The Oscars are months away and a majority of movies likely to be nominated haven’t yet been released. But one controversy from this year’s ceremony appears to be resolved – for now.
That controversy: should movies on streaming platforms that are released at the same time into theaters be considered for the Academy Awards?
Intertop’s, one of the main sportsbooks online, is already handicapping the 2020 Oscar race offering a wager on which movie will take home the big prize.
Among the movies on the potential Oscar-worthy list is The Irishman. It is a crime thriller starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and directed by Martin Scorsese. It will debut on Netflix sometime in late 2019 and has an “exclusive” release in movie theaters as well. But likely not the traditional multi-week or month run.
It is following the same path as Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma which was financed and distributed by Netflix. It was nominated for Best Picture this year after only a three-week run in movie theaters before it became available on the streaming service. It’s nomination caused quite the brouhaha.
For the record, Roma did not win Best Picture. Green Book took the top prize, but Roma did win Best Director (Cuaron), Best Foreign Language Film and Best Achievement in Cinematography.
That rankled at least one high-ranking members of the Hollywood elite, Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, the powerhouse creator of Schindler’s List, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
He expressed that Netflix and similar companies should be banned from Oscar contention by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for releasing films streaming platforms and in movie theaters almost simultaneously.
“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg said in March during an interview with ITV.
“You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.
“I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”
The director certainly knows about movies on the big and little screens. Duel, a 1971 TV thriller film about a terrified motorist stalked by an unseen driver of a Peterbilt 281 truck, was the first full-length film directed by Spielberg.
The movie enjoyed critical success on the small screen as part of the TV network ABC’s ‘Movie of the Week'. It was later released to movie theaters in Australia and Europe and had limited screen-time in some theaters in the United States.
However, his stance regarding streaming and the Oscars put him in direct conflict with many filmmakers. They regard Netflix as a vital entity in the film industry, especially as a showcase for moviemakers who aren’t getting the time of day from the larger studios. Many believe that without Netflix putting money and resources behind film projects, a lot of movies would never be shot or distributed.
“As an Academy member, I am concerned about the Academy staying relevant and understanding the seismic shifts that are happening in how people consume entertainment.
“And a small theatrical release followed up by a global streaming release is the future of viewing for my daughters’ generation,” said Joe Berlinger, the director of Paradise Lost told Variety earlier this year.
In an era of big-time blockbusters, which Spielberg helped create, Netflix has become a champion of sorts for the smaller films and those who make them. While at the Sundance Film Festival this year, the service bought for $9 million Berlinger’s latest effort, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, about serial killer Ted Bundy played by Zac Efron. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
Netflix has challenged the conventional way a movie can go to the Oscars. Spielberg and others pushed back, promoting the cinematic experience rather than watching a movie on a mobile phone or television.
Many members of the Academy spent their Saturday afternoons in movie theaters watching films on screens that made actors larger than life. Adapting to a small screen consumption is a hard turn.
“On the one hand change happens all the time and we adapt,” Julianne Moore told Variety at the premiere of Gloria Bell.
“On the other hand, there are valid and beautiful ways to view films that are disappearing.”
After the success of Roma at the Academy Awards, the board of governors met to discuss eligibility rules and opted not to change anything. Any feature-length movie can be considered for an Oscar if it has a seven-day run with three public screenings per day in Los Angeles. The film will still be considered for an Oscar even if it streams on other platforms such as Amazon Prime or Netflix on or after the first day of its theatrical run.
“We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions,” Academy President John Bailey said in a statement.
“Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration.”
Bailey added that the board would “further study the profound changes occurring in our industry.”