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Amazon Hopes to Play Spoiler at the Pandemic Oscars

Netflix is the big kahuna, but it's not the only streamer in play.
  • Closewise from top: Sound of Metal, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and One Night in Miami. (Photos: Amazon)
    Closewise from top: Sound of Metal, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and One Night in Miami. (Photos: Amazon)

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. So who better to weigh in on Amazon's' chances at the 93rd Academy Awards?

    With Netflix having dominated at the Academy Awards in recent years, it's easy to forget that Big Red wasn't the first streaming platform to achieve major Oscar success. That distinction goes to Amazon, which scored big in 2016 with Kenneth Lonergan's grief drama Manchester by the Sea, earning six nominations and taking home the Best Actor trophy for Casey Affleck. It was a huge breakthrough that seemed to herald big things for Amazon's feature films going forward, but despite partnerships with high-profile and acclaimed filmmakers like Richard Linklater, Luca Guadagninio, and Todd Haynes, the company has only managed four Oscar nominations since.... and zero wins.

    Netflix, meanwhile, has snagged a staggering total of 36 nominations over the last two years alone, and seems poised to do it again this year, with major contenders in all the top categories. Which isn't to say that Amazon doesn't still a chance at playing the spoiler, especially with the major studios' theatrical output decimated by the pandemic, and the eligibility period extended through February. So, which flicks are most likely to get them there?

    The Contenders

    While Amazon has produced a number movies this year that have received great reviews and have a good chance of showing up at the Independent Spirit Awards — the small-town crime drama Blow the Man Down, the Rachel Brosnahan-starring I'm Your Woman, and the retro-sci-fi festival hit Vast of Night — none of them stand much if any chance at cracking the major awards shows. Instead, the streamer is placing its chips on four tentpole films.

    One Night in Miami: The feature directing debut of Oscar-winner Regina King, this adaptation of Kemp Powers' play focuses on the fictional meeting of Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) in 1964, the night Clay defeated Sonny Liston in the boxing ring and became the world champ, shortly before Clay would align with the Nation of Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali. The film played the Venice and Toronto film festivals in the fall, earning acclaim for its cast and for King herself.

    The film owes a lot to its stage roots which was always a performance showcase, but all four leads are fantastic. Both Ben-Adir and Goree are being campaigned for lead actor, but of the two, it's Ben-Adir who stands the best shot (albeit an outside one) at an Oscar nomination. A much stronger case will likely be made for Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. for Best Supporting Actor. Odom gets a few genuine spotlight scenes as Cooke, allowing him to show off his Tony-winning singing voice, and with Disney+'s Hamilton film eligible for the Golden Globes, there's a better than decent chance that Odom could be double-nominated at Oscar's biggest precursor.

    Sound of Metal: Although it began making the festival rounds back in 2019, Sound of Metal built up steam throughout 2020, before finally dropping on Amazon in early December. Riz Ahmed plays a heavy metal drummer who experiences sudden but permanent hearing loss and struggles to accept and adapt to his new condition. It's a sensitive film featuring a powerhouse performance by Ahmed, a young actor who's emerged as a major talent. And while Best Actor at the Oscars looks pretty solid for the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Ahmed is a strong contender for a nomination, as is supporting actor Paul Raci, who keeps showing up at critics' awards for his performance as the head of a deaf community that takes Ahmed's character in.

    Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: In part due to the fact that Borat's 14-years-later return was welcomed as a comedic respite during pandemic times, and in part because the film made news for a scene in which Rudy Giuliani gets caught with his hand down his pants, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm has a chance to show up at year-end awards. It's worth remembering that the original Borat film scored a Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes, a Globe win for Sacha Baron Cohen in Best Actor, and an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. I'd expect Cohen to be a strong contender for Globe nominations this year as well, especially since he's already getting Best Supporting Actor buzz for Trial of the Chicago 7. But surprisingly, the film's biggest awards buzz is surrounding supporting actress Maria Bakalova, the Bulgarian actress who plays Borat's teenage daughter (and who appears in the notorious Giuliani scene). At present, Bakalova has won Best Supporting Actress prizes from the New York, Chicago, and Boston critics' organizations. The last time those three organizations all agreed on Best Supporting Actress was for Mo'Nique in Precious, en route to her Oscar win.

    Time: Perhaps Amazon's best chance to win an Oscar this year is in the Best Documentary Feature, where director Garrett Bradley's Time stands as one of the year's most acclaimed nonfiction films. The film focuses on Fox Rich and her tireless fight to get her husband released from a Louisiana prison, where he's serving a 60-year sentence for bank robbery. The film won the Documentary prize at Sundance in January 2020, and most recently took the prizes for Best Documentary from both the New York and Los Angeles critics organizations. The film is timely — no pun intended — and packs an emotional punch.

    Amazon's Dream Scenario

    While not nearly as well-positioned as Netflix — which could conceivably sweep every top award this year — Amazon could well end up scoring nominations for Best Actor (Riz Ahmed), Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bakalova), Best Supporting Actor (Leslie Odom, Jr. and Paul Raci), Best Documentary (Time), and even has an outside shot at Best Picture (One Night in Miami). That alone would go a long way toward getting Amazon back in the awards game.

    The nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards are scheduled to be announced March 15th, 2021, with the ceremony taking place April 25th.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Amazon Prime Video, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, One Night in Miami, Sound of Metal, Time, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Regina King, Riz Ahmed, Sacha Baron Cohen