As fireworks all over the world signified the New Year last week, the time has come to start seriously talking about the Academy Awards. Prognosticators, pundits and pontificators have had the chance to see most of the films looking to be nominated, so it's time to see where the chips will fall ahead of the nominations being unveiled on 13th January.
Most interesting, perhaps, is the fate of Netflix at this year's Oscars. Last year, I wrote about the studio's desperation to finally win the big one, legitimising itself as a major Hollywood studio player. This year, they perhaps stand a better chance at managing that than ever before, as well as fielding competitors in just about every major category.
But do any of them really have a shot at winning? Let's take a look...
Note: As Netflix has achieved plenty of previous success in the world of documentaries and short films, this article focuses on fiction features.
Netflix has two big beasts in the Oscar race this year. The first of them is Noah Baumbach's mature, sophisticated examination of a couple going through a split and the divorce industry chewing up their humanity in the process. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson will likely each pick up acting nominations for their roles as theatre director Charlie and actress Nicole, respectively, while Laura Dern will likely be in the Best Supporting Actress running for her performance as Nicole's glamorous LA lawyer.
Marriage Story will be a major competitor in all of the main Oscar categories and it stands a real chance of becoming Netflix's first ever Best Picture winner. It's a major work from a beloved auteur, so few would bet against it leaving the Dolby Theatre with a handful of gongs in its arms. Some have even stated that it could become the fourth film ever to win the Big Five (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay). If so, it would be the first to pull that off since The Silence of the Lambs in 1992. It'd be richly deserved.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Actor (Driver)
Martin Scorsese has been here before. In 2007, he left the Oscars with prizes for Best Picture and Best Director for crime epic The Departed. More than a decade later, Scorsese has spun his Rolodex and invited all of his best buddies together for The Irishman – recounting the life of labour union figure and mob hitman Frank Sheeran, portrayed by Robert De Niro over the course of 60 years via the use of innovative digital de-aging tech. Also involved are the likes of Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin and Bobby Cannavale.
The Irishman could well end up winning a great deal of gold at the Academy Awards. Scorsese's three-and-a-half-hour epic has already won the top prize from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, with Pesci and Pacino both receiving recognition for their supporting performances. Expect both of those performers – and likely De Niro also – to be honoured alongside Scorsese with Oscar noms. Interestingly, as well as the expected gongs, The Irishman will also be competing for Best Visual Effects, which could add yet another string to its bow – or another shelf to its sizeable trophy cabinet.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Supporting Actor (Pesci)
The Two Popes
Anyone who has ever watched an edition of the Oscars will know that actors playing well-known historical figures often give themselves a head start in the race. As its title suggests, The Two Popes presents a pair of recognisable actors portraying recognisable people – Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as current Catholic top guy Pope Francis. The screenplay – penned by previous Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten, adapting his own play – revolves around a series of fictionalised encounters between the title characters prior to the former's resignation.
The Two Popes is a solid but unspectacular movie and it could suffer in the wake of a pair of unusually crowded categories for male performers this year. At most Oscars ceremonies, Pryce and Hopkins would both be locked in for nominations, but they could easily both miss out this time around. In fact, the only nod that seems safe is for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it doesn't look likely to win that one. Its best bet is that the love for the two veteran actors carries them all the way to the stage of the Dolby Theatre. Pryce, in particular, has never even been nominated before, so the Academy may fancy something of a legacy win.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Actor (Pryce)
Dolemite is My Name
Eddie Murphy is back, and Netflix would love him to win an Oscar. This biopic of blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore feels like a tender thank you from one black entertainment icon to another, with Murphy becoming his machine gun best once again as the strutting showman. The film follows stand-up and singer Moore's rise from obscurity to fame, as well as his hubristic attempts to become the star of his own movie in the 1970s.
There's a chance of a screenplay nod for duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who previously penned both Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt, but much of Netflix's hopes for this one will be at the door of Murphy's powerhouse performance. But, in one of the busiest Best Actor races in years, he could well be totally squeezed out.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Actor (Murphy)
Uncut Gems isn't quite a Netflix movie. In the United States, indie favourites A24 put the film into cinemas, but it's the streamer who's responsible for distributing it everywhere else in the world. The film is a full-throttle thrill ride from directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie, in which Adam Sandler portrays a ducking and diving jeweller with a penchant for high-stakes sports betting. It's the star's performance which is getting the attention for the most part, allowing Sandler to spread his wings in a very different role to his usual comedy oeuvre.
