The Golden Globes were reduced to a footnote this year – chased from TV and their usual NBC showcase by questions about the organization’s membership and its integrity, relegated to announcing winners Sunday by Twitter and press release.
Yet the group’s choice of “The Power of the Dog” as the year’s best drama reflect what feels like a message to other award shows – a major nod to the power of streaming – as the entertainment industry wrestles with the shift away from theatrical viewing to at-home consumption, especially for prestige films.
Simply put, box-office dollars, the most obvious metric for weighing a movie’s popularity, no longer tell the whole story. And if award voters have any interest in recognizing movies that people have seen – and will thus harbor some rooting interest in the choices – the calculus needs to shift to how many watched them, not strictly how many have directly paid for the privilege.
Netflix and other streaming services don’t provide much help in issuing clear data that possesses the simplicity of perusing a box-office chart. But films like “Power of the Dog,” the slow-burn western starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and the star-studded satire “Don’t Look Up” have clearly become favorites among Netflix subscribers, producing the kind of chatter and debates in social media that televised award shows, foremost among them the upcoming Oscars, desperately need.
Media outlets, notably, have been slow to catch on to this shifting reality, a trend made significantly worse during the pandemic. The New York Times, for example, recently fretted about what sluggish box-office figures mean for award shows, in an article headlined, “The Oscars Want Crowd-Pleasers, but Where Are the Crowds?”
The “crowds,” pretty obviously, are at home, scattered from communal viewing to consume entertainment on their schedules. And that has produced “crowd-pleasers,” or at least movies that have generated buzz, just as Netflix intended when it embarked on the mission of seeking to establish its movies as credible award candidates, after growing to rival HBO in TV’s awards race.
Indeed, the only genuine “crowd-pleaser” to speak of this year, in the conventional sense, is “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the $1-billion-plus international hit, which appears destined to join the rarefied $700-million club in terms of domestic box-office grosses occupied by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Avatar” and “Black Panther.”
After flirting in 2018 with introducing a “popular film” category to bring such blockbusters into the Oscar ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences took the next best step, expanding the field of best-picture contenders to 10, theoretically opening up slots for more widely-seen movies.
Such plans don’t always work out, but with “Spider-Man” propping up the theatrical movie business almost single-handedly, if ever there was a year to invite a superhero to Hollywood’s biggest party, it’s this one.
Otherwise, the power in this year’s awards race resides in movies that have made a splash in streaming, including others that notched significant Globes wins: Amazon’s “Being the Ricardos” for star Nicole Kidman, Will Smith in “King Richard” (which surely fared better on HBO Max than it did at the box office), and Andrew Garfield for his role in Netflix’s musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
Whether that math persists forever is unknown, but for now, “The Power of the Dog” is the sort of “hit,” however fuzzy the streaming data, which could help bring additional sizzle to an awards system challenged on multiple fronts.
The Golden Globes have been a mess, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that presents them remains enmeshed in the process of cleaning up its collective act. Nevertheless, in assembling their nominees and winners for 2022, they seem to have embraced a reality that much of Hollywood has been slow – and perhaps understandably reluctant – to grasp.