Only a few years ago, it seemed as though streaming companies were destined to be Oscar outsiders. In 2015, Netflix spent a reported $12 million to acquire the war-time drama Beasts of No Nation , with the hopes of turning both the intense film and star Idris Elba into awards-season frontrunners. (The company had managed a few Oscar nominations by then, in the documentary categories). That same year, the nascent Amazon Studios announced it was pushing its first film, the Spike Lee-directed Chi-Raq , with a theatrical release timed right for awards consideration .
Neither resonated with Academy Awards voters, failing to yield a single Oscar nomination between them (and in Beasts ’ case, angering theater owners). But the films were proof that the streamers were serious about getting into the awards game. And in early 2017, their efforts finally paid off, with both Netflix’s short-doc The White Helmets and Amazon’s drama Manchester By the Sea winning statues. Since then, the services have racked up more than 20 nominations combined.
But on Monday, it became clear that this year’s Oscar race will likely have the largest streaming presence ever. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its shortlist of potential nominees in several major categories, including the documentary and music fields. And while several Netflix and Amazon entries are included, the most notable entries come from a service that’s never before been a contender: Hulu.
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The 11-year-old service has two films in the running for Best Documentary Feature: Bing Liu’s youth-in-crisis skateboarding tale Minding the Gap and Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment , about corruption within the New York Police Department. Both movies received ecstatic reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and were subsequently acquired by Hulu, whose prior documentary slate had leaned heavily on pop-culture stories. The mini-buying-spree was clearly a smart move; while Hulu has won Emmys for such TV series as The Handmaid’s Tale , its original-film efforts have been far more tentative. Even if Minding the Gap and Crime + Punishment aren’t mass-audience hits, they’re the first indicators of what the term “Hulu movie” could come to mean in the future: A smart, serious-minded piece of non-fiction storytelling.
And if either Gap or Crime + Punishment do wind up nominated in the Best Documentary category, they could find themselves up against Netflix’s excellent Shirkers —just one of a handful of films from the service that wound up being shortlisted today, along with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (listed in both Best Score and Best Song categories), Quincy (Best Song), End Game (Best Documentary Short Subject) and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (Best Foreign Language Film). Amazon Studios was represented, as well, thanks to Suspiria (shortlisted for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Song) and Cold War (Best Foreign Language Film).
Granted, these aren’t the final nominees, merely the latest culling within several large and competitive awards fields. But it’s increasingly likely that all three streamers will be represented when the official nominations are announced in January. Even in a hot year for documentaries, Hulu’s Minding the Gap seems like a near-sure thing, having received several year-end plaudits (including a recent award from the New York Film Critics Circle). Amazon’s Polish romantic drama Cold War , meanwhile, is one of the best-reviewed films of 2018, and its director and co-writer, Pawel Pawlikowski, previously won an Oscar for 2014’s Ida ; its nomination is a given. And Netflix could very well have its first-ever Best Picture nominee with Roma —but even if the rapturously received 1970s-set drama doesn’t make it into the top race, it seems destined to be the most-nominated movie in Netflix history.
Just five years ago, the notion that any of these companies being in the running for a major Oscar trophy seemed far-fetched—let alone all three. After all, these were relatively young companies with little movie-making experience, viewed by many within the industry with either suspicion or downright disdain. But in 2018, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu no longer seem artistically and commercially at a distance from their big-studio peers. Instead, they’re finally closing the gap.
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