Last night’s Golden Globes looked like a prime opportunity for Netflix to kick off its best awards season yet in the lead-up to the Oscars. After all, the streaming service produced The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s sensational crime drama, which was poised to do well in a race filled with nostalgic works from filmmaking legends. The movie’s chief rival for cinema’s top prize—the Best Picture Oscar—was Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which won Best Picture in the Globes’ Comedy/Musical category. But Netflix’s ambitions suffered a huge blow when The Irishman went home empty-handed.
Since the Globes largely exist as a preview for the Academy Awards, that could mean trouble ahead for Netflix. The streaming company scored its first major Oscar nominations only two years ago, but it came close to the big prize last year with Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (which won three trophies, including Best Director, but lost Best Picture to Green Book). This year, Netflix had a real heavy hitter: a mega-budgeted Scorsese mob epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. Though it has garnered raves and is sure to be showered with Oscar nominations, its poor showing at last night’s Globes (where it went 0 for 5) indicates there’s still industry resistance to the company’s relative newness and perceived hostility to the theatrical experience.
The Globes’ position as an Oscar prognosticator is due mostly to its early placement on the awards-season calendar and its ability to throw a star-studded bash on national television. The several dozen members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are not necessarily seen as great arbiters of taste; they’re more a team of amateur Oscar predictors who attend many a studio party in the months leading up to their vote. They awarded Best Picture (Drama) to 1917, which also won Best Director for Sam Mendes. This success is a clear sign of momentum for Mendes’s technically dazzling First World War thriller, but it’s just as much a slight to Netflix.
The studio claimed just one film award at the Globes—Best Supporting Actress for Laura Dern in Marriage Story. Dern is a beloved industry figure who seems almost guaranteed to nab the corresponding Oscar, partly as an honorarium for her career. But her co-star Adam Driver was beaten out in Best Actor (Drama) by Joaquin Phoenix for Joker, while Netflix’s other big drama, The Two Popes, also left with nothing. The studio’s comedy Dolemite Is My Name struck out, too, despite the narrative of Eddie Murphy’s acting comeback and return to Saturday Night Live; Taron Egerton took Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) for Rocketman.
If the Globes are to be trusted, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now the Oscars favorite. It’s Academy Awards catnip—a tale of careers rising and falling in the moviemaking industry during the chaos of the late ’60s, mixing real-life figures like Sharon Tate with fictional bottom-feeders played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. It features genuine movie stars, was directed by a multiple-Oscar winner, and was a big hit at the box office, taking $370 million worldwide and proving that the cinematic experience doesn’t have to be defined by superhero sequels and Disney remakes. It won three Globes last night—Picture, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor for Pitt (who also seems likely to repeat at the Oscars).
1917 could very well be a dark horse for Best Picture, especially if it’s financially successful in its wide release, which begins January 10. Mendes has Oscar pedigree (from American Beauty), and the film is a visual marvel that demands a big-screen experience. It lacks the movie-star pizzazz of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but as a conservative, middle-of-the-road choice, it might speak to older voters more than Tarantino’s film, which ends with a violent confrontation involving followers of Charles Manson.
Don’t count out The Irishman entirely, though. Netflix’s awards spending will only ramp up in the final weeks of Oscar voting, and the collective pull of Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci (who have five trophies between them) will matter. The Globes winners often do not match up precisely with the Oscars; when Scorsese’s gangster film The Departed won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2007, it had been snubbed by the Globes and lost the best-drama award to Babel. Still, despite Netflix’s bet on A-list talent, its best contenders were beaten out by a film designed for the big screen, and that could portend hostile waters ahead.
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