Entertainment News: Streaming’s big Oscar nominee: an obscure German WWI epic

The streaming business had a weaker turnout in Tuesday morning’s Oscar nominations than it has in recent years, when the pandemic kept movie fans at home and technology companies were outspending traditional studios for the buzziest titles.

But Netflix’s awards season got a major boost with a late surge from an unlikely contender — the little known, brutal German World War I epic, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which was the only streaming title to get a best picture nomination for the 95th Academy Awards .

“All Quiet on the Western Front” had nine nominations, including adapted screenplay and multiple technical categories, tying for second place with Searchlight Pictures’ “The Banshees of Inisherin” and coming in behind A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Still, by nabbing just one of 10 available spots, streaming services had the poorest showing in the Oscars’ top category since Netflix fielded its first best picture nominee, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” in 2019.

The relative lack of recognition is another blow for digital platforms following a year of retrenchment by big streaming companies, as they rethink their spending habits in the face of increased competition and Wall Street’s demands for profitability. The story for streaming services has lately been cost-control, rather than glamorous awards campaigning.

Moreover, three years after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, going out is in again, and a handful of critically acclaimed theatrical blockbusters — “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” — gave voters a chance to recognize popular studio fare.

“Last year has a big asterisk on it because a lot of movies had to go to streaming since theaters were either closed or just trying to reopen during COVID,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro. “This past year, that’s really reversed, and it looks like the vast majority of the best picture nominees will have been theatrical-first releases, and that’s a huge statement for the industry.”

Netflix earned 16 nominations Tuesday overall, ranking third among all companies behind Walt Disney Co. and indie darling A24, a big change from 2022 when it had the most nominations for the third year in a row. Ana de Armas garnered a nomination for best actress for her role as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” is a favorite for best animated feature. Other Netflix nominees included animated feature “Sea Beast,” Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (adapted screenplay) and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Bardo” (cinematography).

Netflix came to last year’s ceremony with 27 nods for films including Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter.” Netflix had 35 nominations in 2021 and 24 in 2020.

Among other streamers, Apple scored a total of two nominations, including one for best supporting actor for Brian Tyree Henry in “Causeway” and an animated short film, compared to the six it had in 2022. Amazon, after fielding past best picture nominees including “Manchester By the Sea” and “Sound of Metal,” had just one nomination this year for Argentina’s best international feature. Last year it had four for “Being the Ricardos” and “Coming 2 America.”

The streaming slump wasn’t for lack of trying.

Besides “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Blonde,” “Bardo” and “Glass Onion,” Netflix backed Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of “White Noise.” Only “All Quiet on the Western Front” prevailed.

Apple’s buzziest title this year, “Emancipation,” a slavery drama starring Will Smith, was dealt a physical and metaphorical blow when Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock at last year’s ceremony. The controversy overshadowed the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s $120-million release, which sputtered in the race after a mixed critical reception.

With streaming services on their heels, traditional studios and specialty distributors dominated the main categories.

Walt Disney, including its Searchlight label, led the distributors with 22 nominations, with nine nominations for “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Disney also had multiple nods for James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” (which scored a best picture slot) and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (including Angela Bassett in supporting actress). Disney’s Pixar had a animated feature nominee in “Turning Red.”

A24 earned 18 nominations, helped by 11 nods for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and several for “The Whale” (with Brendan Fraser for lead actor).

Streaming services spent years chasing Oscar glory because of the industry credibility winning one of the academy’s golden statuettes bestows on a studio. Flashy awards campaigns help companies attract big-name filmmakers. Awards can also boost viewership, whether at the box office or online.

To be sure, this year could be an anomaly, as the shift of viewing towards streaming platforms isn’t ending anytime soon. Apple will likely be in the awards conversation once it releases Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which is said to have a budget of some $200 million. Netflix appears to be arming up for future competitions, buying the critically acclaimed “Fair Play” at the Sundance Film Festival for a reported $20 million.

“Streaming is going to get their share,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives.

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