Oscars Talk: When Is a Film Not a Film?

Answer: When Steven Spielberg says it’s not.

Following the recent Oscars awards, Spielberg is apparently hell-bent on making sure that streaming services like Netflix never have another contender such as ‘Roma’.

According to that article (which - speaking of awards - clearly wins the prize for ‘Longest Opening Line of an Article I’ve Seen in Years), my mate Steve thinks productions like Roma aren’t and shouldn’t be valid for (major) Oscars because … well, because they’re just not proper movies.

“I wish I could be a in a ‘proper’ film…”

“I wish I could be a in a ‘proper’ film…”

Which is very odd, coming from a man who was part of the ‘New Hollywood’ - along with Coppola, Scorsese, Lucas et al - the gang of directors who brought in the ‘Golden Age’ of cinema, and gave us some of the most realistic, gritty, and greatest films the world has ever seen. The Godfather, Mean Streets, The French Connection, Serpico, American Graffiti, Jaws, Star Wars … This was a bunch of film addicts, auteurs, who scraped together their pocket money to buy an 8mm camera and went on to change cinema.

And there’s the key word: Change.

It was perhaps those last two films, Jaws and Star Wars, that were the ignition of this evolution. They woke filmmakers up to how  profitable films could be, and that was arguably the start of the film franchise. Lucas’ Star Wars was an emphatic turning point in cinema, from realistic to … intergalactic. It was without doubt the end of an era, and the start of the CGI era. And CGI without doubt changed cinema forever.


Yet, here is Spielberg trying to stamp out change. Like an old man shouting at the moon, claiming change is bad and we should stick to what’s always worked. Yet… yet… this is the guy who used some of the very latest animatronics technology in Jurassic Park; employed fancy 3D motion-capture animation in The Adventures of Tintin; not to mention broaching the subjects of A.I. and Virtual Reality in two more of his films (albeit disappointingly).

So what’s his problem with Roma and Netflix? 

The official stance is something to do with theatrical release. Basically, to qualify for the Oscars a film has to have shown in theatres/cinemas for a few weeks. (Roma screened in a few places, just enough to qualify.) Which is, frankly, bullshit. 

For example: I once made a “home movie” with a lady-friend of mine. It has a beginning, a few minutes of middle, and most definitely an end. It was a ‘One-shot’ as well (pun intended). Very artistic. But, alas, it didn’t get a theatrical release, so I guess that doesn’t make it a ‘proper’ film.  

Sure, there’s a difference between a genuine film and, say, a video clip taken on someone’s phone of some unruly passengers on a plane; or between a film and a TV series that is written deliberately around the advert breaks. But Roma is absolutely, unequivocally, without doubt a FILM. A Moving Image. A movie. A feature film as opposed to a short film. Yes, it was intended to air primarily on people’s television sets in their homes. 

But, it IS a goddam film. 

All this fist shaking feels like fear and jealousy. Let’s be honest, Speilbo probably hasn’t made a really decent film since 2005’s Munich. Or Catch Me If you Can. And having worked with Steve on War Horse, I can tell you that he only ever makes ‘proper’ films. Like War Horse… about a horse somehow involved in a war that everyone seems to fancy the pants off, no matter their nationality … and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull … (<— I’ve linked to the Cinema Sins video of that, because, well, it’s fun.)

If you were to compare Roma to all of these Marvel films and the like, I would say the former is a film and the latter are… more like cartoons. They include SO much CGI that the ‘film’ bit is almost irrelevant. Like taking a Rich Tea biscuit, then adding lashings of sauce, chocolate, whipped cream, hundreds & thousands, a flake and some edible gold, and insisting it’s still a Rich Tea. (Memo to self: Must try that.)



Maybe it comes down to something as elementary as frame rate. Maybe Spielberg’s suggesting that ‘proper’ films are filmed at 24fps, and that anything designed for the web and shot at 25fps is heresy and should be dunked into a river whilst strapped to an unwieldy wooden chair. 

You may as well insist that all books should be hand-written and not printed on these new-fangled “Tipe Righter” machines. 

Get a grip, Steven.