Of all the titles Netflix has put forward in the past in the hopes of securing a Best Picture Oscar win — an award that Apple won first, becoming the first streamer ever to snag that prize for Coda in 2022 — it really does feel this year like Netflix is closer than it’s ever been with All Quiet on the Western Front.
We’ll know for sure in a matter of days, with the 95th Academy Awards ceremony set for March 12. But let’s go ahead and declare at the outset: if Netflix does indeed earn a Best Picture Oscar for its World War I movie that presents the conflict in all its nightmarish, wanton brutality — bringing the viewer face-to-face with the war’s unbelievably stupid decisions that led to catastrophic loss of life — it will be well-deserved recognition for a singular artistic achievement.
Netflix tries yet again for a Best Picture Oscar
And I say that, even with the movie being so stomach-churning that I’m going to try and avoid seeing it again for the rest of my life if I can help it.
Artistically, technically, and visually — Edward Berger’s adaptation for Netflix of the seminal WWI novel is simply a marvel, a standout example of movie-making. And there are scenes I’ll never forget. The horror and gore are visceral, from the tank heedlessly crushing a wounded soldier to death to the shocking use of flamethrowers by some soldiers. You feel the haunted, thousand-yard stares of the soldiers who are doing the fighting, while the men responsible for putting them there are miles from the battlefield, enjoying cigars and fine meals.
At one point, mud-caked German soldiers are ordered to do something about all the standing water in their trench that’s made it impossible to keep their boots dry. They use their helmets to bail out water over the top of the trench … while it’s still raining. “Somehow, this is not how I imagined it,” one of them laments.
Later, marching through a field, one of the Germans looks up to see a man dangling high up from a tree branch. Must have been a huge explosion, he is told. Poor fellow was blown right out of his clothes. One of the Germans muses about how they’ll all function after this is all over. “We’ll be like travelers who belong in another country elsewhere.”
Prediction: All Quiet on the Western Front will come up short
For its attempts at a Best Picture win in the past, the streaming giant has put up artsier films you’d have thought would resonate with Academy voters — along the lines of Roma, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, the ponderous Don’t Look Up, and The Power of the Dog.
According to IMDb, All Quiet on the Western Front has picked up 75 total nominations this award season, putting it on that basis at #8 out of this year’s 10 Best Picture nominees. In terms of its percentage of wins, so far All Quiet on the Western Front is at 40% (having racked up 30 wins out of those 75 nominations) — making it #4 out of this year’s 10 Best Picture nominations.
In the final analysis, though, I suspect that All Quiet on the Western Front will probably come up short, for reasons that shouldn’t come as a surprise — especially for a war movie.
Take a look again at that list above of Netflix’s past Best Picture contenders. For one thing, there’s not a single crowd-pleaser in the bunch. All of them are high-minded awards show bait and lack that extra ingredient that would make you want to watch them again for the pure enjoyment of it. And then, proving my point, Apple comes along, offers up the irrepressibly feel-good Coda, and there it is: The first Best Picture Oscar ever won by a streaming service.
When it comes to All Quiet on the Western Front, meanwhile, its strength might also turn out to be its biggest weakness. The movie doesn’t tell us anything new about the horrors of war — only the fact that, well, what we’re seeing now in Ukraine is nothing new. That old men keep talking, and young men keep dying. The way it’s always been.
Smarter people than me can handicap this year’s Best Picture odds more authoritatively, but if I had to guess I actually think this year’s Coda will be A24’s quirky and surprisingly heartfelt multiverse movie Everything Everywhere All At Once. Again, Netflix’s WWI movie is a staggering work of uncompromising vision and storytelling, don’t get me wrong. But there are so many reasons why Everything Everywhere will probably take home the golden statue.
It’s weird, delightful, completely original, and a story worth enjoying over and over again. All Quiet on the Western Front is certainly a great leap forward. But Netflix would do well to take some notes here.