‘News of the World’ vs. Netflix at the Oscars: Old classic Hollywood vs. upstart new media

Could this be the year Netflix finally takes home the Oscar for Best Picture? The streaming giant, whose subscriptions have skyrocketed during the pandemic, has several, diverse choices angling for a nomination. “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank” and “Da Five Bloods.” All have their fans and backers in the industry, with actors from each of these films expected to get nominations.

While Netflix spends mightily on promotion, it has yet to win the top prize at the Oscars (or the Emmys, for that matter), suggesting that Hollywood still might not recognize the trendy platform as equal to the old-fashioned movie screen. Case in point: In 2019, the Mexican family drama “Roma” was lavished with 10 nominations, with a rare double nomination for Best Picture and Best International Film. It was easy for the Academy to honor the Spanish-language film with the latter award, but reserve its highest honor for the Universal Studios picture “Green Book.” That studio has a golden track record of films that score at the box office and the Academy, with top nominations in recent years for “1917,” “The Post,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” And Oscar was very good to “Green Book.” The film ultimately earned over $321 million worldwide.

Enter Universal’s “News of the World,” released in theaters on Christmas day. Will this redemptive Western and character study follow the same trajectory as “Green Book”? With star Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass of “The Bourne Identity” franchise doing a round of interviews stressing the film’s healing message, the picture seems poised for nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.

“News” also did well at the box office before expanding to an on demand TV platform, which translates into some kind of box-office receipt. A Best Picture win would result in more on demand viewings and perhaps another theatrical release, and increased profits for the studio. Subscriptions at Netflix (and Amazon) allow viewers to see many movies or TV series for one price; the streaming service rarely releases exact profit and loss margins. The irony is, of course, that were it not for Netflix or Amazon, some of the year’s most acclaimed films wouldn’t be seen at all by audiences as theaters are still closed in the New York City and Los Angeles.

We’ll see how “News” fares next week when the Golden Globe nominations are announced. With Netflix releasing more and more films each week, some early favorites such as “Chicago 7” could fade from memory while films on demand such “News” and “Promising Young Woman” could benefit from good word of mouth. Gold Derby’s Experts currently give “News” 15-to-1 odds to be among the top 10 candidates for Best Picture, with Thelma Adams (Gold Derby) predicting a win.

PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15

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