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Netflix Makes Oscar History — Again

The annual release of the list of Academy Award contenders always brings a few surprises, and the roster that dropped on Monday morning was no exception. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) helped add an element of drama to the proceedings this year, making Oscar history by becoming the first streaming platform to earn more nominations than any traditional Hollywood movie studio going into the industry's most prestigious awards ceremony.

Netflix has long sought the distinction of a best picture win at the Oscars, but has yet to achieve this lofty goal. Last year, Alfonso Cuaron's Roma nabbed several of the Academy's major awards -- including best director, best cinematography, and best foreign-language film -- but thus far, the top honor has been elusive.

Is this the year Netflix finally takes home its most coveted prize?

Robert De Niro in a scene from Netflix original movie The Irishman. Image source: Netflix.

A groundbreaking performance

The streaming leader earned 24 nominations ahead of the 92nd Academy Awards, which will take place on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. This included recognition for The Irishman, which received 10 nominations, including nods for best picture, best director for Martin Scorsese, and best supporting actor nominations for both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

Marriage Story was another standout performer, receiving six nods, including best picture, best actor for Adam Driver, best actress for Scarlett Johansson, and best supporting actress for Laura Dern. American Factory was nominated for best documentary, showing that Netflix's deal with Barack and Michelle Obama is bearing fruit. Netflix also received nods for The Two Popes, I Lost My Body, and Klaus.

More importantly, Netflix had nominations across virtually every major category, including nods for acting, writing, and even visual effects. The streaming leader even surpassed Disney, which received 22 nominations -- even if you count the contributions from the various studios acquired from Fox.

It should be noted that Netflix had no movies that were a match for Joker, the most nominated movie of the year, which received 11 nods.

Still a wild card

Netflix has embarked on a strategy in recent years of making sizable bets on big-budget films from noted directors like Scorsese and Cuaron with an eye toward awards season. The Irishman is rumored to have cost Netflix as much as $125 million, making it one of the streaming specialist's most expensive Oscar bets yet. The movie was extremely costly due to the the state-of-the-art de-aging technology used in the film, as the story spans several decades.

Even a legendary director like Scorsese isn't a shoo-in. While Netflix nabbed a total of 34 Golden Globe nominations this year -- more than any other studio or network -- with 17 feature film nominations and 17 nods for its television series, the streaming giant was virtually shut out when the statues were presented. Netflix received just two awards: one for best supporting actress in a motion picture for Laura Dern in Marriage Story, and one for best actress in a TV drama for Olivia Colman in The Crown. This shows that while Hollywood is slowing coming to terms with the reality of streaming video, it still isn't ready to fully embrace the paradigm.

Scarlett Johansson in a scene from Netflix original movie Marriage Story. Image source: Netflix.

The good news

Netflix lives or dies by its customer count, which was recently above 158 million and climbing. Generating Oscar buzz from its nominations and the publicity it creates may be sufficient to drive additional subscriber growth, which is the tech giant's lifeblood. If the Golden Globe results are any indication, this might not be the year Netflix takes home Oscar's top prize -- but now it's just a matter of time.

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Danny Vena owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short April 2020 $135 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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