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Amazon Ups Feature Film Prowess

26 Jan, 2016 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck in 'Manchester by the Sea'

SVOD service in race to earn first major movie award

Amazon may be winning the TV show hardware among subscription streaming video services at this year’s industry awards, but it is also trying to be the first service to win a major theatrical award — next year.

Amazon Studios, which recently launched its first theatrical movie, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, reportedly paid $10 million at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, for the theatrical and streaming rights to Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler (Netflix’s “Bloodlines”), Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful), and produced by Matt Damon (The Martian). Amazon outbid Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox Studios and Lionsgate.

Given Damon and brothers Ben and Casey Affleck’s history with movies involving their Boston roots (i.e. Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, The Town), Manchester — about a local handyman presented with caring for his teenage nephew after his brother’s sudden death — would appear to have the critical ingredients that appeal to Academy Award voters.

Netflix appeared on track this year to secure the streaming industry’s first major theatrical win with Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba and directed by Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”). The African warlord film was nominated for a Golden Globe but didn’t win. It didn’t get an Oscar nomination — a result that could have been as much about industry pushback toward the SVOD pioneer’s day-and-date theatrical/streaming release strategy as the subject matter.

Netflix has pulled out the checkbook prior to Sundance, reportedly spending $7 million for the rights to The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), and $5 million for Talulah, with Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy).

Amazon apparently put up the big dollars after losing out last year to Fox Searchlight for Brooklyn, which scored three Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan). Fox, meanwhile, spent $17.5 million for global rights to The Birth of a Nation from director Nate Parker — the most ever paid for a film at Sundance.


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