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How Big Is the Netflix Oscar Slate? Weighing Prospects for ‘Mank,’ ‘The Prom,’ and More

As other distributors head for the hills, Netflix holds to tradition and schedules theatrical releases to promote its awards slate.

"Mank"

“Mank”

Netflix

As theaters struggle and studios push release dates, Netflix is unruffled: The streamer never has been in the exhibition business beyond whatever’s necessary to promote and brand their films. But when it comes to awards campaigning, the brief theatrical run is a Netflix tradition.

The Netflix Oscar paradigm launched in 2018, the year “Roma” made its run for the 2019 Best Picture, collecting three statues for Alfonso Cuarón (losing the big prize to “Green Book”), and continued last year with 24 nominations, including 10 for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (it whiffed on Oscar night), and six for Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” (Best Supporting Actress for Laura Dern) along with Best Documentary winner “American Factory.” Awards aside, the end goal is to convince filmmakers to bring their projects to Netflix.

Already playing on the site (as well as the Academy screening portal) are Spike Lee’s Best Picture contender “Da 5 Bloods,” Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s well-mounted action thriller “The Old Guard,” neither of which had theatrical runs due to the pandemic. Also onsite is screenplay contender Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (theaters August 28/online September 4); Aaron Sorkin’s actor-friendly Best-Picture contender “The Trial of the Chicago 7” debuted in theaters September 25 and hits the site October 16 with hopes of influencing the presidential election.

The Netflix release schedule is fluid, but here’s what to expect for the awards season. We’re not including commercial Christmas releases “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” (in theaters ahead of Netflix November 13) and “The Christmas Chronicles Part Two” (in theaters ahead of Netflix November 25). As always, we need to see all would-be Oscar titles and gauge critical reaction before we know where they will land in the awards spectrum.

"The 40-Year-Old Version"

“The 40 Year Old Version”

Netflix

“The 40-Year-Old Version”

Writer-director-star Radha Blank’s Sundance hit about a woman rapper features the multi-talented Blank playing a lightly fictionalized version of herself.

Release date: The indie dramedy opened October 2 in some theaters, followed by Netflix on October 9.

Awards prospects: A likely contender for the Gothams and the Indie Spirit Awards.

“Over the Moon”

Legendary Disney animator Glen Keane makes his directorial debut with this gorgeous Chinese fable about a motherless girl who believes in a powerful Moon Goddess.

Release dates: The animated musical hits theaters October 9 ahead of its Netflix October 23 release.

Awards Prospects: It’s a strong contender in the Best Animated Feature, Original Score, and Original Song races.

“Rebecca”

Starring Golden Globe nominee Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”) and Lily James (“Cinderella”), Ben Wheatley’s gothic marital thriller was adapted by Working Title from the classic Daphne Du Maurier novel.

Release dates: The movie opens in theaters October 16 and hits Netflix five days later on October 21.

Awards prospects: Slim. The movie’s target audience is mainly in the U.K. They are younger than Academy voters, who will remember fondly Hitchcock’s 1941 Best Picture winner.

“The Life Ahead”

This long-shot Italian foreign entry is directed by Edoardo Ponti, son of Oscar-winner Sophia Loren (“Two Women”) and late producer Carlo Ponti. Like foreign-language Oscar-winner “Madame Rosa,” this Holocaust story is adapted from Romain Gary’s novel.

Release dates: In theaters after the election in November; on Netflix on November 13.

Awards prospects: The movie has a great shot at the foreign-language Golden Globe. Hollywood Golden Age survivor Loren, 86, delivers her first film performance in a decade. It could be a major comeback in possibly her last movie.

“Hillbilly Elegy”

Netflix

“Hillbilly Elegy”

Directed by Oscar-winner Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”), this drama is adapted by Vanessa Taylor (“The Shape of Water”) from the controversial 2016 bestselling Appalachian memoir by J.D. Vance.

Release date: In theaters some weeks before it’s November 24 Netflix date.

