WALT DISNEY Co. has rescheduled the release of best-picture contender Nomadland for Feb. 19, keeping the film eligible for Oscar awards while waiting for the pandemic to subside.

The film, which has been the top pick for best picture on forecasting site GoldDerby.com, was originally scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 4. The new date is a little more than a week before the Oscar deadline, which was pushed back because of the havoc coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has wreaked on Hollywood scheduling.

Nomadland stars Frances McDormand as a woman who embarks on a journey across the Western US after losing everything during the Great Recession. She is also a contender for best actress, according to GoldDerby.

While studios often release their Oscar hopefuls late in the year to keep them fresh in the minds of film academy voters, this time they face an especially delicate balancing act. They’ll want to wait as long as possible so that more theaters may be open, while at the same time meeting the deadline.

In vying for a best-picture statuette, Disney is in unusual territory. The studio hasn’t typically been a front-runner in the category because it stopped making the kind of adult dramas that typically win. It acquired Nomadland as part of its purchase of Fox’s entertainment assets last year and has vowed to continue making those sorts of movies at its Searchlight division.

Oscar season has been thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which oversees the prizes, usually requires Oscar candidates to have run in Los Angeles theaters for seven days in the calendar year before the awards.

In April, the academy made exceptions for the coronavirus and said films released only online would also be considered for the first time. It has also added drive-in theaters and five other cities to help films qualify. The deadline for appearances in theaters was extended until Feb. 28.

Theaters in Los Angeles, the second-largest US city, have been closed since March. The awards are scheduled to be given out April 25.

By scheduling the theatrical release just before Oscar voting begins, Disney may be able to score points with academy members who favor films shown in cinemas. Many of the films touted as best-picture contenders by GoldDerby, have already come out on streaming services. They include Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7, both on Netflix.

“This Oscar season, like everything else, has been turned upside down,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore, Inc. “Now it’s wide open what constitutes a proper nominee.” — Bloomberg