The confluence of two massive cultural/societal shifts – the changes wrought by COVID and the rise of streaming services – have forced a massive shift in this year’s Oscars nominations. Once the domain of blue ribbon, mid-to-high budget studio films (but rarely, if ever, crowd pleasing blockbusters) seen in cinemas and accompanied by reams of media coverage, the Oscars have now been cracked wide open by streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Apple+ and the like. And in a way never experienced before by the Oscars, the nominated films are largely ones that people will watch in their own homes, and not in a cinema. Though not much discussed, this is nothing short of a seismic shift for The Academy Awards.
The “streaming revolution” has changed the entire feel of the Oscars in major ways. Pre-streaming, if you were intrigued and enticed to check out a movie because of its Oscar nominations, you just went to the movies to see it. Now, if you miss the brief, Oscar-qualifying theatrical run of a streaming film (as, well, most people do), you have to make the major decision about whether you want to add another streaming service to your already wallet-challenging list of current subscriptions. You know, CODA looks fantastic, but would you fork out for Apple+ just to see it?
This means that the “buzz” and interest around nominated films is seriously impacted. If you don’t want to shell out for the $100 or so per year for the streaming service on which it is platformed, you’ll likely never see the film at all, unless you buy the DVD or loan it from your local library. So, yes, this might all work well for the streaming services, but with the Oscars for the past few years, it has meant a ceremony that has evoked little to no interest from the general public. Last year’s Oscars were the lowest rated ever (and one of the most dull, tedious awards shows ever produced), and this year’s Academy Awards will likely follow suit.
Though some had hoped that well reviewed, popular, money-making crowd pleasers like Spider-Man: No Way Home and No Time To Die would score a few nods, these two have pretty much been shut out completely. Andrew Garfield, the surprise star of Marvel’s latest behemoth, simply and cogently put the film’s lack of Oscars attention in perspective. “I just feel grateful to be a part of something that is keeping cinemas alive right now, keeping cinemas full, and helping in that regard and making sure that the live experience or the communal experience of going to the movies remains intact,” says Garfield, who is actually nominated in the Best Actor category for his performance in the Netflix drama Tick, Tick…Boom.
And while other major studio pictures like the Ridley Scott double shot of House Of Gucci and The Last Duel (both of which received mixed reviews) have also been snubbed, a few “old style” awards favourites have snuck into the mix. Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, the Will Smith-starring King Richard, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley are all in the Best Picture category (along with the surprise inclusion of the utterly superb, multi-nominated-in-tech-categories Dune, with sci-fi usually not a fave at the Oscars), but apart from Branagh’s acclaimed semi-autobiographical Belfast, none have much chance of a win.
The British director’s main competition will come from Jane Campion’s Netflix drama The Power Of The Dog, which will likely take out many major categories on the night. Other streaming titles (Apple+’s gentle but little seen CODA; the much maligned Netflix satire Don’t Look Up) don’t have much chance, nor does Paul Thomas Anderson’s indie-style coming of age flick Licorice Pizza. The three-hour grief-themed Japanese drama Drive My Car would seem another unlikely winner, but after the stunning success of Parasite, being a foreign language film obviously no longer means that you can’t take out the Best Picture gong.
Branagh and Campion will likely fight it out for Best Director (with Campion slightly in front), Benedict Cumberbatch will probably best Denzel Washington (The Tragedy Of Macbeth), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick…Boom), and Javier Bardem (Amazon’s Being The Ricardos) for the Best Actor trophy, though Will Smith (King Richard) could be a surprise career award-style winner. The Best Actress category is – as is often the case – quite open, with the playing-real-people performances of Jessica Chastain (The Eyes Of Tammy Faye), Kristen Stewart (Spencer) and Nicole Kidman (Being The Ricardos) likely to see them edge ahead of Penelope Cruz (Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers) and recent winner Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter). Jessica Chastain could be the likely choice here.
There might be surprises in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, which is where Oscars voters have been known to go a little off-piste. Newcomers often do well, so Jessie Buckley (new by Hollywood standards anyway…The Lost Daughter), Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) and Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard) might have the lead ahead of old stagers Kirtsen Dunst (The Power Of The Dog) and Judi Dench (The Lost Daughter). And though a veteran performer, deaf actor Troy Kotsur could score for his work in CODA over Ciaran Hinds (Belfast), J.K Simmons (Being The Ricardos) and Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power Of The Dog).
Though the repositioning of an actual host this year (Tom Holland, Pete Davidson and Steve Martin & Martin Short have been rumoured, but with the whole #OscarsSoWhite, creepy Harvey Weinstein thing still in the air, hilarious comic powerhouse Tiffany Haddish would be a better and more likely option) will stir up some interest (and hopefully some Ricky Gervais-level comic genius and controversy…though that would probably be too much to ask in this age of instant cultural cancellation), the interest around the Oscars will likely be very similar to what it was last year: namely, pretty much non-existent. With the films that people have actually seen nowhere to be seen, and a bunch of movies that you will probably have seen only if you have the streaming service on which they’re housed (and that’s also only if you’ve chosen to watch them over Squid Game or After Life), the Oscars will probably be as unseen as the list of nominated films.
For a full list of nominees, click here.