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Netflix is undoubtedly the biggest disruptor in entertainment since viewers were given the ability to change the channels using a remote control after Zenith Radio Corporation introduced the game-changer in 1950.

Whether it be their commercial-free presentation, reliance on streaming using devices that have become commonplace like smartphones, tablets and laptops, or its binge-style roll out of original and re-appropriated content, Netflix has also shown that they are not one to sit back and merely enjoy being a media empire.

With a promised 1,000 additional hours of content in 2017, a major focus this year and beyond is their ability to both penetrate the original film world, and receive recognition for their efforts from Academy members at the Oscars – something that Amazon can now boast about after Casey Affleck scored a Best Actor win for Manchester by the Sea.

But the fight is ongoing – especially since a streaming service is yet to earn the highest prize in cinema: Best Picture.

Netflix strived for a Best Picture nomination when they purchased Beasts of No Nation at 2015’s Toronto Film Festival and gave it a two-week theatrical run alongside a simultaneous online release so that it was eligible for awards.

Despite its positive reception – and key players like Carey Fukunaga at the helm and Idris Elba in the role of a African warlord – the film was notably overlooked during awards season and only garnered one Golden Globe nod.

That isn’t to say Netflix is completely devoid of Oscar buzz. In its history, they have been nominated for five Oscars – all in the best documentary category – highlighted by Ava Duvernay’s exploration of the American justice system’s failures in 13th.

The recent news that Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating mob drama, The Irishman – which reunites Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and will become a Netflix original after the service reportedly agreed to foot the $105 million USD production budget – surely signals that they have plans to remedy their Best Picture failures of the past.

Although film productions are as delicate as flower petals, The Irishman has all the makings of a film that could take Netflix to a whole new stratosphere.

Detailing the deathbed story of hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran – about the disappearance and death of the former Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa – here are five reasons why Netflix might make the leap to Oscar contender in 2018.

The Mob genre

The last time Martin Scorsese explored the mob genre in 2006, The Departed earned him his first Academy Award win for Best Director after losing out the five previous times he had been nominated as a helmer.

He is certainly no stranger to the mafia underworld – notably making classics like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino, and completing his Cosa Nostra quartet with The Departed.

While others in the past had chosen to merely show gangsters as unsavory, gun-touting maniacs, Scorsese’s portrayals always felt both authentic and honest.

“I wanted to dispel the conventional notion that you can recognize gangsters from the way they dress and the wicked way they look,” Scorsese said. “I wanted the audience to see the film on a human level and deal with gangsters as human beings. It just happens that they extort from people, they kill people. But they still have a sense of humor. They still have mothers, wives and children.”

Frank Sheeran is certainly a complex individual. He fought in World War II under the leadership of General Patton and liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany, noting of the horrors of war, “You get used to death. You get used to killing. You lost the moral skill you had developed in civilian life. You developed a hard covering, like being encased in lead.”

When he returned to the States, a chance encounter with Russell Bufalino, also known as “The Quiet Don,” sparked up a relationship which would soon lead to Sheeran taking on hits for the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family.

The real-life implications

It’s believed that Sheeran was the perpetrator of the one of the most often-discussed and unsolved murders in American history; the disappearance of union leader and President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa, who vanished outside of a Detroit restaurant in July 1975.

Sheeran has alleged in the book about his life, I Heard You Paint Houses, that he shot Hoffa twice behind the right ear at a predetermined house in Detroit.

The fact that The Irishman is based in fact makes it a likely Oscar contender. In 2014, seven of the nine Best Picture nominees at the Oscars were based on nonfiction/true stories. The King’s Speech broke an eight-year losing steak for the genre in 2011, and since then, two more have won Best Picture: Argo in 2013 and 12 Years A Slave in 2014.

Other notable non-fiction films like The Big Short, Bridge Of Spies, The Revenant and Spotlight were all nominated in 2016 – picking up wins for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Although the most recent best picture winner, Moonlight, is a work of fiction – many of the aspects of the film that critics and audiences latched onto were all autobiographical and actually happened to the playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play served as the cornerstone for crafting the film.

As for Martin Scorsese himself, with the exception of Silence, five of his last six narrative films all received nominations for Best Picture.

The cast

Confirmed cast members include Robert De Niro in the titular role – reuniting he and Scorsese for a ninth time but the first since Casino – Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, marking his first collaboration with the director, Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno and Bobby Cannavale as “Crazy” Joe Gallo.

“Al and I have been trying to do a movie together since 1971,” Scorsese said. “I’m looking forward to it. Bob and I haven’t worked together [on a film] for 20 years.”

The most prominent example of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino acting alongside one another is in The Godfather Part II – with Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (De Niro) and Best Director (Coppola).

When it comes to the pairing of De Niro and Joe Pesci, each respectively earned Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in Raging Bull and Goodfellas.

The screenwriter

Steve Zaillian been nominated for Best Screenplay four times and won once – for Schindler’s List. In addition to his work with Martin Scorsese on Gangs of New York, he’s crafted scripts for other heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, Brian de Palma, Ridley Scott, David Fincher and Bennett Miller.

Additionally, he has proven that his current writing chops are just as sharp. Zaillian is the co-creator of HBO’s limited series, The Night Of, which earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, and acting nominations for both Riz Ahmed and John Turturro.

The technology

The most notable usage of “de-aging” techniques occurred in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Brad Pitt, Rogue One on Carrie Fisher and in Westworld on Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The plan for The Irishman is to employ a similar tactic for Robert De Niro – who will be restored to his looks from The Godfather Part II when he was 31 years old.

“You don’t use prosthetics, makeup, they have acting and the technology is able to have them go through different time ages without the prosthetics,” producer Gaston Pavlovich explained. “Imagine seeing what De Niro looked like in The Godfather II days, that’s pretty much how you’re going to see him again.”

As Vanity Fair noted, “It seems less likely that we’ll see drastic de-aging on the 76-year-old Pacino. He’s playing Hoffa, who was 62 at the time of his disappearance. But Pesci, who will play crime lord Russell Bufalino, active from the 1960s until his death in the 1990s, and Keitel, who will play crime boss Angelo Bruno (active from the 1960s until his death in the 1980s), are prime candidates for the de-aging software.”

While Scorsese has always been vastly protective of the film medium – specifically championing the continued usage of film itself instead of digital – he doesn’t view these techniques as sacrilege.

“You’re creating an image, painting an image,” Scorsese said. “You’re not capturing an image. It’s open this way. You can do anything.”

Simply put, if Martin Scorsese thinks this technology will aid him as a storyteller, we’ve got to believe it will be used for excellent dramatic effect.

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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