The 2018 Oscar nominations were released a few weeks ago, and among a handful of other surprises is Netflix managing to land eight nominations this year. This isn’t the first time a streaming service has been nominated. Amazon received six nominations last year, including one for best picture for Manchester by the Sea. The film even won two of the six, taking home an Oscar for Best Actor (Casey Affleck) and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan). Netflix’s big contender this year is Mudbound, with a total of four nominations, including one for best supporting actress (Mary J. Blige).
This isn’t necessarily a surprise as the streaming giants are turning out some quality fare and they deserve recognition for their efforts. However, there is an interesting eligibility requirement for the Oscars that comes into play here. In order to be eligible for an Oscar nomination, a film must have a week-long commercial theatrical release inside of Los Angeles County. While the film can be screened in other commercial theaters first, it can’t be distributed by other means (such as a streaming or DVD release) before its Los Angles theatrical release and still be eligible for an Oscar.
This essentially means that if Netflix, Amazon or any other streaming service for that matter wants to snag an Oscar for their picture, they’ll need to release the film in Los Angeles before they start letting their subscribers watch the film online. This hasn’t necessarily been an issue for the streaming giants; they certainly have the means to ensure their films have proper Oscar eligibility. Still, it begs the question of the intent behind the rule. To me it feels like an outdated regulation made to keep the movie business centered in Hollywood. While there may have been a valid reason for the requirement at one time, times are changing and the Academy Awards shouldn’t wait too long before they change as well.
It’s become obvious over the last decade the distribution methods for films and television are constantly evolving. Studios are using any means they can to deliver their content to viewers and to reap the financial rewards. The window between traditional theatrical release and release to home audiences seems to continually shrink, and people are watching movies in the format that works for them. Is the Academy worried about keeping the moviegoing experience alive, or are they really looking to honor outstanding achievement in the art form? If it is the latter than I think the theatrical release may be an unneeded formality. Who knows, if the Academy can embrace a wholly digital release then maybe the Oscars can cut a deal with streaming providers to broadcast the awards ceremony via the internet.