Oscar nods for Amazon's Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea, a family tragedy set in Massachusetts, stars Casey Affleck.
Manchester By The Sea, a family tragedy set in Massachusetts, stars Casey Affleck.PHOTO: AMAZON STUDIOS

LOS ANGELES • Amazon.com's strategy of sticking to Hollywood's time- honoured traditions helped deliver a big payoff that has so far eluded its streaming rival Netflix - the firstever Best Picture nomination for an online video service.

Manchester By The Sea, a family tragedy set in Massachusetts, was nominated on Tuesday for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one of nine movies that will vie for the top honour on Feb 26.

The film secured six Oscar nominations in all, including ones for acting, writing and directing.

While Netflix, the streaming leader with almost 94 million subscribers worldwide, has upended entertainment industry traditions, Amazon.com has played more by Hollywood's rules.

In the movie business, that means giving motion pictures a serious run in theatres, rather than releasing them simultaneously online, as Netflix often does.

"They would both like Oscar glory, all the studios do," said Mr Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co, an industry researcher.

When Amazon buys a movie, he said, it comes with the vow the film will have a long run in theatres before showing up on the company's video service, a concession to directors and others who make their movies with big screens in mind. That means at least a month, the company has said.

"That isn't the case with Netflix right now," Mr Bock said.

Seattle-based Amazon acquired Manchester By The Sea for US$10 million a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The film stars Casey Affleck as a janitor who returns to his hometown to look after his nephew following the death of his brother.

But he struggles to cope with his own tragedy.

Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges are nominated for their supporting roles, while Kenneth Lonergan was nominated for his directing and writing. Roadside Attractions distributed the movie in theatres in the United States.

A Hollywood agent, who sells films, says Amazon and Netflix are picking movies that target different audiences, with Amazon aiming for shoppers who want more artistic fare. Amazon's promise of a theatrical run makes the service more appealing to some of those filmmakers.

"They've been a great partner to the exhibition industry," said Mr Ken Thewes, chief marketing officer at Regal Entertainment Group, the No. 2 US theatre chain.

"They absolutely have a different approach than Netflix. They have really respected the windows and we respect that."

Regal has teamed up with Amazon on a US$35 movie pass to show all the Best Picture nominees at theatres ahead of the Feb 26 Academy Awards ceremony.

At last year's annual exhibitor convention, CinemaCon, Amazon presented its upcoming slate just like a major Hollywood studio. In one year, the company released 15 films, as many as Paramount Pictures.

Netflix wants to change the old model and show movies online to customers at the same time they are in theatres. With a growing global subscriber base, the company has financed a lot of films it says are popular that never had a shot at awards (or good reviews), such as comedies starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James.

Mr Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG, said it is too soon to say whether one or the other has come out on top in feature films.

Both companies have been spending on feature films at this year's Sundance festival and Netflix has invested large sums in new movie projects, including Brad Pitt's War Machine and a Will Smith picture called Bright.

"Let's see what happens when Netflix rolls out some of its far larger film bets later this year into next," Mr Greenfield said. "It's still early."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Oscar nods for Amazon's Manchester By The Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe