Despite Record Noms, Netflix Wins Just Two Oscars

Entering the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 9 in Los Angeles, Netflix had a record 24 nominations — more than any Hollywood studio.

In what has become a recurring theme during this year’s industry awards, the SVOD pioneer left the Oscars relatively empty handed. Laura Dern again walked off with a Best Supporting Actress statue for Marriage Story, while American Factory, about a Chinese businessman re-opening a manufacturing facility in Ohio, won for best documentary. The film was produced by former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s production company.

Netflix won best documentary in 2018 with anti-doping cycling-themed Icarus.

But The Irishman, Netflix’s big-budget mobster movie from director Martin Scorsese and starring Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, failed to win an award despite 10 nominations. Netflix spent a reported $70 million promoting Irishman for the awards season.

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With a major push into original features, Netflix, like Amazon Prime Video, has taken on Hollywood, spending lavishly on productions and securing A-list talent. It has also — unlike Amazon — rebuffed industry norms when it comes to theatrical distribution.

CCO Ted Sarandos has made it a signature ploy releasing original movies in theaters concurrent with global streaming access. The strategy has angered exhibitors and traditionalists — with the former largely shunning Netflix movies.

In 2019, Netflix original movie Roma won an Oscar for best director (Alfonso Cuarón), best foreign film and best cinematography but lost for best picture. The streamer’s first original movie, Beasts of No Nation, was critically hailed, but ignored by the Academy.

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Despite the slights, Sarandos dismisses possible industry blowback toward the streamer’s feature films as speculation.

“A pushback? Nobody can say that with a straight face,” he told the New York Times. “We got 24 nominations, the most of any studio. Our films have been honored across the board.”

Indeed they have. But with South Korea’s Parasite making history as the first foreign-language film to win best picture, Universal Pictures was sure to give the film a traditional theatrical window — generating about $35 million in North America. It has grossed $167.6 million worldwide, becoming South Korea’s biggest box office hit.

Trump Says Congress Should Investigate Obama’s ‘Ridiculous Netflix Deal’

President Donald Trump Sept. 16 — in an early morning tweet — lashed out at a federal appeals court’s decision to re-open allegations he improperly receives money through his businesses from foreign and domestic leaders in order to curry political favor from him.

His opponents claim doing so would be in violation of the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York Sept. 13 re-opened the ethics complaint, brought about by various plaintiffs, including watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

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The original complaint was dismissed by a lower court in 2017.

Regardless, Trump used the occasion to criticize former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s book publishing deal and separate original content agreement with Netflix.

The book and streaming video deals occurred after the Obamas were out of the White House and private citizens.

In April, Higher Ground Productions, the Obamas’ production company in partnership with Netflix, announced an initial slate of upcoming projects, encompassing fiction and nonfiction productions; scripted, unscripted and documentary series; and full-length features and documentaries.

Michelle’s memoir Becoming, remains a national bestseller with more than 7.5 million copies sold.

Obamas’ Production Company Announces Initial Slate for Netflix

Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company in partnership with Netflix, announced its initial slate of upcoming projects, encompassing fiction and non-fiction productions; scripted, unscripted and documentary series; and full-length features and documentaries.

Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis are co-heads of the company.

The documentary American Factory, from Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, will be the first release on the slate. Acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary, the Participant Media film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

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“Bloom” is an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-World War II New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress.

Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history.

The company is adapting a scripted anthology series from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column “Overlooked,” telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper.

“Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will be a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen. The show travel around the globe to tell the story of our food.

From Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of The Big Short and Moneyball, and based on his book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, the non-fiction series “Fifth Risk” will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.

Crip Camp is a feature-length documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives and America forever by helping to set in motion the disability rights movement. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham.

The Obamas launched Higher Ground last spring.

“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” President Obama said in a statement. “Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.”

“We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives,” Michelle Obama said in a statement. “We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they’ll generate.”

“President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix. “The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.”

Netflix Bowing David Letterman Talk Show With Obama Interview

Netflix Jan. 5 tweeted it will launch a talk show with former late-night television host David Letterman. The host’s guest list includes former President Barack Obama, George Clooney, Tina Fey, Jay-Z and Pakistani Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Letterman hosted “Late Night” on CBS for 33 years, ending in 2015.

The monthly interview series begins Jan. 12. The news sent Netflix stock up more than 1.5% to a record $208.30 per share in midday trading.