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Oscar nominations 2020: Kenneth Turan says the academy looks both forward and backward

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

In its Oscar nominations and even in the awards themselves, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is inevitably and irrevocably a Janus-headed organization, looking simultaneously, as did the Roman god, to the future and the past.

With this year's nominations, however, the contrast between those points of view is startling in its intensity, marking 2020 as a bellwether whether we want it to be or not.

The aspect of the vote that is looking forward is the great number of nominations that the streaming giant Netflix took home. Twenty-four, to be exact, more than mighty Disney -- 23 noms including all its subsidiaries -- and Sony with 20, embarrassing once powerful entities like Paramount that ended up with none.

These 24 include more or less expected tallies like 11 for "The Irishman" and six for "Marriage Story" but extended to farther afield items like a trio for "The Two Popes" and a documentary nod for "American Factory."

More than that, there were categories that Netflix absolutely dominated, for example having three of the five supporting actor nominations (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for "Irishman" and Anthony Hopkins for "Two Popes") and getting two of the five nods for feature animation ("Klaus" and the marvelous "I Lost My Body").

And although the film wasn't nominated, when you add in the cultural and likely financial impact of the engaging Eddie Murphy comedy "Dolemite Is My Name," it's clear that Netflix' loss leader strategy of paying top dollar for top of the line filmmaking talent has passed the point of no return for the movie business.

 

There are, of course, good aspects to Netflix' increasing dominance. Films get made that otherwise would not, and people in far-flung communities that are theatrical deserts get to see them lickety-split.

But while Netflix attempts to disguise it with adroit awards season theatrical bookings, like putting "Irishman" into Broadway's Belasco Theater, the reality is harsher. For the simple truth is that Netflix is dedicated to the end of the theatrical experience, and today's nominations make me fearful that the time when superb films like "Marriage Story" or groundbreaking animation like "I Lost My Body" or exceptional docs like "American Factory" get no movie theater exposure at all is closer than we think. It may be inevitable, but those who do not see this as a loss are fooling themselves.

Despite ease of access, something is lost in that scenario. People who saw "The Irishman" at home did not see it under peak conditions, any more than people who've looked at reproductions of paintings by Mark Rothko or photographs of the Zen rock garden at Kyoto's Ryonanji temple have really seen them.

Yet one of the great ironies of today's pro-Netflix nominations pointing toward the future is that when you look past that to film subject matter, the focus could not be more resolutely on the past. It's almost as if the voters had a nostalgic urge to pay tribute to a world they know is ending.

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