“Mudbound” is Netflix’s latest shot at Oscar glory

Netflix fascinates me, especially when it comes to their hopes at Academy Award attention. This is something I previously wrote about the service: “There’s a notable difference between the types of projects that Amazon and Netflix have been putting out, theatrically speaking. On the one hand, Amazon has been gunning for awards and embracing a theatrical release with things like the Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea. There’s also their burgeoning relationship with an auteur like Woody Allen. It’s a whole concerted effort under their Amazon Studios wing. On the other hand, Netflix has gone for casting a wider net, while only occasionally putting their higher profile films out in theaters, like Beasts of No Nation or this year’s Okja. They only once in a while look at things with an awards type view. So far, they’ve either come up short with would be players like War Machine, or seen things like Beasts of No Nation snubbed.” This week, they not only put an awards hopeful out in theaters, but they’re actually giving it a real push. That title is Mudbound, and it’s a dandy.

The film is a 1940’s set melodrama about two southern families and the racial divides that exist. IMDb lists the plot as “Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.” Those men are Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) and Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund). Ronsel lives with his mother Florence (Mary J. Blige) and Hap (Rob Morgan), who work on the farm owned by Jamie’s older brother Henry (Jason Clarke). Also on hand are Henry’s wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and the boys’ father Pappy (Jonathan Banks). How these families interact I will leave for you to discover, but it’s all very moving. Dee Rees co-writes with Virgil Williams and directs. The supporting cast here includes Kerry Cahill, Lucy Faust, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Geraldine Singer, and more. Rachel Morrison contributes some terrific cinematography, while the score is by Tamar-Kali Brown.

While some are more over the moon about this movie than I am, it is very strong stuff. The cinematography is amazing, Hedlund and Mitchell are tremendous, the filmmaking by Rees is classical in the best sense, and it feels theatrical. That might be an issue, streaming service wise, but the fact that it’s coming out in some theaters is a start. It takes a bit to get going, which might be tough for impatient viewers, but it definitely rewards patience in the end. The flick ends very well, and that’s crucial. Mudbound should be a player this season, which we’ll discuss in terms of Oscar next.

Awards wise, Netflix remains the elephant in the room. They’ve never broken through, especially in the big categories. This could be a strong test. The service will undoubtedly launch a big campaign to honor Mudbound, hoping for citations in Best Picture, Best Director (for Rees), Best Supporting Actor (for Clarke, Hedlund, and/or Mitchell), Best Supporting Actress (for Blige and/or Mulligan), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Rees and Williams), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. Adapted Screenplay seems like a safe bet, with everything else up in the air. Time will tell how it does, but this is the strongest chance for Netflix to date.

This weekend, Mudbound will try to give Netflix the winner it has yet to have, prestige wise. It will be a test, for sure. Will this be another Beasts of No Nation? Can it do what Manchester by the Sea did for Amazon? Will the service split its attention between this one and other contenders, like The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) as the season progresses? We shall see, but there’s reason to think that this might be the year that they crack the big lineups. Regardless, the film is well worth seeing, so give it a shot and stay tuned to assess its awards prospects…

Be sure to check out Mudbound, opening in theaters on Friday and available on Netflix!

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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