Oscar may have lost some of his golden luster — at least judging by the ratings drop-offs of recent years. But the 13 ½-inch statuette remains the biggest validation Hollywood has to offer, surpassing record-setting box office, massive minutes-watched numbers logged by the streamers and even a table in the front dining room at the hot new restaurant Horses.
When asked by The News84Media In 2015 what words he’d like to hear spoken from the Academy Awards stage, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos replied, “That they want to thank Netflix.” In the years since, he’s heard those words more than once: The dominant streamer has earned 116 Oscar nominations and taken home 16 awards.
But the ultimate prize, the Academy Award for best picture, has eluded him. Could that change this season? The Magic 8 Ball says: “Don’t count on it.” In fact, the way the competition is shaping up, Netflix — and other streamers like Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+ — could find it difficult to secure a best picture nomination, let alone a win.
If that does prove to be the case when nominations are announced Jan. 24, it’s likely to result in a far different scenario than has been in evidence over the past few years, with the streamers constantly nipping at the heels of the major studios and the handful of indie distributors still committed to theatrical release — even threatening to edge. out the established players altogether.
Amazon became the first streamer to break into the golden circle when it scored a best picture nomination for Manchester by the Sea in 2017. Netflix has had at least one best picture nominee, and usually two, since 2019, when it entered the list with Rome. And earlier this year, Apple TV+ became the first streamer to claim the top prize when it triumphed with CODAin the process beating out both Netflix nominees, The Power of the Dog and Don’t Look Up.
But currently, even though there will be a guaranteed 10 best picture slots to fill, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the opposite direction. Theaters are rebounding from their COVID doldrums, and while audiences have yet to fully return, big grossers like Paramount’s Top Gun: MaverickWarner Bros.’ Elvis and A24’s indie breakout Everything Everywhere All at Once have established themselves as popular hits that have won enough critical approval to stake a claim. Disney/Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and 20th Century’s Avatar: The Way of Water could muscle their way in. Solid dramas like Universal’s The Fabelmans and She said look to be right in the academy’s wheelhouse. And there is also a raft of indies that have generated lots of critical buzz, like Searchlight’s The Banshees of InisherinFocus Features’ Tár and UAR’s Women Talking.
In contrast, the streamers’ hopefuls have yet to generate the same momentum. Netflix’s Bardo, Blonde and White Noise all met with varying degrees of critical resistance on the festival circuit. Netflix is about to launch Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery with a one-week theatrical run in advance of its Dec. 23 debut on the service — signaling its Oscar wishes by premiering at the Academy Museum — but the original 2019 Knives Out earned just one nom (for Johnson’s original screenplay), so the new movie will have to prove it’s more than just popular entertainment. The streamer is also planning a best picture push for Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion animated Pinocchio. But while del Toro is an Academy darling — an Oscar winner as both director and producer of The Shape of Water — only three animated films (Beauty and the Beast, Up and Toy Story 3) have cinched a best picture nom, so the auteur will have to work all his magic to secure a spot for his film.
Meanwhile, Apple decided against giving one surefire contender, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which Paramount is set to distribute theatrically, a 2022 berth in favor of sticking to a 2023 release. In hopes of duplicating the success of CODAit picked up Cha Cha Real Smooth out of Sundance and Causeway in advance of that film’s Toronto Film Festival debut, but both are small-scale films that could be hard-pressed to make a splash. Thus all eyes will be on Antoine Fuqua’s slavery action thriller Emancipation, which begins streaming Dec. 9. But since the movie stars Will Smith, it faces the big question of whether Academy voters — some of whom are still smarting over The Slap at March’s ceremony — can overlook that controversy to judge the film on its own merits.
As for Amazon, it had some hopes for My Policeman, but the love triangle built around Harry Styles didn’t cause much of a stir when it began streaming Nov. 4. Now Amazon is looking to remind voters about Ron Howard’s Thirteen Livescentering on the 2018 Thai cave rescue, which began streaming in August rather than waiting to play the major festivals.
To be sure, don’t count the streamers completely out yet. They’re still poised to make their marks in other categories — and could be major players in both the feature documentary and international feature contests. But for the Academy traditionalists who have resented the streamers’ incursion into best picture territory and are looking to exact revenge, this season may provide them with the perfect opportunity to put the streamers in their place by shutting them out of best picture consideration.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The News84Media magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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