Netflix’s ‘Mank’ Leads Oscar Nominations With 10 in Surprise Nod

The screenwriter biopic “Mank” tallied the most Academy Award nominations for 2020, reinforcing an old truism: Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood.

The Netflix Inc. movie about “Citizen Kane” writer Herman Mankiewicz received 10 nominations, including best picture, best director for David Fincher and best actor for star Gary Oldman, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced Monday. It drew more recognition than another Netflix release, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and “Nomadland,” from Walt Disney Co.’s Searchlight Pictures.

“Nomadland,” a film about a grieving woman wandering the American West, received six nominations, including best actress for Frances McDormand and best director for Chloe Zhao. “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which recounts the violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, also received six nods.

Netflix’s ‘Mank’ Leads Oscar Nominations With 10 in Surprise Nod

Several other films matched the tally of six nominations: “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a film from AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros. about the FBI’s infiltration of the Black Panthers; “Sound of Metal,” a Sony Corp. drama about a rock drummer who loses his hearing; “Minari,” an A24 film about a Korean family that moves to a farm in Arkansas; and “The Father,” a Sony release about a patriarch battling dementia. All were nominated for best picture.

The nominations set up one of the strangest horse races in Oscar history. Netflix, Hollywood’s newest heavyweight, has never won best picture. Disney, one of the oldest studios, hadn’t been a serious contender for best picture for years until it acquired Fox entertainment assets in 2019, including the division that made “Nomadland.” “Judas and the Black Messiah” disappointed at an already sluggish box office.

Netflix’s ‘Mank’ Leads Oscar Nominations With 10 in Surprise Nod

All are competing in a year when the global pandemic kept millions of movie fans from seeing pictures in theaters. Instead, they watched at home online.

Heavily Reworked

Like the Golden Globes, the 93rd Academy Awards broadcast, which will air on April 25 on ABC, will be heavily reworked because of Covid-19. The show, to take place at both Los Angeles’s Union Station train depot and the academy’s Dolby Theater, will feature some in-person elements but will rely on technology to create the illusion that larger numbers of people are gathering together. Additionally, this year it won’t cast a spotlight on as many films. Many big movies were delayed due to 2020 theater closures, limiting the academy members’ options.

While the Oscars have become a showcase for smaller films in recent years, that was especially true in 2020, when more movies bound for theaters made their debut online. Major studios including Disney, ViacomCBS Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. are all pushing hard into streaming.

“Nomadland,” a critically lauded movie that won the top prize at the Golden Globe Awards, was released on Hulu in February. “Promising Young Woman,” an independent film purchased by Universal, was sold to audiences for $20 via on-demand platforms like Amazon.com only 17 days after it came out in cinemas. The picture, featuring Carey Mulligan, was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture.

The directors of those films, Zhao and Emerald Fennell, are the first two women nominated for best director in the same year.

Normally, bigger pictures are also sprinkled into the nominations. Disney’s “Black Panther,” which topped the box office in 2018, was nominated for seven Oscars the following year and won three. Warner Bros.’s DC film installment “Joker,” which generated more than $1 billion in ticket sales in 2019, garnered 11 nominations, including best picture, with Joaquin Phoenix winning best actor for the title role.

Diverse Group

Overall, the nominated films highlight a diverse group of stories from a diverse group of storytellers. The film academy has actively tried to eliminate race and gender bias from its selection process, after repeatedly picking all-White and all-male nominees in major categories. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, was called out this year for the glaring absence of Blacks among its members and promised to make amends.

The academy’s best-supporting-actor race features three Black actors, Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield of “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Leslie Odom Jr. of “One Night in Miami....” Black actresses Viola Davis, of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and Andra Day, of “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” are nominated for best actress. Davis’s late co-star Chadwick Boseman, winner of the Golden Globe for best actor, received a posthumous Oscar nomination in the category.

Among other milestones, the best-director category includes two Asians for the first time: Zhao and “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung. Riz Ahmed of “Sound of Metal” became the first Muslim nominated for best actor.

Though Netflix led the nominations, as it did last year, the streaming giant may once again miss out on best picture over lingering concerns among some academy members that the service is hurting the cinema industry. The company fell short in 2020, when Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite” beat out Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

Still, the streamer has come a long way from a decade ago, when it was mostly a Hollywood outcast. The pandemic help fuel its subscriber ranks past 200 million globally, as well as interest from top filmmakers. This year, Netflix plans to release the largest number of films among all the big studios, averaging about one new movie a week. Disney plans to release less than half that many in 2021.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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