academy award

Steven Spielberg Is Wrong About Netflix -- Here's Why by Keith LaFountaine

Steven Spielberg is a man who needs no introduction. As a legend of cinema, with a canon of masterpieces under his belt and a consistent output of quality films (ranging from period pieces to sci-fi epics), his opinion holds sway in Hollywood. It’s also not often that he uses that power; he is a good, humble man who often espouses his support of filmmaking and cinema in general.

This all took a strange turn when he came out gunning for Netflix after the 2019 Oscars. In addition to calling Green Book “…his favorite buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, (something that requires its own blog post to unpack), he has taken steps to try and block Netflix films from being able to compete at the Oscars.

There’s a problem here, though: with all due respect to Spielberg, his creative genius, and his important legacy in the film world, he’s wrong on this issue. Not only that, his antiquated views about Netflix are going to hurt cinema more than Netflix ever would.


I. What’s the Big Deal With Netflix?


Steven Spielberg’s focus on Netflix is not because he has some personal vendetta against the streaming service. It’s because he considers Netflix Original films to be “TV Movies” — entertainment that belongs at the Emmys, not the Oscars. His main concern is how long these films are released in theaters just to become eligible for an Academy Award. He’s held these views for a while now. In fact, he’s been quoted in interviews discussing his disagreement with this release strategy.

Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically...I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations.
— Steven Spielberg, Indiewire Interview

There is some merit to his criticisms here, too. Roma, which was nominated for 10 Oscars (and won 3) this year was only in theaters for three weeks, which satisfied the Academy’s requirement that a film play for at least a week in theaters in LA. Furthermore, this is a criticism a lot of people (myself included) have had.

There is obviously merit to Netflix’s strategy: some folks in rural communities may not have access to theaters, and those who do may not have the financial flexibility to go see movies all the time. Netflix’s streaming platform allows them to see original filmmaking for an affordable price (even the highest tiers of Netflix’ plan cost less than it would to see two or more movies a month at the theater).

However, there is also something to be said for the importance of the theater experience, which is what Spielberg wants to preserve. I would love to see Netflix open up more to theater releases and Blu-Ray investments (one of which the streaming giant has budged on — Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman will receive a theater release upon its arrival).


II. Where Spielberg Went Wrong


As I’ve said, these criticism are not inherently wrong. While I may disagree with him about Netflix Original films being equivalent to TV movies, I do understand his concerns about films sneaking their way into the Oscars by satisfying the Academy’s guidelines with the bare minimum.

There’s just a couple of problems:

1) There are theatrically released films that squeak by the Oscar guidelines with the same kind of tactics Netflix has used. In fact, the majority of Best Picture winners since 2006 (84%) were released in October or November — just a few months before the Oscars ceremony. Furthermore some films, like the recent winner Green Book, go on to use their Best Picture win to fuel further box office revenue.

2) His proposed rule changes would require films to play in theaters for a month before becoming eligible for the Oscars. Furthermore, the Academy has a rule that eligible films must released the year before the awards (so films released January 1st, 2019 can’t compete for the 2019 Oscars, while films released in LA on December 23rd, 2018 can). In essence, his proposed changes would affect the time period when most Best Picture winners — including Green Book — are released.

It’s also important to point out that Spielberg’s film The Post would have been ineligible by his own proposed rules. It premiered in Washington D.C. on December 14 and started a limited run on December 22, giving it just enough time - 10 days - to satiate the Academy’s requirements and earn a Best Picture and Best Actress nomination.


III. The Irony of Spielberg’s Position


Spielberg honestly believes he is fighting for the good of cinema, and I don’t see him being the kind of person to do so with malice. He honestly believes that he is protecting the integrity of filmmaking. The irony of this entire debacle is that Spielberg’s actions would hurt cinema more than Netflix would.

Netflix’s release strategy could certainly be better. I would love to be able to see films like Roma, 13th, and the upcoming Triple Frontier in theaters. I would also love to own a Blu-Ray copy of them to add to my collection. My inability to do so does not mean that films like Roma are not films, though. That does not mean their inclusion at the Oscars is a degradation to the medium itself.

If Spielberg is successful in his attempt to change these rules, it is going to hurt more than just Netflix — it is going to hurt all sorts of filmmakers, further saturate 10 months of the year with tons of releases — too many for most people to see — and remove films like Spielberg’s The Post from eligibility.

Aside from the elitism of the idea that Netflix is beneath the Oscars, the impact Spielberg’s new rules would have on the filmmaker world would be a greater detriment than to allow films like Roma to compete, and win, Oscars.

While nobody really knows whether Spielberg’s efforts will be successful, Netflix has its supporters, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay and The Blacklist creator Franklin Leonard.

Furthermore, whether Spielberg likes it or not, streaming is a glimpse into the future of cinematic releases. It’s only natural that Netflix films are going to win Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, and other awards. Soon enough, the coveted Best Picture award will go to a Netflix Original — it’s only a matter of when.

