January 22, 2019 / 2:18 PM / 6 months ago

Netflix in the running for ultimate film honor with 'Roma'

LOS ANGELES, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Netflix Inc scored its first nomination for the prestigious best picture Oscar on Tuesday for “Roma,” a milestone that will test whether Hollywood’s film establishment is ready to award its top prize to a streaming service.

“Roma” received 10 Academy Award nominations in total, tying “The Favourite” as the year’s most-nominated film.

A Spanish-language movie, “Roma” chronicles the life of a housekeeper and the family she works for in 1970s Mexico. The movie was filmed in black and white, and was named after the neighborhood in Mexico City where writer, director and cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron grew up.

Awards experts consider “Roma” a front-runner to win best picture at the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 24, though they say it has hurdles to overcome.

After disrupting television, Netflix has stirred unease in the traditional movie industry by encouraging people to skip the theater and watch films at home. Major theater chains refuse to show Netflix films, and some top directors have balked at making films that will be seen primarily on the small screen.

A portion of Oscar voters may be reluctant to honor Netflix, said Hollywood Reporter awards columnist Scott Feinberg, but he believes that group is shrinking. Many actors, writers, producers and others have now worked on Netflix TV shows or movies, and they are happy that the Silicon Valley company has deep pockets and a willingness to fund arthouse fare, he said.

“At this point they are accepting that they are here, and they are not going away, and they are not the big, bad wolf they were made out to be,” he said.

“Roma” also faces an uphill climb because no foreign-language film has ever won the best picture prize.

Netflix has lobbied heavily to win over Academy members.

The company hired a top awards strategist who worked previously for The Weinstein Company, which was known for its masterful Oscar campaigns. Actress Angelina Jolie and other A-list fans of “Roma” have attended screenings, part of an effort to lure voters to see the film on a big screen.

Netflix also showcased the movie on the home screen of its streaming service, something its rivals from traditional studios could not do.

“There has never been a foreign-language Oscar hopeful that has had the support that this one has,” Feinberg said. “They have left no stone unturned.”

Cuaron said he was thrilled with Netflix’s backing of an unusual movie with no recognizable stars.

“They are giving a huge, huge, huge international push for this film, really in both streaming but also theatrical,” he said in a recent interview. “Not any company does that.”

The nomination alone should help Netflix achieve its ultimate goal of adding to its global membership of 139 million streaming customers, particularly overseas where the company is looking for growth, Feinberg said.

“I would imagine in Spanish-speaking countries around the world, it’s been a big point of curiosity to see what this is about,” Feinberg said. “That will only increase.” (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; additional reporting by Sarah Mills; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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