenette. But after a year in COVID-19 lockdown, in some ways, he’s just happy to have something new to watch.
“It’s been a very long pandemic,” he said. “There’s now something to accomplish in a given time frame, which is just kind of a nice activity to have and to look forward to for the next couple weeks.”
Teri Hart, a Toronto entertainment reporter and producer, said the rise of online cinema has made it easier than ever to see this year’s Oscar-nominated films, particularly in parts of Canada that may not get limited releases.
But the proliferation of streaming services has also heightened the competition for people’s eyeballs, said Hart. Not only is there more to watch, she said, but there are more distractions vying for a viewer’s attention.
In some ways, Hart said the muted Oscars buzz is a testament to the power of the big screen. No matter how sophisticated your home setup is, there’s no substitute for the experience of watching a film in a darkened theatre with a group of strangers, she said.
“I think it speaks volumes to how the theatrical experience creates a different relationship between the viewer and the filmmaker, the actors, the art itself,” said Hart.
“That’s good news for the movie business. That’s good news for how much people are missing that communal, emotional experience.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2021.