By Cameron Lee
2020 seemed like the perfect time for a streamer to win the coveted Best Picture prize at the Oscars finally. With the global pandemic shutting theaters down and everyone stuck inside for a year, this was the time for Netflix or Amazon to win big. But it was not to be. Netflix blew their chance again by having too many contenders and not focusing on just one or two of them. The contenders they did have last year were also not as good as their previous slates, which included films like “Roma,” “Marriage Story,” and “The Irishman.” If the only good thing for Netflix last year was winning below-the-line categories and satisfying a middle-aged South African man’s octopus fetish, then last season was an utter failure.
Amazon, in all honesty, did better comparatively speaking. They had three main titles with “Sound of Metal,” “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and “One Night in Miami.” The former two surprised with the love they got from the Academy and other awards bodies while “One Night in Miami” unfortunately underperformed. But at the end of the day, the Academy went with the movies they were most passionate about, which were all festival movies by the likes of Searchlight, Focus, and Sony Pictures Classics. These three distributors know how to campaign and have been masters of the art of awards campaigning for decades. Compare that with these streaming spring chickens, and it’s clear they need a new strategy.
With theaters hopefully back in everyone’s life this year, the chance of a streamer to capture the Oscar for Best Picture next year is pretty low if you want my honest assessment at the moment. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. So, I’m going to go through all the contenders we know about currently, and hopefully, some of these by the end of the year will be in a good spot for a Best Picture nomination.
Apple bought this year’s Sundance award-winning crowd-pleaser about a hearing girl in a deaf family for a record $25 million. With that kind of price tag and great reviews, surely one would assume this would be a high priority for Apple. But with the recent news of Apple releasing “CODA” on August 13th (which isn’t the best time to release a film for awards consideration), it will have to overcome many other titles coming out between then and the end of the year to get noticed enough.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth
There are a few movies this year that just screams Oscar. Joel Coen’s highly anticipated version of Macbeth is one of those movies. Shot in black and white by long-overdue cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“Darkest Hour“) with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, who is coming off of two Oscars for “Nomadland.” Just talking about this movie has me super giddy with excitement at its tremendous potential. Made by A24 but just recently picked up by Apple for a Fall release, expect this film to be everywhere come fall festival season. Unless the Academy doesn’t like Shakespeare which I highly doubt, “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” should have no problem being a highly viewed title for voters. Denzel and Frances should already be considered locked for nominations. I mean, think about these two delivering some of the best monologues in history! If you know anything about acting Oscar nominations, you will be in an excellent spot to be nominated if you give a stunning monologue or two.
The Velvet Underground
Todd Haynes’s newest project is a career-spanning documentary on “The Velvet Underground.” Documentaries on musicians are usually 50/50 when it comes to getting nominated mainly because the branch is one of the weirdest in the Academy, often ignoring the most popular documentaries and instead choosing stuff that’s, well, not as popular. They also hate archival footage for some strange reason. But maybe, just maybe, Todd Haynes will have better luck this year. They did nominate the octopus fetish movie this year, so really, anything is possible. “The Velvet Underground” will be premiering at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Asghar Farhadi is a two-time Oscar winner in the Best International Feature Film category and is well-beloved within the industry. His new film, “A Hero,” returns him to Iran for what I’m assuming to be another family drama. Amazon recently picked it up, and judging by their recent track record of getting their films Oscar nominations (Looking at you “Cold War“), “A Hero” is in great hands for this upcoming awards season. The film will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
The opening night film for this year’s Cannes Film Festival is Leo Carax’s long-awaited musical with music and lyrics from The Sparks Brothers starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Just from the trailer, this film looks to be bonkers and not at all what Academy voters tend to reward. However, the Academy has been veering more international lately, especially in the director’s branch, so maybe Leo Carax, one of the weirdest auteur French directors working today (if you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and watch “Holy Motors”), could get enough passion votes to sneak his way into a potential lineup. If nothing else, maybe the Sparks Brothers can get some love. They have this, and Edger Wright’s already well-received documentary about their career coming out soon. Perhaps this year is finally their time to receive some overdue recognition?
Being The Ricardos
Aaron Sorkin is back after failing to convert any of the six Oscar nominations for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” into a win. This time, he’s helming another biopic about a turbulent week in the life of Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz. Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star as the power couple, and on paper, this sounds promising, but the film is already facing severe backlash. Unfortunately, when Aaron Sorkin directs his own scripts, the results have been average at best. It also doesn’t help that there’s already a casting controversy about Nicole Kidman as Lucile Ball. There’s no evidence that this will be better than his previous efforts, but we’ll have to see if it even makes it out this year as they are still currently shooting the film.
