By Max Godnick
About a decade ago, Netflix was best known for the red envelopes that carried its DVD rentals through the mail. In 2019, the company could soon find itself in a different kind of envelope if it wins Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards.
Netflix's ($NFLX) investment in this year's Oscar race paid off on Tuesday morning ー "Roma" earned 10 nomination and tied with "The Favourite" for most nods given to any film. The streamer set its sights on award season prestige last year when it decided to stray from the company's standard practice by releasing its contending films in select theaters. That overture to the more traditional Hollywood establishment may have been enough to help push the black-and-white ode to director Alfonso Cuarón's hometown of Mexico City over the top in major categories like Best Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actress.
Though this is not Netflix's first invitation to the Oscars, 2019 marks a significant shift as the platform starts to be recognized for feature films beyond its more expected documentary and short-form programming. The studio received its first nomination in 2014 before gradually ramping up to earn eight nods in 2018 and 14 for 2019.
In addition to streaming platforms, the Academy also recognized the other monolithic force in the entertainment industry over the past decade: Superheroes.
Disney ($DIS) and Marvel's "Black Panther," the third highest-grossing film in American history, became the first title from the realm of capes and cowls to win a spot in the coveted Best Picture field. This signals a possible end to a long-entrenched Hollywood binary: superhero movies were meant only to amass a lot of money in the summer and disappear from view come award season. Now, director Ryan Coogler finds his zeitgeist-dominating epic in the mix for the night's biggest award ー good news for Disney, which owns both Marvel and ABC, the network on which the Oscars are broadcast.
Other notable firsts include Spike Lee's first-ever Best Director nomination for his work behind the camera on "BlacKkKlansman." "Roma" is now the 11th foreign-language film to receive a Best Picture nomination ーand should it succeed, it will be the first to win in the category. And Cuarón now finds himself in rare company; His four nominations make him tied with Orson Welles and Warren Beatty for the most personal nominations for a single film.
Notable snubs include "First Man," the Neil Armstrong biopic that suffered after a conservative-led smear campaign alleged the movie did not depict the American flag on the moon (it did), and "Crazy Rich Asians," the buzzy romantic comedy that broke barriers as the first mainstream Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast in nearly three decades. That movie wound up with zero nominations ー somewhat of a surprise, given the Academy's efforts to make this year's show a more populist affair.
That initiative came to a head this summer when the Oscars announced, and then quickly scrapped, a proposed new category for "Achievement in Popular Film," meant to open the competition to blockbuster films typically ignored by the Academy. Though the category will likely never see the light of day, its ambitions for inclusion are apparent in this year's slate of contenders.
"A Star Is Born," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "Black Panther" were three of the most successful films of 2018, and will be front and center at the Oscars. ABC hopes that will help reverse the ratings slide that's been affecting most live-TV events in the streaming era. Last year's broadcast was the least-watched Oscars ceremony in the show's history. The new generation of nominees plus a commitment to capping the telecast at three hours may help to keep viewers engaged.
That is not to say the 2019 Oscars hasn't generated enough coverage and intrigue already. With just 33 days to go before the big night, the Oscars still do not have a host, and seem all but assured to use an A-list roster of presenters in lieu of the traditional singular emcee. According to The Hollywood Reporter, ABC is considering the cast of "The Avengers" to act as the de-facto co-hosts, a move that would help fuel ratings and Disney synergy .
This year's show even has its perennial source of controversy. "Green Book" has made the wrong kinds of headlines after claims that the filmmakers did not reach out to the family of subject Dr. Don Shirley (played in the film by Mahershala Ali) and therefore inaccurately re-told real-life events. Co-writer Nick Vallelonga (the son of Tony Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen in the film) also raised eyebrows after an resurfaced tweet revealed he claimed he saw Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after the September 11th attacks ー a debunked claim also previously made by President Trump.
But despite its problematic elements, Oscar chances still seem solid for "Green Book." It scored five nominations on the heels of winning the key bellwether prize at this weekend's Producers Guild Awards. The PGA and the Academy have only differed in picking a winner twice since the Oscars expanded its Best Picture field a decade ago.
So even though we know which films will compete at one of Hollywood's weirdest Oscars ever, the 91st Academy Awards still promise plenty more intrigue as the envelopes are finally opened Feb. 24.