Why Is Literally Everyone In 'Trial of the Chicago 7' Up For The Same Oscar?

Photo credit: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020
Photo credit: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020

From Esquire

Just to really ram home exactly how much of the last year has involved sitting down and waiting for Netflix to buh-dum you into a gentle torpor, the streamer seems to have decided it's going to cement its place as the pandemic's biggest cultural winner by going all-out on the Oscars.

And it really does seem to be all-out. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the entirety of The Trial of the Chicago 7's central cast, including Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance and Michael Keaton will be pushed for the Best Supporting Actor at this year's Oscars.

Yes, Michael Keaton, who's in it for about five minutes. We've raved about his eyebrow work in Chicago 7 before, even calling for a Best Supporting Actor nod, but – with the greatest of respect, Michael – that was an extended gag. This is not an Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross cameo. This is, on the Al Pacino Cameo Continuum, somewhere around Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: diverting, but fundamentally unimportant.

Clearly, not everyone's going to get a nomination. You'd imagine Cohen, Rylance and Redmayne would be the frontrunners, though for our money Strong and Abdul-Mateen II would be more than deserving. The last time a film got three nominations in either Best Supporting category was The Godfather Part II in 1974, and no film has ever earned four. Several films have tried the blanket-submission tactic before, with generally quite healthy results for Babel, Little Miss Sunshine and Spotlight, among others.

Photo credit: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020
Photo credit: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020

But given the year the film industry's had, this feels a little more pointed, and there are a couple of conclusions to draw from the weird feeling around Chicago 7's Operation Rolling Thunder approach to the Oscar race. The cynical view is that Netflix is taking advantage of the fact that the industry release schedule has slowed to a thin dribble, and that as the kings of streaming they've got an even bigger chunk of everyone's attention than they other wise would.

Despite the Academy's sniffiness towards its films, Roma and Marriage Story won one apiece in 2019 and 2020, but now you get the sense that there's an opportunity for Netflix to turn the screw and dare anyone not to give it as many awards as it's released films. We haven't yet seen Mank or Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, but between the David Fincher-Gary Oldman-Citizen Kane axis and the broader cultural heft of watching Chadwick Boseman's final screen appearance, Netflix could easily dominate almost every major category. It kind of depends on whether everyone in Hollywood's worked out what happened in Tenet yet.

The other, more charitable conclusion is that one unforeseen side effect of cinema schedules clearing is that it's stopped the annual Netflix-versus-proper-cinema debate in its tracks. There's been next to no traditional releases since March, and even fewer which would have been measured up for their Oscars tux months in advance of hitting cinemas. They've nearly all been kicked on, so it's easier to judge the films in and of themselves. rather than as skirmishes in some broader, ever more tedious battle between traditionalists and tech giants. This year you don't have to take a side, and declare Netflix either the inevitable and glorious future or a monthly subscription to Beelzebub himself.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is quite good; some people really liked it, some people didn't, I thought it was a completely adequate use of two hours. Chucking all of its ensemble into the running for Best Supporting Actor is a bit gratuitous, but after the grim year that the film industry's had, we have at least been spared one of the usual awards season trials.

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