Standing With Spielberg

This year I reluctantly watched the Oscars I have an ever increasing resentment for the studios, their masters and the premeditated erosion of cinema they instigate. I thought at best the show was tepid without a dynamic center. While some heralded having no host, I personally felt that it made the show rudderless and far less entertaining. It was like going through a self check-out line at your friendly neighborhood grocery store.

I did not do much reading on the Oscars prior to the show. I did do an analysis on Roma, I felt that that movies nomination was a travesty and it cheapened the theatrical exhibition of motion pictures. My mouth dropped though when I saw the nominations being called out for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

It was nominated in 3 categories , Best Original Song, Best Achievement in Costume Design, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Coen Brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” opened to an estimated two-theater gross of about $6,600 on a Thursday in November, its opening day, in two Landmark theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The theaters showed the movie for eight days before its Netflix streaming. It has a release of four theaters and saw a $13,300 box office. I am a big fan of the Coen brothers and saw the streaming offering. A fine piece of work, but it should have never been nominated for an Oscar.

A nomination which resulted from a four theater release is a cheapening of a honor which was designed for excellence in theatrical motion pictures. Netflix, for years has sought to shift the focus of motion pictures away from the big screen onto its own streaming platform. In 2017’s Best Documentary Short Film award for The White Helmets was the service’s first Oscar.

This year much to the chagrin of many , Netflix scored its first Best Picture nomination, for Cuarón’s Roma. It did not win, but director Cuarón picked up another award for Best Director and plus another one for Cinematography. Netflix crowed about it’s breakthrough and in its mind it changed the game that is the Oscars.

Many see the danger of including the products of any streaming services in the Oscar’s, Steven Spielberg now has issued a warning about the inclusion of streaming services in the Academy consideration, at least in their current form.

Spielberg like most established cinephiles feel that Netflix movies should only qualify as “TV movies” . They should be included in the Emmy’s and not the Oscars. Spielberg has not been swayed by Netflix’s effort to place its higher profile pictures into a limited theatrical run. Spielberg is due to speak at an Academy Governors meeting in favor of rule changes that would prevent Netflix’s TV movies from being nominated.

Spielberg’s issues with Netflix are numerous. A key one is that they attempt to buy the Oscar by spending more bucks, often as high as 50 million this year than anybody else often ten times more than on any other movie. They also four wall their movies, they buy out the theater. As a result they never report box office numbers. They are really working an economy which is solely of their own making and try at every instance to manipulate the rules to their own benefit.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he told ITV News in March 2018. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.” Spielberg, as the Academy Governor of the directors branch, will be supporting changes to the awards rules at the annual post-Oscars meeting. “Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” an Amblin spokesperson told Indiewire. “He’ll be happy if the others will join when that comes up . He will see what happens.”

I happen to agree with Mr. Spielberg, I think the pressures exuded by the streaming services are putting the theatrical exhibition industry in deep jeopardy. I think they are blatantly using the Oscars to promote itself without making a distinct dedication to the exhibition industry. I think it’s time to really address the deep dangers being presented by Netflix….to make the statement that the products being streamed are not traditional motion pictures. Maybe it’s time they had their own awards and leave the Oscars alone.

If changes are not made then we are on a slippery slope, a slope that at it’s base with be shattered remains of a once vital theatrical industry.