Sunday night’s 77th Golden Globe Awards ceremony was filled with a plethora of surprises. From the surprising dominance of Sam Mendes’ war drama “1917” in the best drama and director categories to “Rocketman” star Taron Egerton’s win in the best actor, musical or comedy race, a number of upsets, specifically in the film categories, seemed to shake up the 2020 awards race right from the start.
But if there was one significant takeaway from the night, it was that streaming juggernaut Netflix, which dominated the Globes nominations with films “The Irishman,” “The Two Popes,” “Marriage Story” and “Dolemite Is My Name,” is far more vulnerable this awards season than previously imagined.
It didn’t seem that way going into the ceremony, as Netflix earned 34 nominations in film and television categories. While its television showing was unsurprising, the nominations for its original films, especially in the lead up to the Academy Awards in February, was a major sign that the company had a promising shot at best picture, particularly after Netflix’s $20 million campaign for the critically lauded “Roma” netted three Oscars in 2019. With multiple acclaimed films released after “Roma,” it seemed likely that the studio would make a run for the coveted prize.
But Netflix walked away with only two wins over the course of the night, one for Olivia Colman’s performance in the series “The Crown” and one for Laura Dern’s supporting act in “Marriage Story.” The complete shutout of Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” a film that was previously expected to win best drama, was another sign that Netflix’s chances were bleaker than awards prognosticators had thought, likely because of apparent industry issues with the streaming service’s seeming threat to existing studios and exhibitors.
The subtle pushback against Netflix in the major races was especially evident in the screenplay and acting categories at the Globes. Noah Baumbach notably lost out on a best director nod for his drama “Marriage Story,” and many had predicted that the writer-director would be fairly compensated with a win for best screenplay at the Globes. And yet, that award went to Quentin Tarantino for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” despite Tarantino’s directing nomination and inevitable win in the best comedy or musical category.
When it came to the best actor races, close calls and upsets fell in favor of performances in typical studio releases rather than Netflix-produced films. Adam Driver, long considered a major threat in the best actor in a drama race for his performance in “Marriage Story,” lost out to Joaquin Phoenix for his performance in “Joker,” a Warner Bros. production that has grossed more than $1 billion at the global box office since its October release.
And in one of the most surprising upsets of the night, Taron Egerton won best actor in a comedy or musical for his performance as Elton John in the musical biopic “Rocketman.” While Leonardo DiCaprio was previously expected to win the category for his performance in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” the narrative of Eddie Murphy’s acting comeback in “Dolemite Is My Name” — bolstered by a recent appearance on “Saturday Night Live” — had been brewing for several weeks leading up to the Globes. Those that would have predicted the “upset” in favor of Netflix were proven wrong when Egerton took home the award that night.
This win, as well as the others, could well be because of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s — the voting body behind the Golden Globes — seemingly notorious susceptibility to strategic campaigns. But by snubbing Netflix for several awards even after demonstrating that the studio was worthy and capable of being nominated, the HFPA seemed to be sending out a much more political message: that the streaming giant is largely representative of, and perhaps responsible for, the demise of the traditional theatrical experience.
Take, for example, the controversy surrounding best picture winner “Green Book” at the 2019 Oscars and its victory over the Netflix-produced Spanish-language film “Roma,” the critical favorite of the race. Steven Spielberg, who is an Academy governor representing the directors’ branch, supported “Green Book” in the best picture race and said Netflix should only compete for Emmy awards, noting the key distinction between streaming and viewing films in theaters. Other common complaints from studio filmmakers against Netflix are its lack of abiding by the 90-day theatrical window, its murkiness in reporting viewership or “box office” numbers and its dominance over domestic and international film distributors.
Similar debates and stalemates between Netflix and major theater chains led to Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” having a short-run, limited release in select theaters rather than a wide release in the United States. Seemingly in response to such situations, Quentin Tarantino made a plea for preserving the theatrical experience when he accepted an award for Director of the Year at the Palm Springs International Film Festival earlier this month.
Fighting for the traditional theatrical experience would be a noble cause if it didn’t entail voting bodies seemingly ignoring the content and style of films to make a statement against streaming services. When nuanced, innovative and important stories are being brought to a nontraditional platform, either by choice or by necessity, it’s upsetting to see films financed through Netflix lose out on awards in major categories seemingly just because of the fight for the survival of movie theaters or for the preservation of traditional studios and distributors.
The Golden Globes are far from the most accurate predictor of the Academy Awards, which means that leading contenders such as “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” still have a fair chance at collecting nominations, and even wins. But if the Globes don’t spell doom, they surely spell danger for the streaming giant — foretelling a major cultural rift within the industry and some troubling losses for deserving films come February.