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Amazon becomes the first streaming company to score a best picture nomination

"Manchester By The Sea" starsKyle Chandler, Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck.

Amazon Studios, the film and TV production arm of Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce giant, made history Tuesday by becoming the first video streaming company to score a best picture nomination, a sign of how rapidly digital upstarts are succeeding at Hollywood’s game.

Manchester by the Sea,” the acclaimed Casey Affleck drama backed by Amazon and distributed theatrically by Roadside Attractions, scored six nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which holds its awards ceremony Feb. 26. 

The honors are a major step for Amazon as it becomes an increasingly formidable player among the traditional studios and distributors and ramps up competition with Netflix for digital eyeballs. The milestone also signals the growing relevance of digital players as they spend heavily on original content and team with prestigious filmmakers. Amazon paid an eye-popping $10 million for the domestic rights to "Manchester by the Sea" at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

Global streaming giant Netflix, which has been equally aggressive in pursuing film deals on the festival circuit, also fared well. Netflix came away with nominations for Ava DuVernay's mass incarceration documentary, "13th," and two documentary shorts.

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"To imagine two or three years ago that Amazon would have a film in Oscar contention would've been almost unthinkable," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. "Doors are being kicked open by companies that previously would not even have had a seat at the table."

Multiple relative Hollywood outsiders, including CBS Films, ESPN and Google, took the stage among the regular power players.

Santa Monica studio Lionsgate notched 26 nominations to lead all the distributors, including a record-tying 14 for the original musical “La La Land.” Lionsgate also earned kudos for “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Hell or High Water,” meaning the company laid claim to three of the nine best picture contenders.

2016 film directors Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, Pablo Larraín, Kenneth Lonergan and Jeff Nichols swap stories about the magic that happens on set.

The last time the studio was in the best picture race was 2010, when it had "Precious" and Summit Entertainment (which Lionsgate later acquired) won with "The Hurt Locker."

"Our success underscores the great diversity of our slate and the strength of our brand," said Lionsgate Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer in a statement.

Other outsiders making their play at the Oscar table include ESPN, the Disney-owned cable sports giant, which made the acclaimed documentary "O.J.: Made In America." The inclusion of the nearly eight-hour film, which ran in theaters and played on TV in multiple parts, has further blurred lines between what is considered a movie or a TV show.

New York-based indie distributor A24 continued its quest to be an Oscar regular, with 10 total nominations, including a big haul for Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight."

Additionally, CBS Films, the small movie arm of broadcasting juggernaut CBS Corp., earned four for “Hell or High Water,” the neo-western starring Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges. “Hell or High Water” is up for best picture (a first for the company), supporting actor, screenplay and film editing. Though CBS oversaw production, Lionsgate distributed the film. 

But some major studios were not to be counted out, especially Paramount Pictures, which nabbed 18 nods for a slate led by the alien visitation picture “Arrival.” The pile of nominations, which also recognized “Fences” and “Florence Foster Jenkins,” is a welcome victory for the Viacom Inc.-owned studio amid a period of financial troubles. Paramount had the second-most nominations of any company this year. 

Harvey Weinstein was back in the Oscar limelight after last year’s drought: “Lion,” released by the Weinstein Co., locked in six nominations. Meanwhile, Focus Features, the specialty unit of NBCUniversal, had four Oscar picks, and Disney earned eight (not counting ESPN).  

20th Century Fox had seven, counting Fox Searchlight’s “Jackie,” the studio’s box-office success “Hidden Figures” and the DreamWorks cartoon “Trolls” (up for original song). Warner Bros.’ four nominations were relegated to more technical categories. It is the first time the Burbank giant has been shut out of the best picture race in years.  

Last year, 20th Century Fox scored the most nominations of all the distributors, thanks to commercial and critical hits "The Martian" and "The Revenant."

Twitter: @rfaughnder

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3:20 p.m.: This post has been updated with a quote from Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer.

This article was originally published at 11:10 a.m.

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