Can Clint Eastwood save the Oscars? With luck and a little help, yes, absolutely. It could happen. The stars are already aligning:
Since the debut last week of a trailer for Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, about the pursuit of a security guard who was wrongly suspected of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, right-wing film buffs have been palpably excited. “Clint Eastwood Blasts Fake News in ‘Richard Jewell’ Trailer,” ran the headline on an Oct. 3 column by Breitbart’s John Nolte.
About the trailer, Nolte isn’t wrong. In it, over-reaching reporters and editors are off to the races, while FBI agents hammer the innocent Jewell, for voice ID purposes, to keep repeating, in ever more self-incriminating tones: “There’s a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes.”
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It’s infuriating stuff, and promises to capture a politically inflamed audience when Warner Bros. releases it on Dec. 13. If the film also picks up a Best Picture nomination—and on that score, Eastwood has a powerful record, though the current movie is yet to be seen—it will likely recapture a large bloc of conservative Oscar viewers who were turned off by Jimmy Kimmel and what they see as an increasingly left-wing tilt to both Hollywood and the show.
Now, with that audience in place, imagine what would happen if Warner’s Joker also became a Best Picture nominee. After a $96.2 million opening weekend, the film has already shown its drawing power. If its many fans came to the Academy Awards show with serious hope that Joker might be the first comic-book based winner—DC thus upending Marvel, plus the possibility of weird behavior by Joaquin Phoenix—the Oscars would then have a double boost.
Those two nominations alone should guarantee an audience matching the 29.6 million viewers who watched the last, host-free, show. That would prove the modest 2019 uptick from a disastrously low audience of 26.5 million in 2018 was more than a dead cat bounce, and put to rest any fears that the Oscars are headed for an Emmys-like ratings collapse.
But, look again, and the prospects get even brighter. If Sony’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is nominated—and why shouldn’t that happen?—all those viewers who love Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, and Hollywood self-reference will have to tune in.
The African-American audience, generally a swing vote in the viewership equation, might want to see something reflecting its own experience. Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, about Harriet Tubman or Jordan Peele’s Us, among others, could fill the bill. A film like Bombshell—with Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Kate McKinnon, Charlize Theron, and Allison Janney, among others—could add rooting interest for women, and for those who, unlike many Eastwood fans, detest Fox News.
Suddenly, a return to the 40-million viewer level of just a few years ago seems almost possible.
As an added bonus, the truncated Oscar season—with an early awards night set for Feb. 9—is about to unfold at the pace of a speed dating session. The nominations open on Jan. 2, and close five days later. Final voting is squeezed into a week, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4. There’s no time for the usual fatigue to set in.
So with luck and some help from Eastwood and a few others, this could be a very big, and fast, Oscar year.