What makes a “real” Hollywood Movie?

Paramount Studios, who distributed Overlord, also released Annihilation (featuring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh), which according to figures also broke even at the box office and might have been released long enough to just recoup its budget. Like the much vaunted, and Academy Award winning (it won three major Oscars) Roma (2018), it appeared on Netflix within weeks of its cinema release but Roma had long won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival months before its theatrical and Netflix debut.

Annihilation (2018) Trailer

Legendary cinema director Steven Spielberg (1946-) argues that films which only get a limited cinema release in the US, but get their main run on-line worldwide by such companies as Netflix, shouldn’t be eligible for the Academy Awards. He says they should only be eligible for Emmys which is the television award equivalent of the Oscars.

Mainstream cineplexes want to let a movie run its course, hit or miss, and many cineplex chains also have a policy or convention that any film they take should not be released for home entertainment such as disc and online for 90 days after it opens! Independent cinemas don’t seem to mind.

That’s what happened with Roma in Mexico when its Mexican distributor couldn’t get a mainstream local release. So, it went to independent theatres. It released on 22 November 2018 in Mexico and the US – streaming on Netflix elsewhere from 14 December 2018 barely three weeks later. I understand Netflix didn’t offer Roma to the US multiplexes and they wouldn’t have it anyway because of no 90-day exclusivity. Independents again.

Is Netflix cheating at the Academy Awards by having an on-line release so quickly after or during its theatrical run? Especially when their heart really lies in releasing it on the television well before the expiration of 90 days? Is it really a movie or a television movie?

Roma undoubtedly breaks the convention but it rode into Oscar anyway on the back of its critical success. It’s quality product apparently (I haven’t seen it yet) and Netflix knew this and delayed its release after its Venice award. They have however remained tight-lipped about theatrical box-office, but estimates say it was poor and that people mostly saw it on television before the Oscars. Does that include Oscar voters? Did they see it on Netflix?

It all comes down to your concept of what is the definition of a movie or a television movie. And even further, the growing irrelevance of the Oscars today (sorry missed the last one), due to them ignoring great mainstream product.

There’s precious little celluloid anymore, it’s a new ball game in terms of technology! Business is booming well beyond the humble multiplex and independent film house.

Spielberg kind of blew his argument as a purist by appearing at the Apple on-line launch cum Hollywood love-in/wank after his comments. But I forgive you Steven, you did Jaws (1975) and the enduring Artificial Intelligence (2001)! Luvvy!!

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Trailer

I agree there was once a definition of a film as being one released at the cinemas, mainstream or independent, no matter if a hit or a flop. Film critic Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide made the distinction in its content long ago in that it only lists cinema released films and not television movies or direct-to-DVD films. Forget Maltin though, as he is far from a cult enthusiast.

The direct-to-DVD home entertainment revolution back in the early 2000s was probably the beginning of the end of this definition for me as quality product was deemed invalid. The Oscar/Netflix debate is one that I agree with by definition but times are changing and it is rather murky for purists.

Roma, in being accepted wholeheartedly by Oscar in the major categories, has crossed the made for television as well as the international category boundaries.

It’s obvious the parameters for the definition of a movie or a television movie, shifted long before Netflix came along!

Great White (1982) Trailer

Spielberg should acknowledge this, as his early film Duel (1971), was made for television and was so popular it then received an extended running time cut theatrical release. It was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Movie Made for TV category but Oscar declined to honor the cinema release. It was just a television movie! Or was it? A couple of French and Italian film festivals in 1973 gave Spielberg awards for the theatrical cut! It’s a cult movie but Spielberg seems to have forgotten his roots before he became a part of New Hollywood! He has become a part of Old Hollywood now that he is on the board of governors for Oscar!! It took him a couple of go’s before Jaws won three Oscars but not for him. He had to wait – too long! Like Scorsese!!

Most cult movies don’t win Oscars! Perhaps they’ll win a Razzie (Hollywood’s Worst Movie Awards) but there are smaller award shows than Oscar that cater to the cult items, including direct-to-DVD, as it was known, and the Netflix crossover.

Annihilation won heaps at various festivals! But not the “serious” ones like Berlin and Venice.

Is Spielberg really serious? Take Jaws as an example. It was a mainstream movie and won Oscars. If Duel was nominated at the 1972 or 1973 Oscars, it would have been up against the also relatively low budgeted mainstream police actioner The French Connection (it won eight), which was probably a better movie in terms of acting and script and was a smash hit. Or The Godfather. It won three but was trounced by Cabaret that year.

Duel (1971) Trailer

Are the members of Oscar up themselves or out of touch? Or is the proliferation of business and product these days just too cumbersome? The truth being there aren’t enough awards or categories to go around!!

These days the Oscars are trying to please everyone and not just heaping awards on one movie a la Titanic (1997), which won a record eleven like Ben Hur (1959) did. So, they’re spreading the sugar so to speak, mostly on arty and alternate movies. The seven nominations for Marvel’s Black Panther (2018) was a break though for mainstream popular movies. Multiple Oscar wins used to guarantee big box-office over the years. An already guaranteed popular box office hit may get nominations but is still seen as not really good enough to win an Oscar.

To spread the sugar win-wise for the artier movies to add some box office isn’t necessarily bad. It’s encouraging! But so much still gets ignored.

The question of what is a “pure” Hollywood movie these days and their determined quality remains for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS or slang Oscar) governors (Spielberg is one of dozens) and its secret roster of voters. And how much money a film has in its budget to push for nomination may still be a factor too as word of mouth is no guarantee of Oscar glory. But neither is a big budget.

But they are just one award show and not the be all and end all! It has its hardcore fans – it is, supposedly, pure Hollywood!

Just a last word on the Netflix debate.

The hit series Grace and Frankie (2015-), featuring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, has been filmed at Paramount Studios for years, while one of the companies producing it, Skydance Media, has produced many Hollywood blockbusters for various studios from ten-time Academy Award nominated (it won none) True Grit (2010) to, what some critics said was ghastly, Geostorm (2017). No nominations in practically any award ceremony worldwide except for one, which is hardly surprising. Andy Garcia got a nod for playing the president. I liked it.

Geostorm (2017) Trailer 2

Paramount’s limited cinema release in the US of Annihilation and then the release a few weeks later on Netflix kind of bridges the gap in the mainstream between movie and television movie. It went direct to Netflix and eventually DVD in Australia and, not surprisingly, wasn’t considered for Oscars like Roma, despite it being a great film. Barack Obama said it was one of his favorites of 2018. I don’t know what Donald Trump watches but I’d be interested what formed him as a kid and teenager.

It’s all very incestuous in Hollywood, as it has always been, and the future of cineplexes remains to be seen. People still like to go to the movies for the experience. Independent cinemas try to boost attendance by playing mainstream stuff too. Others who are time and money poor, or who don’t like to drink and drive, or smoke dope and drive, prefer television.

As for Roma, the horse has bolted. Were the governors at Oscar sleepwalking through their roles? Certainly its 6000 plus secret roster of voters are watching Netflix!!


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