The Hot Button
The Hot Button
THB #67: 13 Weeks To Oscar (!)

THB #67: 13 Weeks To Oscar (!)


Honestly… I can’t believe we are still 13 weeks away from Oscar. What happens will happen and God bless every one, but 3 months!!! Are you kidding? How could The Academy ever think this was a good idea?

Here are the Top 10 series (I won’t be as cruel as to print the “movies” list) on Netflix 3 months ago: Money Heist, Lucifer, Sex Education, Clickbait, Squid Game, Good Girls, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, The Good Doctor, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, Riverdale.

Are you tuning in for the award show for these shows?

Yes, the comparison is a bit specious… but nothing competing on Oscar night will be fresher than 3 months old… and really, 4 months old, as the awards films were all rolling out for Oscar voters in early December.

Why isn’t anyone in the media saying this out loud? Because they want to keep cashing in. And who can blame them? They didn’t set the rules.

I actually think Spider-Man: No Way Home can get to a Best Picture nomination in what is a very weak season. And when I say “weak,” I don’t mean that Pig is not worthy. I mean that we all know that Pig - like many other beloved niche movies - isn’t getting anywhere close to Best Picture. I mean that we have a firm 10 slots again and that means those last few slots are more available.

History Lesson!: In the first 2 years of the expansion past 5 BP nominees, we saw nominations for Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, Up, Inception, and Toy Story 3. Then, the accounting craziness landed and since we have seen 9 nominees 6x and 8 nominees 4x.

So… door is wide open. On that alone.

And the media loves the idea of goading Sony into dumping $20 million+ into awards marketing that wouldn’t normally be spent. Of course, it’s wasted money. Actual media stories will do more than advertising the film for Best Picture. This is a hearts & minds situation, not “bludgeon them with ads” situation. It’s also not a “dangle Tom Holland as Oscar host bait” situation. (It’s Tom and Zendaya paired that is the pitch, fwiw.) But hey… it’s not my money. Not my Holland.

Meanwhile, most of the guessers of awards are stuck back in late October, clinging to their personal favorites. Not to put down CODA, but if you can find 20 actual awards voters who have mentioned the film unsolicited in the last 45 days, I will buy you a steak dinner. I love Dune, but it is extremely borderline in terms of Oscar, as Spidey swung past its entire domestic gross before his first day in theaters was over. Movies like The French Dispatch or C’Mon C’Mon or Spencer are no less likely to get nominated today than our memory of King Richard or the still widely unviewed tick, tick… boom.

Your top Best Picture titles (alphabetical): Belfast, Licorice Pizza, Power of the Dog, and West Side Story should be fine through this month. (Some would argue that 2 of these 4 could get left out… but I don’t see it.. and if I did, it would be to say that there are only 2 locks at this point.)

But after that, it’s a dog fight between maybe 12 movies (inc Spidey) vying for 6 slots. And because The Academy seems to be unable to stop self-harming, nomination voting stops on February 1. They then pause a full week after making the whole process electronic, meaning they could easily announce on February 3 if they wished.

Then, after eliminating the movies that might have slid into one of those last 6 slots, we all get to wait 45 days (just 37 from nominations announcement day), until Final voting begins.

Is there ANY rational reason to vote in January and then wait 37 days to vote for the winners? The spread from nomination announcements to Finals voting was 21 days the last time there was normal Oscars… and even that is too long.

Marketing is always complicated. But I know of no successful marketing effort that was made of selling your product in fits and starts. “Dear Oscar Viewer, Please pay attention to our release of our film in (Oct/Nov/Dec) and then again in January and then again at the end of March.”

Oh wait! That strategy is how we are destroying theatrical and will soon see the crash of Premium VOD! More of that, please!

What we have experienced in the last few weeks has actually been the most encouraging thing about this season so far. Bill Condon coined it, “The Great Settling.” Voters are actually watching movies and deciding how they feel… regardless of ads or parties we are no longer having. We have no way of knowing what it feels like has been happening will be sticky or not. But some of it feels very real.

For instance… The Lost Daughter. Quality movie. Made for adults. Maggie is a great story and seems to be on the road to being a great director. Olivia Colman is The Import Meryl these days. It could be an illusion, but I haven’t found a voter - or older person, in general - who hasn’t been impressed with the work when they have seen it. And because it is on Netflix, word of mouth is wider than just “Oscar season.” This helps a lot. Tell someone “you need to see The Tragedy of Macbeth” or “you’d love Red Rocket,” and unless they have the Oscar access, they have to go to a theater… if they can find one with the film. (If you are in L.A., Macbeth’s at all the AMCs… don’t be lazy… strap on that mask! Red Rocket is in some theaters, but a harder get… sadly.)

This brings up another point. The box office.

Looking at 23 titles that are being pushed for Best Picture (weight ranging from West Side Story to Drive My Car), there are only 6 titles currently with grosses over $10m domestic that are in contention. In order of gross, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dune, House of Gucci, West Side Story, The French Dispatch, and King Richard.

