David Canfield: Rebecca, it feels like we got a pretty even spread between studios in the best-picture lineup, a kind of uneasy harmony between big studios, specialty divisions, and streamers, all of which we discussed in more detail leading up to the nominations. I want to start with the latter group: Streaming’s takeover of the top race did not materialize as some (myself included) expected, with less than a third of the spots ultimately going to them. Netflix was poised to make history, and is still the year’s overall leader—fielding several strong contenders and the clear front-runner—but for the second straight year it came close to being the first studio to earn three best picture nominations, and failed. (Last year, it was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, this year the top hopeful was Tick, Tick…Boom!). And while Apple TV+ got its first best-picture breakthrough with CODA, Amazon Studios got shut out completely despite an aggressive campaign for Being the Ricardos. What’s behind the mixed reports for these streamers?
Rebecca Ford: It’s interesting because there was a lot of talk from sources about how the streamers had an advantage this year because, like last year, most people were not going to theaters. It’s so much easier to just fire up your friendly streaming service on your TV rather than navigate the Academy’s screening site or links sent out to voters. And as you mentioned, Netflix did lead the pack with its 27 nominations. But when you look closer, Tuesday was in no way a sweep for the streamers, with both the specialty companies and the studios making their own strong showings.
But let’s start with Netflix, which actually dropped from its 36 nominations last year. Power of the Dog led all films with 12 nominations, and it’s clearly a favorite to win best picture, along with some slightly unexpected noms in craft categories like production design. The streamer’s efforts to promote this film all season long clearly paid off and we can assume that they’ll be putting a lot of time and money into getting several wins for it. But the rest of their slate had mixed results. What do you think of Netflix outside of Power, David?
Canfield: Power’s performance exceeded Netflix’s own internal hopes and has the best-picture trophy in its sights. That, I think, is the biggest win the streamer could ask for, even if Tick, Tick, Boom! underperformed save for lead actor Andrew Garfield and an editing nomination. The Lost Daughter also fared slightly better than expected, but mostly at the expense of Passing’s Ruth Negga, a fellow Netflix contender, while Don’t Look Up officially silenced doubters by making it into the top 10. In other words, a good-enough day for them.
Apple and Amazon did about as well as I expected—the former also benefited (via a joint A24 deal) from craft and acting recognition for The Tragedy of Macbeth, and the latter settled for acting nominations for Being the Ricardos. (Amazon campaigned pretty hard for A Hero, too, which was surprisingly snubbed even in the international-film field). As we saw with the Emmys, the relatively nascent Apple appears to be lapping Amazon in terms of awards attention. We’ll see how that holds as Apple’s shine wears off. But enough of the new(er) kids. Rebecca, you covered the specialty companies for us, and it particularly felt like a nail-biter for reigning best-picture champ Searchlight to get back into the big category with Nightmare Alley. But it pulled it off! A sigh of relief over there, I imagine? And what of others like Focus and A24, which from my view had a more mixed day?
Ford: Yes, Searchlight did well with Nightmare Alley landing in best picture and picking up three other craft nominations after being very much on the bubble most of the season. Their other film, which we haven’t spoken much about in a while, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, also exceeded expectations with an acting nom for star Jessica Chastain along with a make-up and hair nod. The other specialty company which had a very nice day is NEON. Its animated documentary Flee made history with nominations in the international, animated, and documentary feature categories. And while Spencer wasn’t able to break in anywhere else, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when Kristen Stewart landed her lead actress slot after a rollercoaster journey.
The other specialty companies had more mixed results. Focus came in hoping for a lot of nominations for Belfast, and got seven in total, including picture, director and screenplay. But the acting nominations were full of surprises with Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan being snubbed and Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds landing there instead. It also missed out on some craft categories like cinematography and production design, which may indicate a cooling on this frontrunner film. A24 wasn’t able to land any nominations for one of its two black and white films, C’mon C’mon, which we saw fall off the awards track a while ago. But The Tragedy of Macbeth did earn three, including a nom for Denzel Washington.
And I’ll end my thoughts on the specialties by pointing out that Sony Pictures Classics was able to overperform, as I had thought they would. Parallel Mothers was a big question mark all season long, but earned not only a nomination for star Penelope Cruz but also a surprise score nomination. When it comes to exceeding expectations, David, how do you think the major studios fared?
Canfield: There’s something cynical about blockbusters willing their box-office success to major nominations, as some punditry saw the race moving at one point for Spider-Man: No Way Home and No Time to Die. The reality is that once the producers’ guild dismissed these movies, their best-picture campaigns were effectively over. Academy voters simply aren’t going to vote for the highest grosser without broader industry support, and they shouldn’t.