Streaming potential Oscar winners

Actor Casey Affleck and director Kenneth Lonergan on the set of Manchester By The Sea. The movie, picked up by Amazon Studios for distribution, is the first film produced by a digital streaming service to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.
Actor Casey Affleck and director Kenneth Lonergan on the set of Manchester By The Sea. The movie, picked up by Amazon Studios for distribution, is the first film produced by a digital streaming service to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.PHOTO: AMAZON STUDIOS
Ben Foster (left) and Chris Pine in the Oscar-nominated film Hell Or High Water, which can be viewed on streaming sites.
Ben Foster (left) and Chris Pine in the Oscar-nominated film Hell Or High Water, which can be viewed on streaming sites. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Digital streaming services finance, produce and distribute movies in the hope of winning Oscars

NEW YORK • One common complaint about the Oscars addresses the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' perceived tendency to honour movies that ostensibly no one has seen. In some cases, the complainants are talking about prestige films that did not do a lot at the box office.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a podcast featuring two of the West Coast's more colourful Oscar commentators. One of them excitedly put La La Land in the category of films no one has seen.

At the time, the movie, a critical favourite among festivalgoers, had not yet been released. Oscar commentators can be silly people.

La La Land has since gone into something like wide release. It is in about 2,000 theatres, about half the number that super-wide releases will be in at the height of their glory and is doing well enough that you can say some people have seen it, and now that it has garnered 14 Oscar nominations, more people will.

This year, streaming video services are beginning to change how Oscar-nominated movies are seen, for one simple reason: These services are financing, producing and distributing movies they hope will win Oscars.

Manchester By The Sea, distributed by Amazon Studios, landed six nominations, including for Best Picture.

While it is still playing in theatres (a little more than 500, as of this writing), it will hit video on demand and at least one streaming service - Amazon Video, naturally - early this month.

The movie will be available for viewing on FandangoNOW, the on-demand arm of the ticket-purchasing website, tomorrow.

On Amazon, it will be free for Amazon Prime members. Others will have to pay a fee to rent or own it.

Right now, one of the five nominees for best documentary, Ava DuVernay's 13th, is on Netflix, the company that produced the movie.

One of this year's other Best Documentary nominees, O.J.: Made In America, in fact, aired as a TV miniseries after a brief theatrical qualifying run and has been available on demand since it first ran on ESPN.

That is admittedly a very small percentage of Oscar-nominated movies, but it is still news, and I reckon that percentage is going to increase in the coming years.

Another Amazon-produced movie, Whit Stillman's cheekily hilarious Jane Austen adaptation, Love & Friendship, produced by Amazon, was a dark-horse hopeful for a screenplay nomination. It did not make the cut, but has been on the service for a few months now.

Amazon Studios has a seventh Oscar nomination, in the Best Foreign Language Film category: The Salesman, from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi.

The company is one of the film's United States rights owners.

Of the other nominees for Best Picture besides Manchester, only the crime thriller Hell Or High Water (which also drew a Best Supporting Actor nod for Jeff Bridges and an Original Screenplay one for Taylor Sheridan) can be seen on YouTube, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu and Google Play at prices from US$2.99 (S$4.20) to US$14.99, depending on the rent-buy option one chooses.

Viggo Mortensen's nominated leading-man turn in the hippie-family tear-jerker Captain Fantastic can also be viewed via those services. So, too, can one of the more distinctive of the Best Animated Feature nominees, Kubo And The Two Strings.

Meryl Streep, in the title role of the tragicomic biopic Florence Foster Jenkins, can be seen via all the same services save Amazon.

Another Best Actress nominee, Ruth Negga, was recognised for her work in the fact-based civil rights drama Loving; that picture can be seen for a fee on Vudu, Amazon and iTunes. Michael Shannon was considered a surprise in the Best Supporting actor category for his work in Nocturnal Animals; the movie is not coming to streaming as such, but it will debut on demand today, the same day the Blu-ray and DVD package, which includes access to a digital download, comes out.

Finally, a warning: Be on the lookout for purveyors of pirated content who piggyback on legitimate services such as Vimeo. For example, in my searches, I came across results saying the animated film Trolls and Nocturnal Animals were streaming in full on the aforementioned site. But they are not.

Once you hit play and the studio logo comes up, you are asked to "register" and log in with a separate "service".

NYTIMES

•The 89th Academy Awards will be held on Feb 26 (Feb 27, Singapore time). It will air in Singapore on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), starting from 8am.

•ST Film Correspondent John Lui will be reporting from the event.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2017, with the headline 'Streaming potential Oscar winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe