Each Wednesday through the week of the 2019 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 22, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.
Back in 2015, Netflix debuted its first feature film produced exclusively for the service, “Beasts of No Nation.” Starring Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, director/writer Cary Joji Fukunaga created a harsh but engaging look at child soldiers in a fictional African nation. It was applauded by critics, and it was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA and won a Screen Actors Guild Award. One body that didn’t recognize the captivating drama was the Academy. With a two-week theatrical run before hitting the streaming service, “Beasts of No Nation” qualified for the Oscars, but the buttoned-up organization did not show love to this new enterprise of moviemaking.
As years passed, Netflix has become a larger, studio-like force in the industry, but the Academy has been slow to recognized it. The company has been nominated for 14 Oscars, mostly for documentaries as they had different rules as far as theatrical runs from featured films. Plus, with exceptions like Ava DuVernay’s documentary “The 13th,” most of this titles were acquired by Netflix after production. The documentary short “The White Helmets” and the documentary feature “Icarus” are Netflix’s only winning titles.
It was falling behind its internet rival Amazon, a company that started as an e-retailer and expanded into entertainment. In 2017, Amazon Studios struck Oscar gold with the feature film, “Manchester By The Sea,” with Casey Affleck winning best actor and Kenneth Lonergan for original screenplay. The difference between Netflix and Amazon Studios was that Amazon was willing to have long theatrical runs before streaming their prized titles on Prime Video, sometimes taking the usual four-month delay that the major studios take.
Things changed last year when Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” generated momentum during its festival run and landing on the cover of Variety. The drama starring Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell had a two-week run before streaming. It was Netflix’s first produced film to earn above-the-line nominations – four to be exact. The company went home empty-handed, however.
Netflix and its CEO Reed Hastings made a fuss in the last two years at the Cannes Film Festival. The French did not like that two films were in competition in 2017 that would be immediately streaming in the U.S. whereas French theater distributors have different rules when it comes to home entertainment and cinema. This year, Netflix movies were not allowed at all, causing a huge argument about the future of film and its gatekeepers.
Late last month, Hastings signaled that he was more willing to play ball with the traditionalists. For what is considered to be a best picture frontrunner, Netflix is devoting a three-week theatrical run for Oscar winner Alfonso Couran’s personal drama “Roma,” starting Nov. 21 before it streams on Dec. 14. Two other contenders, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” a Western starring Liam Neeson and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and “Bird Box,” a drama with Sandra Bullock and directed by Susanne Bier, will have at least a one-week qualifying week in Los Angeles before streaming.
Most of these runs do not hit small- and mid-sized markets like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton, as it can be a lost for small theaters as many area film fans have Netflix at home and would wait that extra week or so before they can stream it. Overall, it’s a risk for any theater, even in the big markets. However, the success of “Mudbound” has provided Netflix will a little hope that it can score big, at least with nominations.