2018 Was a Great Year for Film. 2019 Is Going To Be An Awful Year for the Oscars by Keith LaFountaine

2018 was a great year to go to the movies. Whether you prefer huge, bombastic blockbusters like Mission: Impossible — Fallout or, even if you prefer to focus on indie films with small budgets and big hearts, like Jim Cummings’ masterpiece, Thunder Road, there were a ton of good films that came out last year. One would think, given the impressive quality of many 2018 releases, that the 2019 Oscars would be incredible (perhaps even the best show of the decade). Sadly, it’s becoming quite clear that while 2018 was an incredible year for film, 2019 is going to be an awful year for the Oscars.

There are a number of reasons for this, but there are three main ones we can hone in on right now.


I. “MEH” NOMINEES


I, like many folks who were anticipating award-season in late 2018, was appalled when the Oscar nominee list was revealed. Films with average or bad reviews, like Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and Green Book made it into the Best Picture categories while universally acclaimed films like Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were not.

The Best Director lineup was, yet again, all male despite two of the best films of the year — Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? — delivering indie box-office success and near-unanimous critical praise. Bradley Cooper was snubbed for a Best Director nomination, despite his (debut) film getting better reviews and pulling in more money than Adam McKay’s Vice. Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece, If Beale Street Could Talk was snubbed in almost every category (including Best Director and Best Picture) despite having near universal acclaim and Jenkins’ personal status of already having an Oscar on his shelf (for his 2016 film, Moonlight).

Something is clearly off here, and while certain aspects of these nominations (like the Best Director lineup being all men) will feel like deja vu for most folks, films like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody give a lot of people (myself included) flashbacks to years when mediocre, problematic films like Crash beat out masterpieces like Brokeback Mountain and Munich.

While there are some bright spots this year, like Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece Roma, Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman, and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite all being up for Best Picture, it’s easy to notice that the nominations this year have been noticeably lackluster.

To illustrate what I’m talking about when I mention critical scores/reception and the disparity between the 2019 Oscars and previous years, check out the critical reception of the nominated films below for 2019 and 2018.

Critical Acclaim of 2019 Best Picture Nominees (Out of 100)

Critical Acclaim of 2018 Best Picture Nominees (Out of 100)

Not only are there fewer nominees in 2019 (8, as compared to last year’s 9), but also those nominees scored consistently lower with critics than last year’s nominees. Even 2018’s lowest-scored film — Darkest Hour, which received an average score of 75 from critics — was far better received than Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and Green Book.

In fact, while the average critical score of each ceremony’s entire Best Picture lineup remains roughly the same (in the 75-78 range), Bohemian Rhapsody is the second-lowest reviewed Best Picture nominee in the past decade, only beat by the critically panned Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

It is a small comfort that the lowest-reviewed film has not won Best Picture in the past decade (which is fair; in a ceremony to award the “Best Film” one should not be awarding the worst of the bunch), but it’s interesting that critically panned films — like The Blind Side, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Bohemian Rhapsody — all suffer from essentially the same thing: tone-deaf storytelling and messy execution.


II. A LACK OF ORGANIZATION


The 2019 Oscars have felt surprisingly disorganized this year. With their lack of a host after the Kevin Hart scandal, their announcement to give out the Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Short Film Oscars during commercial breaks (an announcement that has received universal disdain from filmgoers and filmmakers alike) while also saying they will focus on musical numbers during their 3-hour runtime, it feels like the Academy doesn’t know what they’re doing this year.

This is further augmented by the consistent scandals that have followed some films — like the massive expose on Bryan Singer’s sexual assault allegations and Rami Malek’s consistently tone-deaf response to questions about working with the director on Bohemian Rhapsody, to revelations of Green Book director Peter Farrelly’s own sexual misconduct allegations and co-writer Nick Vallelonga’s Islamaphobia.

Most notable of all is the Academy’s decision to go without an Oscar host, something they haven’t done since 1989. It’s also important to note that, that year, the Academy pushed musical numbers and performances to fill time, leading to that year becoming known as one of the most embarrassing years for the Oscars in the history of the ceremony’s 89-year lifespan.


III. A LACK OF RESPECT FOR THE MEDIUM


While I already mentioned the Academy’s decision to give out the Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Short Film Oscars during commercial breaks, I think it deserves a larger spotlight. Not only is it disrespectful to the nominees this year, but it’s also disrespectful to the medium of filmmaking itself.

Alfonso Cuaron put it best in his recent tweet.

Couple this with the disingenuous claim that this move was done to save time (even though they could easily cut time in other places if they wanted to), and it seems that this claim is as silly as it is disrespectful. At an award ceremony that is dedicated to recognizing achievements in filmmaking, it seems astonishingly dumb not to award two of the most important aspects of filmmaking and the creators of the nominated short films, who worked hard on their films just like everyone else.


Ultimately, the 2019 Oscars feel like a trainwreck waiting to happen. Only time will tell whether any of these issues are fixed, or if the Academy decides to double-down on their awful decisions. Regardless, let’s not forget that 2018 was an incredible year for film. A bad award ceremony can’t take away that fact.