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Will Martin Scorsese’s Marvel Comments Hurt ‘The Irishman’s’ Oscar Chances?

Marc Malkin

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“What a snob!”

So said an Academy member when I asked about Martin Scorsese’s recent New York Times opinion piece in which he doubled down on his criticism of Marvel movies. The Oscar winner became director non grata among superhero fans last month for telling Empire magazine that Marvel Cinematic Universe films are “not cinema.” 

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In the Empire piece, Scorsese said: “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

After being scorched on social media, he could have let it go by simply explaining the MCU isn’t his celluloid cup of tea.

Instead, he wrote a nearly 1,500-word op-ed defending his beliefs while continuing to bash the MCU.

And with that, Mr. Scorsese may have tarnished “The Irishman’s” chances for Oscar gold.

Here’s the deal: The MCU’s mega-franchise of 23 films has made more than $22 billion. It goes without saying that a portion of that box office was generated by Academy members. And then there was the official Academy screening of “Avengers: Endgame” in Los Angeles in May.  “I have been to a lot of Academy screenings this year, and I have never seen anything as crowded as ‘Endgame,’” recalls one audience member.

While the Academy doesn’t release the age breakdown of its membership, recent rosters of new members show an increasing diversity and a younger makeup. It’s those new voters who likely had a hand in helping “Black Panther” become the first film of its kind to snag a best picture nom.

At the same time, Scorsese is trying to have it both ways. As the director waxes poetic in The New York Times about the art of film and going to the theater to see movies, his latest movie is a $180 million production — for Netflix. 

“Would I like the picture to play on more big screens for longer periods of time?” the director asked in his piece. “Of course I would. But no matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures.”

In other words, Scorsese could be antagonizing voters who feel the MCU isn’t the grim reaper of cinema, but rather an art form that is attracting audiences to theaters like no other franchise has. 

Those multiplexes could feature “The Irishman,” but Netflix prefers short theatrical windows and earlier streaming premiere dates over filling a multiplex with its films — something Scorsese was well aware of when he made his deal with the streamer.

Yet by championing Netflix, he could be alienating voters who cherish the theatergoing experience and feel streamers are the real nail in the filmmaking coffin.

When “The Irishman” premiered at the New York Film Festival, it was marked as a sure bet for multiple Oscar noms, including best picture and director, as well as acting nods for Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. There was some grumbling at the time that it could lose favor among voters because of the Netflix of it all, but most observers I spoke with believed Scorsese could easily rise above the fray. One just has to look at “Roma.” Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white Spanish-language film about his childhood in Mexico City helped make Netflix a true Oscar player by earning statuettes for director, cinematography and foreign language film. 

One awards consultant thinks “The Irishman” is still on track for Oscar recognition: “Marty and Francis Ford Coppola have been trashing popcorn cinema for decades, including their friends’ stuff from the ’70s like ‘Star Wars.’ And there are many who agree with them that the end of life as we know it is approaching because of the dumbing down of cinema. It isn’t true, of course, but it is getting pretty stupid.”

From the get-go, “The Irishman” had everything going for it — it was an epic mobster movie directed by Scorsese and starring De Niro, Pacino and even Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement for the project. 

Now, its future at the Oscars is complicated.

If only Scorsese had a superhero to save the day. 

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