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The academy wisely ignored Hollywood’s grumbling old guard to embrace the future

The academy wisely ignored Hollywood’s grumbling old guard to embrace the future
Oscar statuettes. (Richard B. Levine / TNS)

Ignoring the grumbling from many in Hollywood, the governing board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted Tuesday evening not to make it harder for movies financed by Netflix and other streaming services to qualify for Oscars. Any movie that plays for at least a week in a theater in Los Angeles County may continue to be considered for an Academy Award, even if it’s simultaneously available online.

As much as some filmmakers and movie buffs have lamented the entry of television- and smartphone-based film services into the hallowed realm of cinema, this is not necessarily bad news for the industry or for the art of moviemaking. Instead, streaming services are spending billions of dollars to make their own films and to distribute other studios’ work, to the benefit of talented filmmakers, new voices, less mainstream topics and, yes, established artists.

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“Roma,” a Netflix film by Alfonso Cuarón, is one example of how these services can bring decidedly non-Hollywood faces and stories to the screen. (It won three Oscars.) Then there’s Martin Scorcese’s new film, “The Irishman,” a movie that star Robert DeNiro says wouldn’t have gotten made the way they wanted to make it without the financing from Netflix.

The fear on the other side is that streaming services will undermine the industry’s long-standing business model by driving dollars away from movie theaters. Director Steven Spielberg has also warned that making movies just for small screens leaves people without the shared, communal experience of seeing a movie in a theater.

Box office statistics, however, attest that multiplexes are not going away anytime soon — and besides, the trend toward watching movies on TV sets and laptops is unstoppable. Of course, watching “Lawrence of Arabia” on your iPhone won’t begin to capture the lushness of the desertscape. Nor are filmmakers going to stop making that sort of visual spectacle, if they can find financing for it. But ever since the arrival of the VCR, movies have been consumed on screens both gigantic and small. Artists adapted to that long ago.

Traditionally, a movie for an ultra-wide theater screen is framed differently from something made for TV. The scale of the movie, itself, plays a part in the storytelling.

But there is a trade-off here, and it’s not a bad one for filmmakers: In exchange for fewer screenings and smaller audiences in a movie theater, they get a bigger, more diverse potential audience of consumers who can watch at home or wherever they choose. The academy wisely decided not to discourage that.

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