Yes. I wrote “$10 million.” Not “$50 million.” Not “$25 million.”


While all 6 titles could well be nominated, only 1 would be considered a lock right now. And that is in no small part because Master of The Universe Steven The Great made the film. Not to mention that the material already won Best Picture.

There are 9 contending titles that have not reported a single dollar at the domestic box office. Netflix dominates this category with 4 titles, but Apple and Amazon and even legacy distributors Sony Classics, UA, and A24 have taken on this strategy.

And there are 8 titles that have reported box office like normal, but have had limited expansion. Widely touted as likely nominees are Belfast, Licorice Pizza, and Nightmare Alley in this category. Then you have 2 A24 titles (C’Mon C’Mon, Red Rocket), Neon’s Spencer, SPC’s Parallel Mothers, and Drive My Car, which is being released by the great catalog company (and parent to Criterion Collection), Janus Films.

One could write off the disparite nature of these 3 groups as a strategic choice made by each distributor. But not really.

Netflix has a huge awards marketing advantage in offering the widest access to their films amongst all titles and no box office profile. This works to the advanatge of both their best films and their worst.

But it’s not just that.

As I noted in passing earlier, does the $107 million domestic gross of Dune work for or against that title? I have no doubt that the number could have been doubled by an exclusive theatrical release. So that is on Warners. But the title is now floating out there, between top-grossing Spidey’s $600m+ and next-best-Oscar-contending-grosser House of Gucci’s $50m (or so)… so is it a hit? Yeah. It is. In spite of its distribution. But that is a fine grain piece of analysis. How doesn it play with voters who aren’t crunching grosses?

Plus, Warners isn’t going to go out and say, “We got so screwed by this distribution nonsense that we are a much bigger hit than we seem, even if we got beat out by Jungle Cruise and Venom 2: Let There Not Be Oscars.” We all know that Denis wants to be screaming this. But he is still trying to settle out his desire to get funding for 2 more films out of Warners.

Spencer has, so far, done a little more than Belfast. But it’s gauche to talk about money when it comes to art films, no? Is Belfast an art film? Yeah… at least a very personal film. Branagh and Larrain don’t really live in the same neighborhood. But it’s icky to make that argument.

Can the kid in C’Mon C’Mon (Woody Norman) really fomd a way into a Supporting Actor nod with under $2 million in the box office? They can’t really run Red Rocket’s Simon Rex in Supporting - where he’d get nominated as a newcomer - so can he really make a run at Lead Actor with less than $500k in the bank? And if you can’t get Simon Rex going, how do you squeeze Suzanna Son into Supporting Actress?

It’s not the number of the gross, really. But if these 2 A24 films were on Netflix for the last month - even without the extra muscle of Netflix’s award team - these actors (and perhaps the films themselves) would probably be serious contenders. Because voters and voters’ kids and voters’ friends would have watched these films. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing there is.

This is what is insidious about The Academy not putting any real guard rails between streaming-first/exclusively and theatrical. Some very smart people have made the argument that The Academy should not be in the business of protecting theatrical from its own demise. And if you are living on a cloud (perhaps a cartoon-like visible fart), that is an interesting philosophical argument. But the reality, down here on earth, is that there is a massive imbalance that has been created by inaction by The Academy. Not Netflix’s fault. Not something any of the streamers need to be penalized for. But 100% real.

Worse… it will only change if distributors like A24 and Neon, who want to make ambitious films that compete in the awards marketplace because it offers opportunity, give into the “everything is streaming” madness and either get consumed by streamers or abandon theatrical…. unless The Academy acts.

(A24 has a direct-to-AppleTV+ production deal as well as a Pay-1 with Showtime that still starts with a theatrical release. Hulu still has it’s Pay-1 window, I believe, with Hulu.)

Need I remind you that A24 and Neon won Best Picture in 2 of the last 5 Oscar seasons? They aren’t making less good movies this year. But neither is likely to get a Best Picture nomination. Amd Kristen Stewart is the only likely acting nominee to come from either company. (I’d love to be wrong about that.)

This is not just coincidence. The rules have changed dramatically because The Academy has been too scared of pissing off all that streaming money to make changes at all.

As I have said before. Simply change the qualifying rules to more strict and complicated theatrical qualifying and require that grosses be reported. The streamers will adjust. It will not hurt them, aside from taking away a gross advantage. But if the films can compete, they can compete on an even playing field. (I won’t get started on the barriers to entry for the smallest distributors… different conversation.)

Frankly, if Netflix released their awards movies like has been the norm for a very long time, Roma and The Irishman and Marriage Story and Mank and The Trial of The Chicago 7 all still get nominated. Even better for Netflix, the 10% to 20% of Oscar voters that won’t vote for Netflix films in the finals because they feel like Netflix is trying to backdoor a win will fade. Netflix could actually win the damn thing!

But I guess we have 3 months of avoiding that conversation to come.

Until tomorrow…

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The Hot Button
The Hot Button
An inside perspective on the Film/TV/Streaming Industry from a 30-year veteran seeker of truth.