As you may have heard, the Oscar nominations were revealed a few weeks ago, leading to a splendid surprise of many firsts. First Marvel film nominated for best picture, first time two foreign film directors are nominated for best director since ’76, first time a filmmaker has been nominated for both director AND cinematographer in the same year… but also – Netflix’s first nomination for anything… at all, nevertheless being nominated for best picture. Finally, the streaming giant that has gone against every precedent and normality that traditional Hollywood films participate in – box office numbers, theatrical windows, etc. – has achieved the status of “Best Picture nominee.” But it begs the question: why do they want it so bad?
We’ve all been hearing about Netflix’s Oscar campaign for Roma already costing the studio tens of millions of dollars, in what some people are calling the most expensive Oscar campaign in years. They’ve already changed the industry with a worldwide customer base that’s still growing, and has A+ content to show for it. So why the need? Because, it’s finally trying to cement itself within the Hollywood legacy, to be spoken in the same breath and taught in the same college film courses as Warner Bros and Paramount and Disney. And now that the studio has officially signed with the MPAA, it’s the last step Netflix has to take in order to enforce its platinum supreme status amongst content providers.
But to fully understand why they want it so bad, we have to revisit a few instances, most notably last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Last year, a strife occurred between the festival and the streaming service when Cannes announced it would not be accepting any Netflix films for the in-competition category, starting off a long, hard-fought pissing contest between the two. The previous year, the festival implemented a rule declaring that films can only play in-competition if they have, or will have, secured distribution in France. This, unsurprisingly, barred Netflix from carrying any further within the festival. Even though the festival seemed to have redacted that statement, Netflix fought back by not sending Roma to the festival at all, which would become the darling art-house Oscar favorite of this year. With its seemingly endless amount of resources and boundless reach, it seems like Netflix bought Roma to purposefully piss off Cannes, furthering an even longer strife between the two that has already existed. (In 2017, when Netflix’s Okja premiered out of competition, it was screened late and in the wrong aspect ratio causing boo’s throughout the audience. And it didn’t help when that big Netflix logo popped up on the screen before the movie began.)
But it didn’t start there either, a few years ago, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos was boo’d off the Cannes stage during a QnA with Harvey Weinstein, in which one of the critics claimed that Sarandos will “kill the film ecosystem in Europe.”
And yet, they continue to forge forward in the art-house market in hopes of an Oscar win. But what else do they need to prove? They already secured rights to the most acclaimed film of this year’s awards season and brought it to the biggest audience possible. Shouldn’t that be the award in itself?
Well, for Netflix it’s the tip of the iceberg. They don’t just want to win an Oscar, they want to prove to the world that nothing is too “good” for Netflix, that they can reach into any niche-type genre and easily become the champion of it, permeating every single corner of pop culture. But, will the average Netflix viewer have a higher thinking of the streaming service if they were to win?
That remains to be seen. Yet, it may very well be that if Netflix really does pull this off (in my opinion, it’s theirs to lose), this may very well be the next “blurring-of-the-line” in cinema, proving what Ted Sarandos has already argued, “I don’t disagree that going to the theater to see a movie is a great experience… I don’t think emotionally it’s a different experience than seeing a movie on Netflix.” What was once considered the disruptor of the industry has now officially claimed the same ranks as the major players, proving that the concept of vertical integration has no effect on a studio when it comes to awards season.