“Beasts of No Nation” could be a history making awards player

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Over the weekend, cinema goers as well as Netflix subscribers were both given access to one of the year’s more intriguing awards contenders. In some ways, the impending Oscar campaign for Beasts of No Nation is unlike any that we’ve ever seen before. Beyond just being a dark film from Cary Joji Fukunaga that might be a tough sell to voters, it’s the first attempt by streaming service Netflix to appeal to members of the Academy. They’ve begun making inroads with the Emmys, but the Oscars is a whole different sort of beast, no pun intended. As such, this is one awards season subplot worth following closely.

The movie is an adaptation of the novel by Uzodinma Iweala. It centers on Agu (played brilliantly by newcomer Abraham Attah), a young boy in an African village within an unnamed country who is essentially forced into becoming a child solider. His family is slaughtered and Agu is put on the run, picked up by the forces of The Commandant (Idris Elba), a charismatic yet ruthless man with a hold over these boys. Thus begins Agu’s time as more or less a monster. It’s vivid and powerful stuff. Fukunaga writes and directs (as well as doing the cinematography), while other members of the cast include Ama K. Abebrese, Kobina Amissah-Sam, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, and Francis Weddey. Attah and Elba are the ones you’ll remember though.

What makes Beasts of No Nation a success is how powerful it is without usually calling attention to itself. Fukunaga’s writing, direction, and cinematography all suggest more carnage than it actually shows, even while displaying some graphic violence on the screen. Attah is asked to do things I’ve never seen from a child actor, and lo and behold, he’s up to the task. Similarly, Elba is using all of his charisma and star power for evil, which makes for an unsettling performance. Certain things aren’t perfect here, like an unnecessary voiceover or occasions when things are a bit on a nose, but by and large, this is a great success. Now, it’ll just be up to Netflix to convince voters to actually consider it.

The question that remains to be seen is just how much consideration the Academy will give this film due to its Netflix roots. Debuting on the streaming service as well as in limited release at one time was a surefire way to be disqualified from competition, but those days have passed us by. Now, it’s a matter of Oscar voters actually going ahead and pulling up Netflix or a screener and not thinking that this is anything “less” because of who is distributing it. One day soon it won’t matter, but this time around it’s going to be interesting to see if this contender gets Netflix over the hump in terms of Academy Award viability or if this was prep work for the next Oscar hopeful to come. I think it might wind up being the latter situation, but anything is possible.

Awards wise, there will certainly be a solid campaign in place for Beasts of No Nation. Consideration will have to be given in the Best Picture, Best Director (for Fukunaga), Best Actor (for Attah), Best Supporting Actor (for Elba), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Fukunaga), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing categories. Attah in Actor is wishful thinking, even though he deserves it, while Elba in Supporting Actor could very well turn out to be the best chance for this flick to get in with Oscar. Time will tell, but I also think Fukunaga could slip in somewhere, even if it’s in Cinematography. Voters who don’t think less of Netflix and were fans of his work on the first season of True Detective might be looking to reward him somehow.

In the end, for Beasts of No Nation, it’ll be a groundbreaking campaign regardless of what happens. Audiences can watch the film either at home or in theaters right now, and should because it’s a great movie, and that goes for voters as well. Even if they snub this one, we’ve still seen Netflix launch a great opening shot in their attempts to become a viable film distributor with awards aspirations. It’s going to be fun to follow along as they attempt to win Oscars. If they have the eye for quality that I think they do, it’ll just be a matter of if, not when for them. Stay tuned…

Be sure to check out Beasts of No Nation, in theaters and streaming on Netflix right now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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