When word seeped out this week that Netflix was considering adding Malcolm & Marie to its list of Oscar-contending movies for this year, shudders went through the competition from other distributors. Can one studio/distributor/streamer — whatever — possibly grab all five Best Actress Oscar slots? That would certainly be a first in Academy history in that category, or just about any other. It is a question worth asking right now.
Recent Emmy winner Zendaya (HBO’s Euphoria) co-stars with John David Washington in the two-hander, Malcolm & Marie, which is now set for a February 5 release on Netflix. That makes it eligible for the Oscars as this COVID-affected season has been extended with eligibility going through February 28 for the delayed Oscar show, now set for April 25, 2021 with nominations announced March 15. As Deadline originally exclusively reported September 13, it was a $30 million deal for Netflix in a bidding war for the top secret project that was shot during the pandemic by director Sam Levinson, who also steers Zendaya’s Euphoria.
Insiders with whom I spoke at the time who had seen an early cut said both she and Washington deliver dazzling performances in dramatic turns. Time will tell on that, but Zendaya is on fire right now and no doubt her reps were interested in seeing that hot streak continue, putting pressure on Netflix to throw it into the race, even though I had originally been told it was being held until next year, not for the 93rd Academy Awards.
I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen all of the other major Best Actress contenders from Netflix and the streamer has to wonder if maybe it has too much of a good thing going. With Venice Film Festival winner Vanessa Kirby’s stirring turn in Pieces of a Woman, Sophia Loren’s triumphant return to leading roles in The Life Ahead, Viola Davis’ dazzling title role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Amy Adams’ dynamic and intense work in Hillbilly Elegy and none other than Meryl Streep’s terrific singing and dancing role in the upcoming musical The Prom, something has got to give.
I cannot recall one single entity providing so many viable contenders in a single category in one year, and I didn’t even mention Jessie Buckley, who is so great in the challenging I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, or Rosamund Pike in the Netflix pickup out of Toronto I Care A Lot, which also reportedly could get a release in time for Oscar consideration this year, and she too is great in that. I suppose this is a good problem for anyone to have, an embarrassment of riches in what is turning into a very rich category in this weird Oscar contest. Even if Netflix were to secure all five Best Actress nominations, who gets left out among Kirby, Zendaya, Davis, Adams (an Academy favorite and overdue six-time nominee), and of course legends delivering some major performances like Loren and Streep?
And now Academy actors branch members, look who else not on Netflix is in the hunt: Frances McDormand, widely praised and an early front-runner for Searchlight’s Nomadland; the way overdue four-time nominee Michelle Pfeiffer so splendid in French Exit (also opening February 5); Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman, which Focus plans to heavily campaign. Then there’s singer Andra Day dominating as Billie Holiday in Paramount’s Oscar hopeful Billie Holiday Vs. the United States; past winner Kate Winslet winning praise for Ammonite; Rashida Jones, a delight in On the Rocks which Apple is campaigning, and Elisabeth Moss in Universal’s The Invisible Man or Neon’s Shirley, terrific in both in wildly different roles.
I’m not done. Amazon will be pushing Rachel Brosnahan, so fine in the AFI Fest opener I’m Your Woman, as well as the aforementioned Pike in yet another film, Radioactive, in which she soars as Marie Curie. In their own embarassment of riches they also have a fine performance from Clare Dunne that anchors the upcoming Herself.
Having seen the wonderful Bleecker Street charmer Wild Mountain Thyme, I can tell you Emily Blunt shines there. And from way earlier in this 14-month season of eligibility let me throw in veterans Annette Bening in Hope Gap, and an unforgettable portrayal by Lesley Manville in Ordinary Love from Bleecker Street (though both are probably long long shots unless their distributors were to wage some kind of major campaign to get them into a race dominated by this kind of formidable competition). Did I mention Yeri Han from A24’s beloved Sundance success Minari? Okay throw her in the mix too, and while we are at it let me add Carrie Coon, a Best Actress Gotham Award nominee for IFC’s The Nest. She is truly sensational in that.
But back to Netflix, whose Oscar campaign budget is going to have to balloon to handle all these contenders just in this category alone, not to mention others. The pandemic has handed the streamer some dream opportunities, and like it did at the Emmys, sheer dominance of product is likely to put it well into the lead come nomination time, maybe even a record haul for any studio or distrib ever. The question will be is will it cannibalize itself with too much, or is this finally its year?