Awards prospects: Whatever critics make of this mainstream film, Academy actors will be sympathetic to Actress and Supporting Actress contenders Amy Adams and Glenn Close, both long overdue for Oscars, with 13 nominations between them.

Mank

Starring Oscar-winner Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) as alcoholic “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, David Fincher’s stylish black-and-white movie will play well to cinephiles and Academy voters alike, who will revel in references to one of the great movies of all time.

Release dates:  In theaters after the election, some three weeks before Netflix on December 4.

Awards prospects: Manifold. This escapist Hollywood time prism is also a look at the creative process, and follows a line of Best Picture Oscar contenders and winners set in the movie business, from “The Artist” to “Birdman.” It’s everything Academy members love — and miss — at a time when the art form has never been under more threat. Fincher has two prior Oscar noms, and here he reunites with his Oscar-winning “The Social Network” composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who were also nominated for Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

“The Prom”

Ryan Murphy’s remake of the Tony-nominated Hollywood musical is adapted by the original Broadway book writers Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, and stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and James Corden as theater stars on the downside of their careers who descend on an Indiana town to fight for the right of a gay teen (Jo Ellen Pellman) to take her girlfriend to the senior prom.

Release dates: In theaters some three weeks before Netflix on December 11.

Awards prospects: The likeliest outcome for this movie is a rousing Golden Globes win for Best Comedy or Musical. But never count out Streep.

Viola Davis in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Netflix

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

George C. Wolfe directs, Denzel Washington produces, and Oscar-winner Viola Davis (“Fences”) stars as Ma Rainey in Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s adaptation of the August Wilson play. The late Chadwick Boseman and “If Beale Street Could Talk” star Colman Domingo play members of Rainey’s ’20s jazz band.

Release date: In theaters some three weeks before it arrives on Netflix on December 18.

Awards prospects: Ambitious trumpeter Levee was 43-year-old Boseman’s final role before succumbing to his private battle with colon cancer in August; he looks rail thin in film stills. Posthumous Oscars went to Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”) and Peter Finch (“Network”) among others. In this case, with beloved “Black Panther” star Boseman also in the running for his supporting role as a U.S. Army soldier in Vietnam drama “Da 5 Bloods,” it’s likely he will wind up in the Best Actor category for “Ma Rainey,” with Davis as Best Actress. Like “Mank,” the elaborate period setting should be attractive to Academy craft branches.

“The Midnight Sky”

Oscar-winner George Clooney directs the sci-fi thriller from a script by Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”) based on the Lily Brooks-Dalton novel about an Arctic scientist (Clooney) attempting to warn a NASA spaceship astronaut (Felicity Jones) not to return to doomed planet Earth.

Release date: In theaters about three weeks before its December Netflix debut.

Awards prospects: The streamer is taking advantage of the London Film Festival (October 7-18) with a tribute to director-star Clooney, complete with clips. This is an execution-dependent movie that appears more commercial than awards-friendly. Critical reaction will be key (as always), but popular Oscar-winner Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana”) has delivered in the past, along with Oscar-nominated Jones (“Theory of Everything”).

“The White Tiger”

This India rags-to-riches tale is based on writer-director Ramin Bahrani’s college friend Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel about a low-caste Bangalore driver (discovery Adarsh Gourav) who climbs out of poverty.

Release date: In theaters some three weeks before a December Netflix opening.

Awards prospects: This movie could have used festival attention. Critics will tell the tale.

Pieces of a Woman

“Pieces of a Woman”

YouTube/screenshot

“Pieces of a Woman”

Vanessa Kirby (“The Crown”) broke out of Venice, winning Best Actress for her role as a woman who loses her baby.

Release date: Unknown.

Awards prospects: She’ll make the Best Actress final five. And Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”) is building buzz as a fiercely critical mother.

“The Dig”

In this BBC production directed by Simon Stone (“The Daughter”) and written by Moira Buffini and John Presto, Lily James plays an archaeologist who explores English Medieval cemetery Sutton Hoo back in 1938. Carey Mulligan replaced Nicole Kidman when she dropped out.

Release date: Unknown

Awards prospects: Unknown. It’s yet to screen in film festivals.

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