Fair or not, Academy Awards recognition can represent a sort of legitimacy for non-traditional cinematic output. In the same way that All-Star berths and playoff appearances showcase the perceived upper echelon of sports, there is a correlation between Oscars attention and trendsetting in film. It signifies to both the industry and general audiences that something matters within the context of the movie business.
When 2008’s The Dark Knight failed to receive a Best Picture nod, the Academy expanded the category a year later to include up to 10 films with the hopes of better representing mainstream successes (ironically, this wound up having the opposite effect). The victorious Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which went 11-for-11 at the 2004 Oscars, inspired Hollywood to deliriously chase after the next big-money fantasy series. After Silence of the Lambs became just the third film to ever sweep the top five Oscar categories in 1992, every studio was on the lookout for its own scintillating, dark thriller, resulting in a host of copycats.
The major storyline of the upcoming 92nd Academy Awards may revolve around Netflix joining a very elite and exclusive club. As of today—which is, admittedly, far too early for any concrete predictions—the streaming service could have three Best Picture nominees in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes. Over the last decade, only two studios have managed to claim three Best Picture nods in a single year when, ironically, Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox (accounting for all of their subsidiary studios) both accomplished the feat in 2018. (Here’s a fun piece of trivia: Fox boasts the most Best Picture nominations in that span with 19).
All three films have been met with widespread acclaim since their respective world premieres. As of this writing, Scorsese’s gangster drama holds a 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Baumbach’s tale of a deteriorating union stands at 98 percent, and Meirelles’ real-life exploration of the relationship between Pope Benedict and the future Pope Francis has earned a 90 percent. No, the review aggregation site does not hold the final world on quality, but it does indicate which way the winds are blowing in terms of critical conversation. Many well-respected names in the industry have pegged these three films as potential contenders.
Netflix invested a fortune into its Oscars campaign last year for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and the sting of losing is very likely still present. Expect the deep-pocketed streamer to mount similarly aggressive campaigns this time around, especially with noted awards strategist Lisa Taback in her second year with the company. Netflix views Oscars contention as a selling point to A-list talent and a dominant year at the Academy Awards would be a strong recruiting tool. Should Netflix pull it off and secure three nominations, it would be difficult not to consider the platform as the sixth major film studio/distributor, replacing Fox following its acquisition by Disney.