Going into the 2020 Golden Globe Awards, the prevailing question was not so much whether Netflix would have a good night, but rather how big of a night the streaming service would have. With 16 nominations spread across four films that spanned both genres and generations of actors and filmmakers, the deck was seemingly stacked in the streamer’s favor.
And yet, in the aftermath of a ceremony that saw Netflix win in just one major movie category, the message sent by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — and perhaps Hollywood in general — to the industry-leading streamer seems clear: You’re not welcome at the adults’ table yet.
Just a year after Netflix seemed to get a foot in the awards door with Roma director Alfonso Cuaron’s Best Director wins at the Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Awards, the service went all-in on this year’s awards season. Of the five films nominated in the Golden Globes’ Best Picture – Drama category, three of the projects were produced by Netflix, as was a fourth film nominated in the Best Picture – Comedy or Musical category.
Netflix even went so far as to convince acclaimed Oscar darling Martin Scorsese to bring some of Hollywood’s most esteemed leading men together for The Irishman, a mob drama that seemingly checked off all the right boxes for awards success and gave the streamer its most potent contender among this year’s nominees. Combining Scorsese’s acclaimed résumé with those of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci — the latter of whom the project lured out of retirement after nearly a decade off screen — The Irishman was the heavyweight favorite, while fellow Netflix nominees Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and Dolemite is My Name added some extra insurance with their own unique and awards-friendly profiles.
A lot can change in one night, though, and The Irishman left the Golden Globes ceremony not just empty-handed, but likely without much of the momentum it had carried into the awards season. And with just one win at the ceremony — for actress Laura Dern in her Marriage Story supporting role — Netflix’s Oscar aspirations now seem like a long shot, too.
So what went so wrong for Netflix?
The elephant in the room continues to be Hollywood’s resistance to judging streaming projects on even ground with theatrical releases, with traditional awards voters slow to consider movies produced by and for streaming services — even if they get the requisite theatrical release — as anything but second-class cinema. Although he later backtracked on his comments a bit, celebrated filmmaker Steven Spielberg came to epitomize that regressive view on streaming in March when he insisted that films made for streaming services shouldn’t receive Academy Award consideration.
While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t entirely capitulate to Spielberg’s request, it continued to make a theatrical release — even an extremely limited one — a requirement for an Oscar nomination in a given year. The Academy’s response stopped short of putting streaming films on the same level as made-for-theaters projects, suggesting that Netflix and its streaming peers still have work to do before their movies are judged on equal ground with major Hollywood (read: theatrical) studios.
Of course, that shouldn’t take away from the level of competition the Netflix films faced this season.
Sam Mendes’ World War I drama 1917 squeaked into the Best Picture field due to a brief, limited release in theaters at the end of 2019 (the film won’t have a wide release until Friday, January 10), and ultimately won out over The Irishman — likely due to Mendes’ innovative use of long takes that make the period piece feel as if it’s one, continuous shot from start to finish. Mendes is also an Oscar darling, and the win at the Golden Globe Awards has quickly pushed 1917 among the three favorites to win the top prize at the Academy Awards.
That Mendes also took home the Best Director Golden Globe only makes it more likely that 2020 could be yet another year in which Scorsese is nominated for an Oscar — giving him the second-most nominations of any filmmaker in Oscars history — but goes home empty-handed after the ceremony.
In the Golden Globes’ “Best Picture – Musical or Comedy” category, Netflix film Dolemite Is My Name was generally considered an underdog to win (although star Eddie Murphy was a surprising snub in the “Best Actor” category), but the win by Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood now makes that film the odds-on favorite to win the coveted “Best Picture” Oscar. After all, Hollywood tends to love movies about, well… Hollywood.
In the end, that doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for Netflix and its Oscar hopes this year. The combination of uniquely impressive (and historically favored, in the case of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood) competition, along with the uphill battle faced by any streaming service to have their projects recognized on par with theatrical studios seems destined to make 2020 a year that hammers home not only how far streaming video has come, bot how far it still has to go in Hollywood.
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