The frustratingly long wait for Tamara Jenkins’ follow-up to her 2007 Oscar-nominated film, “The Savages,” seemed to finally be coming to end. She had spent two years on the script to “Private Life,” and secured Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti to star as a middle-aged New York couple navigating the medical and emotional gauntlet of assisted reproduction. But just when the production was ready to go, the company that had developed it, Amazon Studios, stepped back, leaving Jenkins in the lurch.
“I think ‘swooped’ would be the perfect word. They saved it,” says Jenkins, the 56-year-old filmmaker of “The Slums of Beverly Hills.” ″I was scared. I thought we’re going to blow it. We were going to miss the window. And then Netflix said, ‘We’ll do it’ and they said it incredibly fast.”
Jenkins’ “Private Life” (Oct. 5) is part of what may be the most extensive fall movie slate any studio has ever put together. Between September and Christmas, Netflix will release at least 25 films. There will be one or two new movies released almost every week, many of them by the most sought-after filmmakers in Hollywood.
Among them: Nicole Holofcener’s midlife crisis drama “The Land of Steady Habits” (Sept. 14), Jeremy Saulnier’s northern Alaska thriller “Hold the Dark” (Sept. 28), Paul Greengrass’ docudrama on the 2011 Norway terrorist attack “22 July” (Oct. 10), David Mackenzie’s Robert the Bruce epic “Outlaw King” (Nov. 9), Joel and Ethan Coen’s Western anthology film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (Nov. 16) and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” follow-up “Roma.” And that’s not even mentioning a new work, the posthumously completed “The Other Side of the Wind,” from a long-unheard-from filmmaker: Orson Welles.
A year after “Mudbound” became Netflix’s biggest Oscar contender yet, the streaming giant’s programming push (it’s spending some $8 billion in 2018) is heading into this year’s awards season with a wave of prestige and genre-movie reinforcements. Whether the Netflix tide will roll all the way into the Academy Awards remains to be seen. (Some, like Steven Spielberg, have suggested Netflix films, with their small, token theatrical releases, are more like TV movies and should qualify for the Emmys, not the Oscars.)
But regardless, the Netflix powerhouse fall lineup would be the envy of most any studio. It’s a significant surge for a company with an up-and-down record in terms of the quality of its original films. (See: “Bright,” ″War Machine” or any of the Adam Sandler movies.) And though critics have claimed Netflix releases can get lost in its sea of programming options, it will be hard to miss the Netflix movies this fall. There will be six Netflix films at the Venice Film Festival and eight at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I usually turn it on its head and say: Look, movies are found on Netflix,” says Ian Bricke, co-head of Netflix’s indie film division. “And it’s certainly important for us, too, that these movies are in the culture. ‘Private Life’ was at Sundance, will be at the New York Film Festival, will be in theaters. It will be written about and experienced and talked about in a way that any other film would be, and can reach potentially, over a very short period of time, a really meaningful audience all over the world. To me, that’s the best of both worlds.”
Cuaron’s much anticipated “Roma” had been headed for Cannes. But after Netflix pulled its films from the French festival after Cannes ruled them out from the main competition, “Roma” will instead hit the Venice, Toronto and the New York festivals before arriving on Netflix in December. For the Mexican filmmaker of “Gravity” and “Children of Men,” the ’70s-set, black-and-white, Spanish-language “Roma” is a bold departure that forced Cuaron to remake himself as a filmmaker.
But like Jenkins’ “Private Life,” Cuaron’s deeply personal film, about the Mexico City neighborhood of his youth, was never going to be an easy sell to distributors. Netflix, where original films are typically watched by millions, meant a global release far beyond the art house. Cuaron calls Neflix’s support of “Roma” ″unprecedented.”
“The specialized film, the so-called foreign film market nowadays is very challenging and sometimes their resources are limited,” says Cuaron “Netflix fully believe in the film and they understand these kinds of films can have a huge audience. So now they are in a creative and aggressive way supporting the film. What they offered was absolutely compelling. I’m really, really grateful for them.”
For Cuaron, making “Roma,” about a domestic worker for a middle-class family, was part of connecting again with the “personal journey” of cinema. He estimates 90 percent of it is based on his memories. He went to great lengths to recreate his childhood home. None of the crew or cast had a script.
“It’s something that’s been brewing for a long, long, long time,” he says of the film.
Jenkins, too, was pulling from her own experience for “Private Life.” The film is partly based on the pregnancy trials of her own with her husband, the screenwriter Jim Taylor. Even though it wasn’t Jenkins’ initial instinct to dramatize that chapter of her life.
“When I was kind of downloading my woes or whatever, a girlfriend of mine who’s a filmmaker said, ‘Oh my god, you should really write about that.’ And I was like, ’No way! I’ll never do that! Gross!’” says Jenkins. But as she witnessed more friends going through similar fertility challenges, she reconsidered. “There was something so existential about that problem. It’s so primal. I just thought it was a great lens to examine this couple.”
Both “Private Life” and Holofcener’s “The Land of Steady Habits” were abandoned in development elsewhere when they were picked up by Bricke and his colleague Matt Levin. Without consulting content chief Ted Sarandos, they can greenlight anything with a budget under $10 million.
“We have a business model and an appetite for creative risk that’s not unique but is relatively scarce,” says Bricke. “When a Charlie Kauffman or a Tamara Jenkins or a Nicole Holofcener comes around, it’s pretty easy for us to jump in with them.”
Holofcener’s film stars Ben Mendelsohn as Anders Hill, a Connecticut man who has left his wife (Edie Falco), quit his job in finance and begun acting recklessly. Based on Ted Thompson’s novel, it’s the first adaptation for Holofcener, the writer-director of “Enough Said” and “Friends With Money,” and the first centered on a man.
“I absolutely identify with him, as a parent, as a divorced parent, who inevitably is going to make mistakes,” says Holofcener.” I like to think I don’t make such serious mistakes or catastrophic mistakes as Anders makes. But we’re all so flawed and stumbling along on our own and trying to be role models for our kids. They go whatever way they want and we can’t control them. It’s scary. I relate to that in him. I’m nicer than he is, I like to think, and not as screwed up. But that’s what makes a good movie, right?”