Jack Mathews: How ‘The Irishman’ went from Oscars frontrunner to a possible shut-out

In my undergraduate days as a psych major, we studied the three common forms of conflict that dictates our stress levels when forced to make a decision.

First, there is the desirable approach/approach conflict where one is choosing between two equally appealing things, say two good jobs where all else is equal.

Second, there is the dreaded avoidance/avoidance conflict where you’re hoping to pick the lesser of two evils, say when the only lawyers available for your TV show are Rudy Giuliani and Alan Dershowitz.

Finally, there is the approach/avoidance conflict where you’re faced with a decision that is simultaneously attractive and unattractive. I’m thinking of Martin Scorsese mulling an offer from Netflix to finance “The Irishman.”

It’s all so obvious. Netflix has the deepest pockets in the galaxy and can take risks that brick and mortar studios can’t, or won’t. So yes, Marty, we’ll pony up for your ambitious, crowning, very expensive mob movie, but only a relative handful of people will see it on the big screen. And we can’t be sure the industry will welcome it as they otherwise might,  i.e., with the Oscar.

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I think that’s how “The Irishman” went from being the movie event of 2019 two months ago to a potential also-ran at the Oscars. If Scorsese had been able to make “The Irishman” in a typical studio deal and delivered a movie with the pacing desired for a wide audience release, he would be having a lot more fun during this awards season.

Watching it a second time, I thought what a great mini-series it would have made for Netflix. At nearly four hours running time, it’s a long sit at a slow pace; in six or eight one-hour episodes, the episodes would scoot along and we would be spending more time with his intriguing cast of characters. And it wouldn’t have taken much longer to make.

The irony is that the film feels both too long and rushed.

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I imagine we will soon get to the point where the top filmmakers will have made their peace with Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others in the rapidly expanding premium streaming services. It took HBO and Showtime years to figure out that their greatest potential was in making series and movies aimed at adult audiences.

The combination of home entertainment technology and the proliferation of solid original series and movie programming is where it’s at, creatively. And for appetites as large as Scorsese’s, it’s where it’s at financially.

Movie critics used to look down their noses at TV critics; now, they hope to die and come back as one.

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