If any studio needed an awards season lift this year, it was Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures.
Despite vast resources, the West Hollywood film production company has weathered internal shake-ups and belt-tightening amid a string of costly box office flops.
But the 7-year-old mini studio got serious bragging rights Thursday when it scored 10 Golden Globe nominations for ambitious movies, including the Dick Cheney biopic “Vice” and Barry Jenkins’ Harlem-set James Baldwin adaptation “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Annapurna tied with awards season stalwart Fox Searchlight Pictures for the most nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which bestows the Golden Globes. The 21st Century Fox Inc.-owned Searchlight garnered plaudits for movies such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” and Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs.”
Annapurna has previously been an awards season contender with such films as “American Hustle,” “Her” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Megan Ellison, the studio’s chief executive and daughter of Oracle Corp.’s billionaire founder Larry Ellison, has made a name for herself in Hollywood as a patron of social-justice-themed projects, though the strategy has often backfired commercially.
Still, Annapurna’s Golden Globes tally is an undeniable success that helps validate the company’s penchant for investing in edgy movies by top directors. Both “Vice” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” are movies that are explicitly relevant to the current political moment. Such themes likely appealed to the association’s members, who have tended to favor movies that tackle important social issues as the once maligned awards have risen in public prominence.
“Vice,” starring Christian Bale as Cheney, the powerful Republican vice president, scored six Golden Globe nominations, the most of any movie, in categories including best motion picture musical or comedy, director (Adam McKay) and lead actor (Bale). It was also nominated for supporting actor (Sam Rockwell), supporting actress (Amy Adams) and screenplay (McKay).
“It Beale Street Could Talk,” the latest emotionally wrenching picture from “Moonlight” director Jenkins, earned three nominations: for best motion picture drama, supporting actress (Regina King) and screenplay (Jenkins). “Beale Street” tells the story of a young black woman who struggles to prove the innocence of her unborn baby’s father.
Annapurna also notched a best actress nomination for Nicole Kidman in the upcoming drama “Destroyer.”
“We could not be more thrilled for our films, filmmakers and talent being acknowledged by the [Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.] for their incredible work,” Ellison said in a statement. “These nominations are a tremendous honor and a testament to the HFPA’s support of mavericks and trailblazers who take chances and never stray from their bold visions.”
Thursday’s news comes as Annapurna has been struggling to find its financial footing while trying to establish itself as an indie film powerhouse. Though it has won respect for taking gambles on bold, artsy fare, it has fielded major box office flops including “Detroit” and “The Sisters Brothers.”
In recent months, the company has responded by adopting more fiscal discipline and trying to curb its lavish spending on less-commercial material, according to people close to the company.
Facing rising pressures, Annapurna in October suddenly pulled the plug on its drama about the downfall of late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and the sexual harassment scandal that ended his career. Canada’s Bron Studios and Santa Monica studio Lionsgate stepped in to revive the movie.
Award nominations can attract bigger audiences to the honored movies and help studios attract major filmmakers. It remains to be seen if “Beale Street” (set to hit theaters Dec. 14) or “Vice” (Dec. 25) will draw big crowds at the multiplex, but the nominations should help.
Box office analysts say “Vice,” which cost an estimated $60 million to produce, is the company’s best shot at a relatively broad commercial hit. McKay is known for popcorn comedies such as “Step Brothers,” as well as the award-winning Wall Street romp “The Big Short."
“They’ve had such a poor year, and they've taken such heat for that, so it's nice for them to turn around and get these nominations,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It's a good place to be right now. Let's hope they can build on that.”
Major studios also did well in the Globes this year. Fox Searchlight’s "The Favourite," set in 18th century England, was nominated for five awards: best musical or comedy, lead actress in a musical or comedy (Olivia Colman), supporting actresses (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) and screenplay (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara). Its stop-motion animated "Isle of Dogs" got nods for original score (Alexandre Desplat) and best animated picture, while "Can You Ever Forgive Me," starring Melissa McCarthy as literary forger Lee Israel, earned two acting nominations.
Walt Disney Studios, which is poised to buy much of 21st Century Fox next year, had a big day, coming in close behind Annapurna and Fox Searchlight with nine nominations for its films. Those included “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Mary Poppins Returns.” The Marvel Studios superhero blockbuster “Black Panther” secured its place in the best drama category, while “Mary Poppins Returns” was selected in the best musical or comedy designation.
Focus Features and Universal Pictures, both owned by Comcast Corp., also did well. Specialty distributor Focus secured seven nominations for its movies, including Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” while Universal also pulled out seven nods for movies such as “Green Book.”
Warner Bros. notched seven nominations for movies including “A Star Is Born” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Meanwhile, Netflix earned five nods for its films, led by Alfonso Cuaron’s Spanish-language drama “Roma,” which Netflix released in select theaters last month before its Dec. 14 streaming debut. The acclaimed movie was nominated for best foreign language film, director and screenplay. It was not eligible for the main best picture categories, due to association rules.
In television, cable network FX had a slight edge on digital streaming services that have been gathering steam with prestigious series.
FX Networks led the pack with 10 spots for its shows, including the spy drama “The Americans” and the limited series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” HBO and Amazon Prime Video tied for second place with nine each. HBO’s honored titles included “Barry” and “Sharp Objects,” while Amazon Prime Video’s included “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Homecoming” starring Julia Roberts and “A Very English Scandal.” Netflix came in fourth place with eight TV nominations.
Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, who joined the company earlier this year, hailed the nominations.