By John H. Foote
After the streaming service leaped into the production business in 2015 with the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, which earned critical acclaim and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor for actor Idris Elba, Netflix was taken seriously. They were, however, not necessarily feared or even taken as seriously by the Hollywood community or the major studios, as they fear and respect one another, for another three years. After all, the new upstart studio DreamWorks SKG had exploded in the nineties with their two consecutive Best Picture wins – American Beauty (1999) and Gladiator (2000) winners both after the shocking defeat of Saving Private Ryan (1998) before the company fell apart.
Three years after Beasts of No Nation, shockingly in 2018, Roma was an awards favourite, winning a boatload of critics and guild awards on the long and winding road to the Academy Awards.
Along the way to the Oscars, where Roma had been nominated for a whopping 10, the Mexican made, Netflix produced film had won major awards from the Directors Guild of America (Best Director), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (Best Film, Best Cinematography), the National Society for Film Critics Awards (Best Director, Best Cinematography), the esteemed New York Film Critics Circle Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography) along with Best Picture and Best Director prizes from the Boston and Chicago Film Critics Associations.
Alfonso Cuarón, an Oscar winning Best Director for Gravity (2013), won his second Academy Award for Best Director on Oscar night for Roma, along with an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his exquisite black and white cinematography, along with Best International Feature. However, Roma lost Best Picture, rather shockingly to Green Book (2019) a lightweight but hugely enjoyable road picture that was something of a surprise winner. Was it genuinely thought by the Academy that Green Book was the stronger film, or was it an Academy lashing out against the new kid on the block, Netflix?
Last year Martin Scorsese directed the sublime gangster epic The Irishman (2019) for Netflix, the master filmmaker turned down by every major and minor studio, turning it into a work of art for Netflix. New York director Noah Baumbach directed the brilliant, heartbreaking divorce drama, Marriage Story, dominated by astounding performances from breakout actor Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, all three artists among the Oscar nominees. With The Irishman leading the pack with 10 nominations, Marriage Story with six and The Two Popes (2019) with three, Netflix was the leader coming into Oscar night with 24 nominations.
But after The Irishman won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci), there seemed to come backlash against Scorsese’s film, and growing support for the South Korean film Parasite (2019). So intense was the backlash against The Irishman, Scorsese, and Netflix, just a single Academy Award was awarded to the streaming giant. Laura Dern won Best Supporting Actress for her seething divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. Did the Academy intentionally humiliate Martin Scorsese and Netflix? Seems they did.
Kind of shameful of them.
Netflix seems poised to dominate the Oscars again in 2021, given the exceptional slate of films and the number of potential Academy Award nominees being withdrawn from the slate. The cinema of 2020 will be forever marked by and (*) as the pandemic year, but the Oscars will still happen, and film will indeed be celebrated.
At this writing likely Oscar players are Spike Lee’s powerful, haunting Viet Nam film Da Five Bloods; the Citizen Kane making of Mank, directed by David Fincher, featuring Gary Oldman as writer Herman Markiewicz; Hillbilly Elegy, with Amy Adams and Glenn Close (14 Oscar nominations between them), directed by Ron Howard in an adaptation of the best seller; Rebecca, the remake of the classic Best Picture winning Best Picture of 1940; The Trial of the Chicago 7, should bleed Oscar nominations – Aaron Sorkin directs and writes for a terrific cast; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the long awaited adaptation of the hit stage musical, featuring Viola Davis, which sounds impressive; Enola Holmes, announces the big screen arrival of Stranger Things breakout star Milly Bobby Brown as Sherlock’s feisty little sister; George Clooney could be welcomed back to the race for directing and starring in the science fiction epic The Midnight Sky; Ryan Murphy brings to film the popular musical about gay rights, The Prom; while the remake of the film and adaptation of the stage play The Boys in the Band could find enough support to jump into the race; and, finally look for Vanessa Kirby to compete for Best Actress in Pieces of a Woman, a film Netflix chose to buy at TIFF and stream, heavily promoting Kirby. Netflix could conceivably have produced five to sex of the ten Best Picture nominees, an astounding achievement!
Like I said they are setting up to dominate the Oscar race again.
Given the pandemic has shown that the future of cinema could lie in streaming, it seems to be the year for it. As theatres remained dark, closed – some for good – the studios found other ways to get their films seen. Disney was the most aggressive in placing their films for streaming on their site, choosing to take some of their films to bypass a theatrical release and go directly to streaming. Is this the future of the movies?
It might be.
The love of the ritual of going to the movies, that obsession, still could prevent cinemas from closing, but it is safe to say the industry we all so love will evolve, is evolving as we breathe. Movies will endure, the film business will adapt. I suspect the studios will at some point in the very near future, create streaming platforms to access their films. The movie industry will find a way to carry on.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.