Busy as I’ve been the last couple months, planning a wedding and then, as mentioned in this space the last time we talked, going on a honeymoon, I’ve still made an effort to keep up on what’s happening in the world, especially in the Hollywood division. I sort of have to, as it falls under the job description of a columnist to know what he’s writing about.
Amidst all the nuttiness going on around us — the averted IATSE strike, the tragedy on the New Mexico set of Rust, and plenty more — I happened to notice something interesting that I thought was worth discussing. Despite the Cannes Film Festival’s continued refusal to deal with any films from a streaming service, just about every other major festival on the planet has no such qualms. On the contrary, just about every other major festival on the planet is embracing the streaming services, perhaps seeing the future of the industry and how being on the good side of the Netflixes, Amazons, Hulus, and HBO Maxes will be good for their bottom line.
Because, as previously noted in this space, that is where we’re headed. I still believe that there will always be some form of a theatrical experience — and very clearly, there are millions of us who are eager to get back into the theaters to see movies after having been prevented from doing so for a year and a half — but if the pandemic has shown us anything about consuming entertainment, it’s that we are more and more comfortable doing so from the comfort of our own homes.
Or something like that. I don’t know, as I don’t subscribe to that kind of nonsense. A movie is a movie, regardless of where it appears, and anyone who tries to tell you differently is not just a snob, they’re also pretty well full of it.
So, a win-win for everyone involved. No wonder it’s becoming a regular thing.
Doubt it? Just look at the landscape over the last couple years. In 2019, for instance, Netflix put The Irishman, Marriage Story, and TheTwo Popes in festivals before they hit the service and a limited theatrical release — although I saw The Irishman at the IFC Center in the West Village — and each got at least one Oscar nomination. Netflix also now owns the Paris Theater in midtown Manhattan, and exclusively shows its films there before they stream. Amazon picked up Sound of Metal after it premiered at Toronto in 2019, even if it didn’t put the movie out for another year — that also won a couple of statues last spring.
Last year was no different, with eventual Best Picture winner Nomadland showing up at a host of festivals — including Venice, Toronto, Telluride, and New York — before it opened day and date on February 19, streaming on Hulu, which is where I saw it, what with theaters still closed where I lived and all. Likewise, both Judas and the Black Messiah and Pieces of a Woman — the former an HBO Max movie, the latter Netflix — both premiered at festivals first. Pieces of a Woman was also at Venice and Toronto, while Judas did Sundance.
This year, clearly, is no different. The genie is out of the bottle and since the streaming services are getting more and more high profile and award-winning talent on board their projects, the film festivals are programming those films to get said talent to show up at their events, thus selling more tickets and gaining more prestige. Again, win-win.
Doubt it? Joel Coen‘s The Tragedy of Macbeth was the Opening Night Premiere at last month’s New York Film Festival, and the fest’s Centerpiece was Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. The former is an Apple film, the latter Netflix, which means that on January 14th of 2022, you can watch Macbeth at home, and two months prior to that, November 17th, you can do the same with Power of the Dog.
It’s worth noting, too, that Power go the Dog also played at Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, and Netflix showed Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut Passing in New York after picking it up at Sundance earlier in the year. You can watch that from your couch starting November 10th, and starting December 31st, you can do the same with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first outing as a director, The Lost Daughter. That, too, is a Netflix film, and it, too, premiered at Venice, then played Telluride and New York.
You’re seeing the trend, right? Interestingly, Cannes did make an exception for its screening ban with Amazon’s A Hero, but that’s probably because it comes from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who directed two movies that won the Best International Feature Oscar at the Academy Awards. So, y’know, snobbery again. Either way, a movie that will surely be a frontrunner in that category this year, and one that Cannes eagerly premiered, will be available for you to watch on your couch on January 7th. It is worth noting, though, that some American audiences have already had the opportunity, specifically those in Telluride, and at the Hamptons International, Chicago International, Philadelphia International, and Montclair Film Festivals.
There are more, of course, like Lin Manuel Miranda’s … tick tick BOOM, which will debut at AFI Fest next month, and Will Smith’s King Richard, which already garnered buzz at Telluride will be there as well. Other films, like Amazon’s The Tender Bar from Director George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck; Being the Ricardos from Aaron Sorkin, starring Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman; and Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, from Adam McKay with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, that will be skipping the festival circuit entirely. Much like many of the Oscar hopefuls from the regular studios that normally put their films in theaters first.
Which, come to think of it, is how this kind of thing happened every year for decades. Some potential awards movies would show up at the festivals and build word of mouth and some momentum, others just show up at the theater on a given Thursday night or Friday morning. We go to see them, regardless, and while Cannes can certainly figure out how it’s going to proceed in the years to come, everyone else seems to have figured out that this is how things go now, and they’re very much on board for the ride.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.