Streaming dominates Oscar nominations in a stay-at-home year

'Mank' and 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' were among the highlights.

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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
David Lee / Netflix

It was safe to presume streaming would dictate Oscar nominations in a pandemic-struck year when theaters were usually closed, but it's now clear just which of those online movies came out on top. The Academy has announced its major nominees for the 2021 Oscars, and Netflix was once again the frontrunner — although there were some relative newcomers this time around.

Netflix racked up a whopping 31 nominations this year. David Fincher's Mank led the group with 10 nominations that included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gary Oldman) and Best Supporting Actress (Amanda Seyfried). The late Chadwick Boseman got his due with a Best Actor nomination for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, with co-star Viola Davis receiving a nod for Best Actress. Hillbilly Elegy scored Glenn Close a chance at a Best Supporting Actress award. The Trial of the Chicago 7 also had a banner year with Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Best Original Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin) nominations, among others.

Amazon Prime Video's Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm and Hulu's The United States vs. Billie Holiday also made the shortlists.

Not that other services emerged empty-handed — if anything, it was the year for newer services to make their presences felt. Apple TV+ leapt in with a Best Animated Feature Film nomination (Wolfwalkers) and Best Sound (Tom Hanks' Greyhound). And while Disney had clearly hoped for more theatrical releases, it can brag that Disney+ got nominations for Soul (including Best Animated Film), Mulan (effects and costume work) and the short Burrow.

The pandemic also led to a string of gray-area movies that may have been defined by their streaming releases but technically reached theaters first or at the same time. Disney's Onward (nominated for Best Animated Film) had just a brief appearance in theaters before the pandemic dictated a streaming version. Multi-nominee Judas and the Black Messiah, meanwhile, was a simultaneous HBO Max and theatrical release.

There's no guarantee these services will clean up at the Oscars themselves, which take place April 25th. Netflix got just two statuettes at the 2020 ceremony despite betting big on Martin Scorsese's The Irishman. However, the sheer number of nominations suggests they'll fare better than they did before. And we wouldn't be surprised if streaming is at least as important for the 2022 Oscars — vaccinations have raised hopes that people will return to theaters in earnest in 2021, but there's little doubt that at-home viewing will still take precedence.

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