As with the service’s other Oscar plays — “Marriage Story,” “The Two Popes” and “Dolemite Is My Name” — we don’t really have a sense of the movie’s popularity, since Netflix famously doesn’t release hard numbers. It certainly generated an awful lot of attention before it was even released: the return of Joe Pesci, the de-aging technology used on its primary actors. But is any of that enough for an Oscar?
Total nominations: 10 (picture, director, supporting actor for Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, adapted screenplay, cinematography, visual effects, costume design, production design, film editing)
Synopsis: A young Irish American World War II vet and truck driver named Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) begins working for the Mafia as a hit man in the 1950s. He eventually becomes the personal bodyguard to Teamster leader Hoffa and finds his loyalties split. Houses are painted.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese, working from a screenplay by Steven Zaillian, which was based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt.
Starring: De Niro as Sheeran, Pacino as Hoffa and Pesci as Russell Bufalino, with a supporting cast rounded out by Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin and Bobby Cannavale
Why it could win: Aside from the fact that it’s an excellent film, “The Irishman” includes many qualities the academy rewards. It’s directed by a living legend and stars three more in what feels like a final statement of sorts. The entire movie is told from the perspective of the main character, who finds himself at the end of his life, picking out his own casket. As he shares his story, it feels in some ways like a reflection of Scorsese’s own career. The actors he worked with again and again — Pesci, De Niro, Keitel — are all there. The themes from his former movies — the role of organized crime, the plight of Italian and Irish immigrants, the exploration of Catholicism — are all there. But this time, it holds an added weight.
This movie feels like the work of a director trying to make sense of it all, of his characters’ lives and careers along with his own.
Why it might not win: Two major factors work against the movie here. The film’s notable length (210 minutes!) presents a barrier to entry for some viewers, and there’s no way to know if academy voters actually watch all of the nominated movies.
Then there’s the Netflix of it all. The movie didn’t spend much time in theaters, meaning many voters probably saw it for the first time on a small screen, which could affect how they feel about it. There’s also a larger cultural war at play. Netflix is a disrupter, intent on changing the ways the movie industry has operated for decades. Some academy voters — most of whom skew older — might resent the new kid on the block. Even such names like Scorsese, Pesci, De Niro and Pacino might not prove sweet enough to quell their bitterness.