After a long, bumpy awards season, the Oscars are finally tonight, and have come down to the worst fear of hand-wringing Hollywood traditionalists: for the first time, the two best picture frontrunners are from streaming platforms, while the traditional studio releases have all fallen behind.
In the one corner: Netflix’s The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s elegant, sinuously queer western, which led the field with a whopping 12 nominations – though insider whispers suggest it’s more admired in the industry than it is adored. In the other, Apple’s Coda, a perky coming-of-ager about a hearing teen breaking away from her deaf family: there are few great claims to be made for it artistically, but it warms people’s hearts, and that’s seen it surge ahead in the American guild awards.
While Netflix treated their auteur film like a gilded prestige item from its release in December, Apple, having released Coda online with limited fanfare last summer, saved all their campaign spending for far later in the game – it’s been around for longer, but it feels like many people are only just catching up, with accordingly noisy word of mouth. It all points to a change in the way we watch and share films going forward.
Unusually, thanks to post-pandemic release models, almost all the best picture nominees can currently be watched from your couch. In addition to The Power of the Dog, of course, Netflix has Adam McKay’s bloated, gassy but occasionally amusing climate-change satire Don’t Look Up. Disney+ subscribers can check out Steven Spielberg’s swirlingly energetic West Side Story remake, before chasing its ebullience with the bitter noir shot of Guillermo del Toro’s handsomely savage Nightmare Alley remake. (Coda, too, is a remake, of the not-terribly-sacred French comedy La Famille Belier – fuel for anyone pushing the old “Hollywood has run out of ideas” line.)
You can head to Amazon, Apple and the other standard VOD platforms to access Kenneth Branagh’s strangely trifling Troubles memoir, Belfast, Denis Villeneuve’s ravishing sci-fi starter Dune, and the enjoyably formulaic sports drama King Richard, with Will Smith’s charismatic, sure-to-be-rewarded star turn as tennis patriarch Richard Williams. Curzon Home Cinema has the best of the lot in Drive My Car, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s soul-nourishing reflection on grief, renewal and Chekhov: it’ll likely have to settle for the best international feature prize, but it’s a happy miracle to see it in the top category at all.
Outside the best picture race, Disney+ also offers Jessica Chastain’s gaudy, skin-deep transformation into disgraced televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye; she’s the bookies’ favourite for best actress, but I’m crossing fingers for Netflix’s hopeful, Olivia Colman, in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s daring, layered, under-rewarded Elena Ferrante adaptation The Lost Daughter. Nicole Kidman will likely remain on the sidelines for her fascinatingly mannered Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos – Amazon’s largely ignored prize pony, as the streaming giant fell rather behind Netflix and Apple this year. The documentary race, meanwhile, looks to be neck-and-neck between the rousing, crowd-pleasing archival dive Summer of Soul (Disney+) and the animated innovation and heart-tugging pull of refugee story Flee (Curzon).
Finally, while the nominated short films haven’t been made available as a streaming package yet, Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed’s wrenching post-Brexit nightmare The Long Goodbye is free to watch on Ahmed’s own YouTube channel, while Netflix has several to offer, including the slick, saccharine Aardman animation Robin Robin, and a trio of stirring documentary shorts: Audible, a deaf footballer portrait; Lead Me Home, a survey of America’s homelessness crisis; and Three Songs for Benazir, about a young Afghan man’s conflicting dreams of family life and national service.
Two of my favourite nominated shorts are to be found elsewhere: the Short of the Week site has Alberto Mielgo’s animated conversation piece The Windshield Wiper, which mixes romantic ruminations with cutting-edge digital imagery, while Vimeo has Polish director Tadeusz Lysiak’s The Dress, a deeply affecting, unpatronising tale of a hotel maid with dwarfism on a lonely quest to lose her virginity. You could see it being expanded and remade into something far stickier and more sentimental: perhaps that’ll be an Oscar frontrunner in a few years’ time.
Also new on streaming
Don’t let the Disney+ branding fool you into thinking this sleek, warped genre mashup is family friendly: this story of a Tinder-jaded young woman (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who takes a chance on an enigmatically seductive cosmetic surgeon (Sebastian Stan) blends provocatively grisly horror with romcom energy, with first-time director Mimi Cave taking a few cues from Emerald Fennell. Not all its sharp left turns pay off, but it delivers on its title’s promise.
An Icelandic farming couple are stunned when one of their sheep births a most unusual lamb, which they proceed to raise on their own – with severely dark consequences. Narratively, there’s not a whole lot to Valdimar Jóhannsson’s film, but it blends folk horror with absurdist comedy to striking effect, with a lowering atmospheric chill that sinks into your bones.
Exquisitely acted and extraordinarily moving, Maria Sødahl’s marital drama got rather lost amid the flurry of awards-targeting prestige releases late last year: I hope people find it at home. An unsentimental, emotionally acute study of a couple revising the terms of their marriage in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis, it boasts two momentous performances from Stellan Skarsgård and Andrea Bræin Hovig.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Shifting from canine power to feline charms, Benedict Cumberbatch gamely carries Will Sharpe’s hyper-stylised biopic of eccentric, cat-fixated artist Louis Wain. His performance is the grounding element of a film that all too often threatens to float away on a cloud of its own preciousness, but like Wain’s daffy art, some will have acquired its taste.