Netflix, the world’s largest streaming service with over 220 million subscribers worldwide, enjoyed a stellar Oscar night this year, picking up six Oscars out of a total of 16 nominations.
Though the total number of nominations were down from the two prior years, the actual wins were only exceeded in 2021, when Netflix earned a whopping 36 nods and took home seven statuettes.
It’s astonishing that just ten years ago, Netflix had never won, or even competed for, an Academy Award. Their primary model, then and now, was to stream content directly to consumers at home.
But once they decided to create a ton of that content themselves, including feature length documentary and narrative films, they saw the wisdom of competing aggressively in the Oscar stakes. And so they have.
Astonishingly, their production output today exceeds that of any traditional studio. Unfortunately with Netflix, their emphasis on quantity — something (if not lots) for everyone — does not guarantee quality.
Still, more than a few bright stars shine in the Netflix firmament. Below are seven outstanding films that each represent a progression in the company’s ongoing quest to dominate the Academy Awards, and our full viewing attention.
The Square (2013)
Oscar: Best Documentary Feature (Nom.).
The Gist: Jehane Noujain’s riveting account takes us back to 2011 and the popular uprising in Cairo that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the start of the Arab Spring.
Milestone: First Oscar nomination for Netflix.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Oscar: Best Documentary Feature.
The Gist: Liz Garbus paints a fascinating, intimate portrait of gifted singer Nina Simone, whose emotional issues and outspoken stance on civil rights jeopardized her life and career.
Milestone: First time Netflix earns two best documentary nominations in a single year (“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom” was the other film).
Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Original Song (Nom.).
The Gist: Vivid period drama tracks the fortunes of characters- some black, some white- who come out of the Second World War and struggle to survive as farmers in rural Mississippi.
Milestone: First Netflix narrative feature to be Oscar-nominated.
Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film, Direction, Cinematography (Wins), Picture (Nom.).
The Gist: Director Alfonso Cuaron recounts his childhood in 1970s Mexico City as part of an affluent family buffeted by events whose only stability is their devoted maid. Brilliant.
Milestone: First Netflix narrative feature to win multiple Oscars.
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
Oscar: Best Documentary Feature.
The Gist: Moving doc tracks one intrepid diver’s evolving relationship with a female octopus. Filled with gorgeous underwater photography, this unique love story has much to teach us.
Milestone: Third Best Documentary win for Netflix in four years.
The Power of the Dog (2021)
Oscars: Best Director (Win), plus 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography.
The Gist: Moody Western about two brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) and the woman who comes between them (Kirsten Dunst) soars on three superb performances.
Milestone: Most nominations for a Netflix feature, and second Best Director win in four years.
Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film, Cinematography, Production Design, Original Score (Wins); Best Adapted Screenplay, Visual Effects, Sound, Make-Up (Noms.).
The Gist: Remake of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War 1 classic centers on raw German recruit Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer) who experiences the horror of trench warfare firsthand.
Milestone: Most Oscar wins to-date for a Netflix feature.