December typically signifies the time of year when most ‘Oscar-worthy’ films are released. Whether it is to keep films fresh in the minds of Oscar voters, who largely receive these films on DVD and can watch them at anytime, or to give us something to talk about with our family members over the holidays, movie award pandemonium is rapidly hurtling toward us.
The past several weeks, theaters have seen the arrival of films such as “Green Book” and “Widows,” with Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” and Adam McKay’s “Vice” coming around the corner. We are now at the time when we see the most prominent directors releasing their films and actors slapping on heavy levels of prostheses and makeup in hopes that their over the top performances get them an Oscar. But all of a sudden a familiar player has now entered the game: Netflix.
Yes, Netflix has produced and released many films, and they even released a film into theaters — “Beasts of No Nation” (2015). Why does this matter? Netflix is not just making standard Netflix films this year. Putting out “Outlaw King,” which came out in early November, then the Coen brothers’ anthology film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” a few weeks later, as well as Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” coming in mid-December, Netflix is making critically adored movies that could lead to Oscar nominations and wins.
“Outlaw King,” which received mixed reviews, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, a festival where many previous Oscar-winning films debuted and certainly puts a movie in the spotlight. The Coen brothers, famous for directing arguably some of the best Westerns of the century, received mostly positive reviews for their “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” but much of the discussion was spent around the brothers’ past work and not so much this new piece.
All of this hype and work has been seemingly building up to the release of “Roma.” Released to theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City last week, the film has been getting positive buzz since the film festival circuit a couple months ago. Netflix saves the best for last, letting the hype of the first two films build up to a crescendo with “Roma.”
Netflix adopts strategies to be taken seriously. Netflix is not releasing its new films directly to its streaming platform, but to theaters first. If older members of the Academy saw that a movie on their ballot was on Netflix, they would probably scoff at it and write it off. However, if Netflix can say they put it into theaters first, not only does it allow for the films to be considered for awards, but also, more importantly, allows them to tell traditional Oscar voters that they went the traditional route.
This could be read as Netflix trying to get a seat at the Academy’s table, or as Netflix taking another step in its conquest for total domination, attempting to compete with the major studios of the world. It’s an attempt at conslidation. If Netflix starts making ‘serious’ films that get critical attention, then it might be able to compete with the smaller studio production companies for the best actors and directors looking to take on more serious roles.
However, Netflix, at its heart of hearts, is a tech company. Netflix’s primary goal is to attract more subscribers; get more people to sign up for Netflix, make more money. The company needs to stay in the spotlight, or else people will stop signing up. If Netflix manages to make an Oscar-worthy film with an amazing director, word will spread and people will sign up for a subscription so they can watch with their families in the comfort of their own living room. After all, it is cheaper than paying to go to the movies.