Netflix will show off its strongest awards slate ever in Toronto and Venice

Netflix is trying to be something of an “Outlaw King” itself.
Netflix is trying to be something of an “Outlaw King” itself.
Image: Netflix
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Three months after its films were barred from competing in Cannes, Netflix is getting ready to open the Toronto International Film Festival with what it hopes will be one of several Oscar contenders.

Outlaw King, an upcoming historical epic film starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, will be the opening night gala presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, festival organizers announced yesterday (Aug. 14). The film, directed by Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie (2017 Oscar nominee for Hell or High Water), gives Netflix easily its most prominent fall festival screening since it started distributing original films in 2015.

It’s just one of many Netflix films that have found a welcome home this year at TIFF, which in recent years has become the biggest and most important fall festival in North America as distributors kick off their award season campaigns. Netflix’s Toronto slate is stacked. In addition to Outlaw King, it includes:

  • Roma, the highly anticipated film from Alfonso Cuarón—his first since 2013’s Gravity
  • 22 July, director Paul Greengrass’ film about the 2011 Norway terrorist attacks that killed 77 people
  • The Land of Steady Habits, Nicole Holofcener’s (Enough Said) drama starring Emmy winners Ben Mendelsohn and Edie Falco
  • Hold the Dark, a star-studded thriller by rising filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier
  • The Kindergarten Teacher, a Maggie Gyllenhaal vehicle that Netflix picked up after it impressed at the Sundance Film Festival in January

All of these films except Hold the Dark will also screen at the Venice Film Festival, which starts a week before Toronto and overlaps for a few days in early September. Netflix is also premiering two potential awards contenders in Venice that won’t show in Toronto: The Coen Brothers’ “western anthology” film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and The Other Side of the Wind, a film directed by Orson Welles in the 1970s that’s finally been completed 40 years later.

When you’ve got new films by Alfonso Cuarón (Oscar winner), the Coen Brothers (Oscar winners), and Paul Greengrass (Oscar nominee), you’re positioned pretty well for the award season gauntlet. Altogether, these eight films represent the streamer’s best chance yet to win its coveted Oscar. (Netflix won its first feature Oscar last year for the documentary Icarus, but has yet to win one for a scripted film.)

Clearly aware it has a promising array of films to show off this season, Netflix hired one of Hollywood’s top awards strategists, Lisa Taback, to lead its Oscars campaign. Netflix had a somewhat promising awards slate last year, which included the searing World War II era drama Mudbound, but it didn’t receive the publicity push it needed to contend with the films of traditional studios.

Netflix will need a huge, creative PR push if it’s to seriously compete for Hollywood’s biggest film prize. Cannes wouldn’t even let Netflix films compete at the festival this year because they didn’t receive a theatrical release in France. Toronto and Venice have been more open to the streaming service, but that doesn’t mean the film Academy, which votes on the Oscars, will be.

Despite becoming younger and more diverse, the Academy still contains a large contingent of filmmakers and industry professionals who don’t think Netflix movies are even real movies, let alone legitimate Oscar contenders. Until Netflix moves away from its “day-and-date” strategy of releasing its films online on the same day they’re shown in a (very) select few group of theaters, its films will meet resistance with those deciding who should win awards. But Netflix’s slate this year will be really hard to ignore.