In any other year, Sandler would stand a very good chance of nabbing a spot on the Best Actor shortlist. However, his inclusion would be a massive shock and it's in the Best Original Screenplay category that the film now seems most likely to appear, with the Safdies and co-writer Ronald Bronstein neatly positioned to score their first nominations. The movie is, first and foremost, an exceptional achievement in writing and it would be well worthy of an Oscar nod.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Original Screenplay
I Lost My Body
Netflix is making a big play for the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year, with two major contenders in the field. The most interesting, perhaps, is French director Jérémy Clapin's joyously bizarre I Lost My Body. It's the story of a disembodied hand on the hunt for its owner, but it's also a poignant story of romance between pizza delivery man Naofel – voiced in the English dub by Dev Patel – and librarian Gabrielle – Alia Shawkat in the English version.
This year's animation category is more open than it has been in quite some time. Pixar has always dominated the category and Toy Story 4 has to be considered the favourite, with Disney also competing in the shape of Frozen 2. However, there's plenty of room for a movie as weird and intriguing as I Lost My Body to march to victory, especially given its Critics' Week prize at Cannes – the first ever for an animated movie.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Animated Feature
Netflix's other shot at Best Animated Feature is something a little more conventional – a heart-warming Christmas tale. Klaus provides a different spin on the origin story of Santa Claus, depicting him as a curmudgeonly toymaker – voiced by a gravelly, taciturn JK Simmons – whose calling is awakened when a privileged postman is sent to his secluded town. It's an inventive and charming movie with a killer emotional blow.
Klaus seems like a less likely contender for the animation Oscar than I Lost My Body, occupying much of the same crowd-pleasing territory as the major studio entrants in the field. It won't win, but it stands a real chance of a nomination.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Animated Feature
Senegalese director Mati Diop really announced her arrival with this debut feature, which made her the first black woman to direct a film in competition at Cannes, where she won the Grand Prix. The story mixes topical drama about migration and financial hardship with supernatural elements as the spirits of some deceased migrants appear to return for reasons of romance and, it seems, extortion of an unscrupulous employer.
Atlantics has a real shot at the newly renamed Oscar for Best International Feature Film and it has indeed made the preliminary shortlist of 10 movies. The film, however, faces one of the toughest fields for the category in years, squaring off against likely Best Picture nominee Parasite and Pedro Almodóvar's widely admired Pain and Glory. Diop's movie faces an uphill struggle to win, but it would be wrong to count it out.
Best Shot at Victory: Best International Feature Film
Aussie director David Michôd took on Shakespeare's 'Henriad' of plays with this historical epic, in which Timothée Chalamet portrays the young King Henry V. He squares off with Robert Pattinson's absurdly theatrical Dauphin of France, boasting an accent eerily similar to John Malkovich as the villain in Johnny English. It culminates in the bloody, muddy Battle of Agincourt.
Like so many lavish period dramas in recent years, The King is a joy to look at. While the performances come up a little short and the Game of Thrones influence is far too obvious, the movie could well have a presence at the Oscars for its costumes and production design. It is always wrong to count out a handsome historical picture.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Production Design
Steven Soderbergh has been hugely prolific in recent years, delivering a pair of movies for Netflix in 2019. When it was first announced, The Laundromat was an eye-catching prospect. It was Soderbergh bringing together a blockbuster cast with serious awards pedigree – Meryl Streep, for goodness sake – to tell the politically weighty story of the Panama Papers. The finished film is something altogether frothier. It's an unashamed comedy, with a chaotic anthology feel.
It's fair to say that the reception hasn't been all that great for The Laundromat, which is something a lot odder than people were expecting. The result is a movie that no longer seems a likely awards contender, except possibly for Scott Z. Burns' screenplay, adapted from a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jake Bernstein. Certainly, if Streep is going to be nominated, it will be for Little Women rather than this bizarre film.
Best Shot at Victory: Best Adapted Screenplay
Featured image: Walt Disney Television/Flickr