Apollo 10 ½
To start off this rather extensive list of Netflix films, we have Richard Linklater’s return to animation since “A Scanner Darkly.” This is a film about, you guessed it, the Apollo 11 moon landing. The film is supposed to be a fantasy in the minds of children during that pivotal event. The animation branch has ignored Linklater’s two previous animated efforts, but this year could be different, especially if people really like it.
Ana de Armas, as Marilyn Monroe. Do I even have to say? Okay, I will. Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford”) returns to deliver an unusual biopic based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name. Apparently featuring very little dialogue and a unique approach to telling Monroe’s tragic story, the closest comparison I would make to this 2016’s “Jackie.” But judging by set photos alone, a makeup nomination is in the cards, and Ana De Armas will undoubtedly be a top contender for Best Actresses if things go accordingly.
Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay is back to polarize the internet and critics at large with his climate change parallel with one of the most insane ensembles of the year. McKay has done very well at the Oscars, even with divided opinions on his two recent efforts (“The Big Short” & “Vice“). “Don’t Look Up” is supposedly even more of a satire and comedy than his last two films. People who have read the script seem to have mixed things to say about it, which should make the already nervous photo of our good boy Leonardo DiCaprio even more nervous. But maybe the Academy won’t care and get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I will not count McKay out judging by his past successes, and I do want to see DiCaprio do comedy again after his career-best work in “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” Look for this one come awards season, no matter what the reviews end up being.
Rebecca Hall’s debut feature got good notices out of Sundance and was quickly bought by Netflix. The best chance I see for this film at the moment is Ruth Negga, who was previously nominated for “Loving,” but “Passing” is well-liked enough, maybe Tessa Thompson can come along with her? Rumors have circulated that a few tweaks have been made to the film since Netflix acquired it. While it didn’t exactly light the world on fire with its premiere, it could resurface in a significant way later on.
One of two Guillermo Del Toro film’s out this year (the other being “Nightmare Alley”), “Pinocchio” is a stop motion version of the beloved fable but this time, set in fascist Italy. With a score and songs by Academy favorite Alexandre Desplat and what I’m assuming to be a very dark and messed up version of this beloved and known tale, this has all the makings of an Oscar nominee.
The Hand Of God
Paolo Sorrentino had previously won Best International Feature for his 2013 film “The Great Beauty,” and now he has reunited with his favorite actor Toni Servillo to make another Italian drama. If it gets picked by Italy to represent the country this year, expect Netflix to campaign the hell out of this film and maybe even get a surprise Best Director nomination, considering that branch’s affinity towards international directors as of late.
The Harder They Fall
“The Harder They Fall” is a Black western with an all-star cast that includes Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, and the queen herself, Regina King. The film certainly has the talent on the screen, but Jeymes Samuel is a newcomer to directing. That certainly didn’t stop filmmakers such as Emerald Fennell, Florian Zeller, Darius Marder, or Regina King herself last year. Will he be able to craft an entraining western with great performances? One can only hope.
The Power Of The Dog
Dame Jane Campion struck gold in 1993 with her Oscar-winning film “The Piano,” which also went on to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, making her the only woman to win that award. She hasn’t been back in the awards season conversation since, but her latest film is likely her best chance at returning to the Oscar stage due to the might of Netflix behind it and a few other factors. With a great cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch and real-life acting couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst, the film is about a man waging a kind of war against his brother’s wife. Sounds interesting, enough! And with Johnny Greenwood (“Phantom Thread“) doing the score, it will undoubtedly have fantastic music. Keep your eye out for this one when the fall festivals begin to hit.
Untitled Nora Fingscheidt Project
The Untitled Nora Fingscheidt project is not only the best possible title for a film ever that they will sadly change when the marketing kicks in, but also a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock with Viola Davis. The film is about a woman who is struggling to rebuild her life after being released from prison due to committing a violent crime. Since “Gravity,” Bullock hasn’t really done anything that screams Oscar bait, but this certainly sounds promising. With the added star power of Viola Davis, this will be worth watching for the performances alone.
Wendell And Wild
“Wendell and Wild” is another stop-motion project, this time from Henry Selick of ‘Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline” fame. A Key and Peele reunion of sorts, it follows two demon brothers whose schemes get them in a lot of trouble. If Netflix has two stop-motion contenders this year, they may have to choose between one of them to put all their time and energy into campaigning. Or a better strategy would be to delay one of them if they can’t finish in time? In that case, everyone wins except for the animators who have to work overtime to complete these labor-intensive films. Either way, we’re excited to see how this one turns out.
That’s just a taste of what to expect from streamers this awards season. There will, of course, be many films that get acquired in the weeks and months ahead. But for now, which movies are you most excited about from the streamers this year? Do you think any of them will become Oscar contenders? If so, which ones? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Cameron and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @Cameron85913678