One of the problems of a film winning a Best Picture Oscar that’s distributed by a streamer? It seems to have lost its footprint in the world a little.
It’s been a good year or so since I put eyes on the 2022 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, the delightful independent movie CODA. The film, you may recall, beat the expected favourite that year – Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog – to the top prize, capping a journey for the movie that went back to its debut at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
It was through the (virtual) Sundance Film Festival that year that I first caught Sian Heder’s film. One of the nice things about film festivals is that there’s a sense you don’t really know what you’re going to get. Some films are hyped up, certainly, but others are left to be a genuine surprise. CODA was one of those for me.
Briefly, CODA stands for Child Of Deaf Adults, and the child in this case is Ruby (Emilia Jones). In her late teens, she’s the only person who hears in a family of four: that’s her brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), and her parents – Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Frank (Troy Kotsur). The film’s initial response was enthusiastic, it was snapped up by Apple a then-Sundance record sum of $25m, and it then got a slightly more mixed response over time. Some love it, some have problems with it. I’m in the former camp.
A lot of Oscar voters were in the former camp too, awarding it the top prize, and ensuring that its name lives on pretty much forever in movie history. There are, after all, films from decades past whose names would have been forgotten completely, were it not for the Academy Award they had bestowed on them.
I do wonder though if, because of circumstances, that’s sort of happened to CODA.
It’s not compulsory of course that just because a film has won the Best Picture Oscar, that it must become an ongoing part of our cultural fabric. I remember, for instance, The Artist winning Best Picture. A film I liked, but one that came with a sense that it was Hollywood voting for a Hollywood story, and not for the first or last time. In the aftermath of The Artist’s success, it got a small box office boost and shifted a chunk of extra DVDs. But beyond that? It’s a film I barely hear anyone mention, yet most have heard of it.
In the case of CODA, and I hope I’m wrong, but it feels like it’s had precious little cultural footprint at all. Outside of it being a history-maker for being the first movie from a streaming service to win the top prize at the Oscars (and also the first time a film that’s debuted at Sundance has won the top prize at the Academy Awards), it’s otherwise struggled to get eyeballs on it.
Notwithstanding the fact that Apple acquired the film rather than directly funded it in the first place, the company nonetheless spent to promote it, and made sure people who voted in awards saw it. Yet the film barely had a cinema release (its global box office returns are listed at $2.2m, the result of a perfunctory promotional release, before Apple decided to go much bigger on theatrical results), and now it’s available, it sits behind a walled garden. It never used to be like this, and I can’t help but think it’s hurt the film a little.
Just looking in the UK, there’s only one single platform where you can watch the film, and that’s the Apple TV+ service. There’s been a physical media release elsewhere in the world, but not in the UK, where it’s never seen a disc.
Go back to The Artist: even today, you can find a disc version, and you can rent it on the usual digital outlets as well. At least you’ve got a sporting chance of finding it by accident, or if you do have a sudden urge to see that primarily black and white film that won Oscar gold in 2012, it’s possible to quickly track it down.
The thing with CODA though is that it remains exclusive to that one single streaming service, and that’s a service that – bluntly – the majority of people don’t subscribe too. Even a Netflix film such as All Quiet On The Western Front, which looked like it was going to win Best Picture this year at one point, has popped up on DVD. And given that Netflix is the most ubiquitous of the streamers at the moment, the chance of setting eyes on it is at least pretty reasonable.
Apple doesn’t have that luxury or anywhere near the reach at the moment, and I think this has had a knock-on effect. It’s at the point, I feel, where it’s not just a case of people not finding CODA to watch, it’s a case of them not even having heard of the film ín the first place
This is a Best Picture Oscar winner, one with some resonant themes too, a broad 12 certificate in the UK, and – assuming you explain the naughty words and the bedroom chat – a really interesting film to show to a family (as I did the other week).
There’s stuff to talk about here, whether you like the film or not (again: I’m aware that some people have really, really taken against it). There are also terrific performances, including what should have been a flat-out starmaking turn from Emilia Jones, and an Oscar-winning piece of work from Troy Kotsur. It’s a heartwarming film, and ten years earlier, the kind that would have played in cinemas for weeks, never topping the box office chart, but sitting in the top ten for a very long time.
What I think has happened here that is, once the Oscar was won, the film dropped like a stone out of public conscientious. The promotional work wrapped up, it went into a carousel on a streamer. It’s hidden in a place where you’re not going to find it browsing Amazon, you’re not going to find it browsing the vast majority of streaming company catalogues. You’re not going to see it if you look for a cinema showing, and it didn’t even get a big screen run once it’d won.
And whilst Apple TV+ isn’t the most expensive streaming service, I do think the streaming world is seeing us being choosier as to who gets a monthly fee out of us, and cutting our cloths accordingly. Unless you like TV shows with Idris Elba or Brett Goldstein, are you going to be handing over an extra few quid to Apple?
I’ve never seen, in fairness to Apple, CODA being described as ‘content’, and Apple pushed the movie, and gave it a very successful awards campaign as well. But the fact that it’s all but disappeared feels a direct result of a streaming arms race, where differing companies are fighting it out for the microphone.
If you’ve not had the pleasure, revisiting CODA for me left me with the same warm grin as first time around. I can see its foibles, but the whole thing simply works for me. I love the performances, I laughed a lot, and a moment where Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur’s characters share a very special performance of a song never fails to hit me.
As it stands though, I do wonder if the Oscar-less French original movie, 2014’s La Famille Bélier has had more eyeballs on it. Until the walls around CODA come down a little, that’s unlikely to change. I do think that’d be a real shame.
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