On Sunday night, an entire community of cinephiles had their heart ripped from their chest. After “Roma” had put out a strong run throughout the season, it failed to win the one that matters most. Lots of stats would have fallen had “Roma” capitalized. It had not received a single SAG nomination, lost PGA, and chose to not be eligible for Best Picture Drama at the Golden Globes, opting for Foreign Language instead. Beyond any of those stats, it was Netflix‘s first Best Picture nomination, and would have been the first Foreign Language feature to capture the top prize of the night.
As the internet and social media mourned the loss of “Roma,” many began to question the viability of Netflix as a player in the Oscar race. What does a company do after it got so close the year before? Many have already posited the streaming company turned film distributor could make a run at Best Picture next year. That seems like it could be in the cards, despite history not being on Netflix’s side.
Since the expanded field, it is more likely for a distributor to win twice in a row than to be a presumed top two contender and then win the next year. The Weinstein Company did it 2010 (“The King’s Speech”) & 2011 (“The Artist”) and Fox Searchlight pulled it off again in 2013 (“12 Years a Slave”) & 2014 (“Birdman”). However, most studios do not have not had the deep bench of talent that Netflix has in 2019. Let’s see how the distributor looks to make history this year.
The obvious pick for many has been “The Irishman” from Martin Scorsese. The famed director has been on a late-career hot streak this century. “The Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed,” “Hugo,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Silence” have been some of the best work in his career. Thanks to a surge in technology, he can make one last hurrah with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, and Harvey Keitel.
His regular collaborators behind the camera are also on board. Thelma Schoonmaker, Sandy Powell, Rodrigo Prieto, and Tom Fleischman are all set to return. With the emphasis on “The Irishman” rolling into theaters, Scorsese and Netflix make for a top-tier combination. Considering his success with gangster films, this could be a Titanic-level hit with the Oscars.
However, Netflix does not have to put all of its eggs in the “The Irishman” basket either. They have another Oscar-winning director releasing two films this year for the streaming service. Steven Soderbergh looks to be in rare form, especially after “High Flying Bird” picked up a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes in February. Hopefully, Netflix does not forget this one in the Fall, especially because the screenplay and André Holland are both extraordinary. Despite “High Flying Bird” really kicking Soderbergh back into the public consciousness, look for “The Laundromat” to be the big play.
“The Laundromat,” tells the story of the journalists who discovered the Panama Papers. In 2015, over 11 million documents were found that showed rampant tax fraud had occurred in an offshore office. When the documents traced back to prominent global figures, it became an international story. Given the political climate, a film about journalists discovering tax fraud feels relevant. Scott Z. Burns, who has gained renown for writing and directing “The Report” also writes this film.
Add in Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, David Schwimmer, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, and a bevy of TV stars, this could be a massive player. At the same time, “The Post” felt like a slam dunk for Steven Spielberg. Keep an eye on what could very easily become Netflix’s number one film this season. Soderbergh might even return to the Oscars.
Netflix also has shown the ability to give some directors a bigger stage in their career. Dee Rees was an undervalued director just three years ago, and few saw her movies. Then “Mudbound” hit like a lightning bolt, making Rees one of the most exciting filmmakers to watch. “The Last Thing He Wanted” seems like a player on paper and has the stars to prove it. Adapted from a Joan Didion novel, the story follows a journalist turned covert agent. Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Rosie Perez give this one the ammunition to stand out as a showy thriller.
Netflix continues to bring big period pieces to the masses with a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” starring Timothée Chalamet. “The King” puts Chalamet into a new kind of physical role we haven’t seen from the actor before. He will have plenty of on-screen support from Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Pattinson, and Sean Harris to carry the acting load. Put several of the most intense actors working today in a room, and fireworks are bound to fly. Director David Michôd hit big with “Animal Kingdom” in 2010, but his last two have not resonated with The Academy. Will this one?
If Netflix really wishes to send some of its slate to theaters, a secretly smart move might be a wide release for “6 Underground” from Michael Bay. The plot of this one certainly verges on very weird, with Ryan Reynolds leading a pack of six billionaires who fake their deaths to become a vigilante squad. The screenplay comes from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote “Deadpool” together.
While Bay has become a reviled figure in Oscar circles, his technical prowess has never been in doubt. “A Quiet Place” sound editors Erik Aandahl and Ethan Van der Ryn return to work with Bay. Keep in mind, “13 Hours” was Oscar-nominated just two years ago.
“The Red Sea Diving Resort” also makes for an extremely interesting action play. Chris Evans, Haley Bennett, and Michael K. Williams star as Mossad agents in “The Red Sea Diving Resort” from director Gideon Raff. The Mossad agents set up a fake resort in Sudan and used it to smuggle Jewish-Ethiopians out of Africa. The thriller seems interesting on paper, and it will be curious to see what Netflix does with it.
On the documentary side, Netflix has two big players. Both “American Factory” and “Knock Down the House” will release in 2019, and each has Best Documentary momentum. “American Factory” won a directing prize at Sundance 2019. In “American Factory,” a Chinese billionaire opened an empty factory in Ohio. Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert follow American workers as they begin their new careers. As the culture clash ensues, questions of legality come to the surface.
Meanwhile, “Knock Down the House” follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she begins her campaign to unseat a Democratic incumbent. Needless to say, we know how the story turns out, but the journey makes this fodder for a fun documentary. “Knock Down the House” won the audience award for Best Documentary.
To put it simply, Netflix might have too much on their plate in 2019. However, it remains better to have an embarrassment of riches than to not have the good. Some in Hollywood threw grenades at Netflix, accusing the company of trying to buy an Oscar. The fact they backed a black and white foreign feature speaks volumes. With a gangster picture from an iconic auteur, a journalist investigation, an undercover thriller, a Shakespearean drama, and a pair of action films, Netflix’s slate certainly has variety. If they can capitalize in a few races, they might find their way into multiple Best Picture nominees.