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Emmy Predictions 2021: Best TV Movie — When All Movies Are TV Movies, None Are?

With far fewer contenders than the other major program categories, Best TV Movie still houses a handful of award-worthy productions.

SYLVIE’S LOVE Tessa Thompson Amazon Prime Video

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in “Sylvie’s Love”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Last Year’s Winner: “Bad Education”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: After three years in a row, 2020 marked “Black Mirror’s” first loss in the category since it started submitting episodes as TV Movies in 2017. “Bad Education’s” win was the first for HBO since 2015, when “Bessie” was the fourth film in a row to win for the network. We’ll wait and see if any streaks can continue in 2021.
Fun Fact: Movies being a standalone piece of entertainment, only one program has more than one win in this category: “Black Mirror.” But “Sherlock” is the most nominated program (with four nods) and the 2016 entry (“Sherlock: The Abominable Bride”) represents the first PBS movie to win the category since 1971, when “The Andersonville Trial” beat out four NBC nominees. (Related fun fact: PBS also won the category in 2011 for the first season of “Downton Abbey,” but that’s not a movie. The TV Academy had merged Best TV Movie and Best TV Miniseries into Best Movie or Miniseries from 2011-2013.)
Notable Ineligible Movies: “An American Pickle” (HBO Max submitted the film at the Oscars); the entire HBO Max/Warner Bros. film slate, from “Wonder Woman: 1984” to “Those Who Wish Me Dead” (all of which will be considered for Oscars); Netflix movies like “Malcolm and Marie,” “Bad Trip,” “Thunder Force,” “The Woman in the Window,” and “Army of the Dead”; Amazon Prime Video movies like “Without Remorse” and “Coming 2 America,” though a few other Amazon Prime Video films will be eligible (see below); Hulu original films like “Boss Level” and “Plan B” (all of which will be considered for… well, probably nothing.)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best TV Movie. This article will be updated throughout the season, along with all our predictions, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest news from the 2020 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys will be held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out in September, at a date (or dates) to be announced. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.

The State of the Race

The 73rd Emmy eligibility calendar runs from June 1, 2020 through May 31, 2021, which means theaters in Los Angeles and New York were shut down for at least two-thirds of TV’s calendar year. So, like it or not, audiences watched a vast majority of new movies released in that time from the comfort and safety of home. Perhaps they relished the opportunity to immediately rewatch Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending Netflix film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” Or they thanked their chosen deity that they didn’t have to wrangle the kiddos out of the house on December 25 to go see Pixar’s “Soul.” Perhaps some even appreciated the unique combination of electricity and intimacy provided by Regina King’s “One Night in Miami…”

Regardless, there were lots of reasons to appreciate the convenience, artistry, and utmost necessity of television, as it relates to seeing movies, over the past year and change, but the Outstanding TV Movie category won’t be honoring them — not really, or at least not in a complete sense. Listen, I’m not going to sit here and debate what’s a TV movie and what’s a movie movie, partly because I already did that, but mainly because the designation is broken. Movies are just movies. The Oscars still cling to outdated qualifying requirements tied to the business of filmmaking; essentially, if a movie was released in theaters or was intended to be released in theaters, it qualified for the most recent Academy Awards. That leaves very few films out of the Oscars, and thus leaves very few films to compete at the Emmys. Luckily, some of these movies are very good. But so long as this category feels like digging for gold in a scrapyard, the honor of winning won’t lead to that many more people seeing the chosen movie.

So what shiny bits await TV Academy voters? A trio of top titles stand out, starting with Amazon Prime Video’s “Sylvie’s Love.” Starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha, the period romance from writer/director Eugene Ash was always intended as an Emmy contender, even when it posted strong reviews around its holiday release. The same can be said for “Oslo,” HBO Film’s latest heavy-hitter starring Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott. The two-hour feature (adapted by J.T. Rogers from his 2017 play) recounts the back-channel negotiations that helped establish the 1990s Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization; given recent tragedies, conversation around “Oslo” is sure to be charged, and early reviews are encouraging.

Then there’s Lifetime’s “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia,” which earned positive marks from the few outlets that covered its release and represents a significant investment in original films from its network backer. Lifetime is doubling down on its movie business, and industry voters should respond to that, as well as the quality offerings that stem from its bulked up lineup. (This year, Lifetime also has “Circle of Deception,” “A House on Fire,” “Girl in the Basement,” “Salt N Pepa,” “The Long Island Serial Killer,” and “The Wendy Williams Story.”) Such an onslaught of contenders makes the second highest category contributor, Amazon Prime Video, look almost meager, despite its ample offerings in “Sylvie’s Love,” “Uncle Frank,” and “7500.”

That still leaves the ever-popular Dolly Parton in “Christmas on the Square,” another HBO offering in “Coastal Elites,” and FX’s art-house adaptation of “Black Narcissus,” among the category favorites. What will emerge in the final five? And will those nominations help boost exposure for these widely available films? Only time will tell, even if it’s already clear the TV Academy needs to rework this category.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “Sylvie’s Love” (Amazon Prime Video)
  2. “Oslo” (HBO)
  3. “Uncle Frank” (Amazon Prime Video)
  4. “Christmas on the Square” (Netflix)
  5. “Mahalia” (Lifetime)

Contenders: “Unpregnant,” “Coastal Elites,” “Clouds,” “7500,” “Black Narcissus,” “Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks,” “Godmothered”

In a Perfect World: All movies would be celebrated at the Oscars, or streamers wouldn’t be so embarrassed about submitting films for Emmys.

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