Yes, indeed, it’s Oscars weekend – that Super Bowl sized entertainment event that celebrity fans anticipate, but not all film geeks necessarily take that seriously…
If you are an avid reader of film comment online, you’ve no doubt come across at least half a dozen think-pieces so far this season about who the Academy Award voting body really is nowadays, and whether or not we’re finally at a threshold where the Golden Era’s demographic of older, white men are truly starting to give way to a more diverse group of creatives. Just looking at some of the films nominated this year, it seems like that’s the case, which gives plenty of film fans reason to celebrate. There’s definitely one area where the Oscars have a long way to go in terms of regular recognition and, especially, awards, and that’s science fiction and fantasy.
Sure, there have been outliers for genre films to be awarded in more than just the technical and VFX categories over the years – interestingly, horror has done quite well from time to time, from The Exorcist up to this year’s nod for Get Out. (The Silence of the Lambs actually won in all five major categories, a rare event that is still buzzed about.) But more often than not, science fiction and fantasy films get ever so close to the big prizes without actually taking one home. There’s a reason geeks celebrated so hard when The Return of the King won Best Picture in 2003; after the previous two Lord of the Rings films were nominated and lost, it felt like a bit like a long-awaited gong for the entire trilogy. (Some folks would argue that ROTK is actually the best of the three anyway – yours truly included – but that’s neither here nor there. 😉 )
There are many, MANY examples we could cite of cases where we just couldn’t believe that Oscar’s general shunning of genre titles still got in the way of clear greatness, but these are probably the most egregious of all. Enjoy this Friday Five that doesn’t need gold trinkets to be great!
The Wizard of Oz for Best Picture (1939)
The first and most famous Oscar-worthy fantasy film of all, without glancing at the rest of the field that year it does seem truly remarkable that this classic didn’t win Best Pic. It took a beloved late 19th century book series and brought it to live with the costumes, the songs, the roller-coaster of joy and terror! (The Wicked Witch was terrifying to 1930’s kids, yo.) Not to mention that stunning use of sepia tone-into-Technicolor, a real visual feat for the era. Alas, The Wizard Of Oz fell victim to bad timing and its own outstanding pedigree: It was released the same year as Gone With the Wind, which happened to also be directed by the same master craftsman, Victor Fleming.
Stanley Kubrick for Best Director, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Like we said in last week’s Friday Five – though it’s well recognized as a groundbreaking scifi title now, there is no way to overstate what a shockwave 2001 created when it was released. While it obviously enthralled part of the film community back then, it’s probably not surprising that it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. (Many at the time didn’t know how to react to its avant-garde narrative and actively disliked it.) Kubrick, however, rightfully got a Best Director nom, only to lose to Carol Reed, the director of that year’s crowd-pleasing Best Picture winner, Oliver! I just… watch the scene where Bowman de-activates HAL again and tell me this isn’t one of the best directed sequences you’ve ever seen. SMH, as the kids would say.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for Best Picture (1982)
In the wake of Star Wars (which was nominated for Best Picture and lost, to Annie Hall), for several years we began to see a handful of major genre box-office hits that would squeak through and garner a nod for the big Oscar enchilada. Raiders of the Lost Ark did it as well, a few years later. But it was Spielberg’s runaway blockbuster E.T. that probably stung the hardest when it lost Best Picture; for one thing, it’s important to remember exactly what a juggernaut E.T. was at the time. (It opened in June at #1 and stayed there for seven weeks; it wouldn’t fall out of the Top 5 until December. That is as unheard of now as it was then.) But the worst part? It lost to Gandhi, which most film fans will tell you was a worthy Best Actor win for Ben Kingsley, yet despite its noble subject it’s a 3+ hour slog. Now, watch this flawlessly directed climactic chase and grumble.
Sigourney Weaver for Best Actress, Aliens (1986)
I’ll be perfectly honest, this one is in spite of the fact that the actual winner of the Best Actress Oscar this year was very good: Marlee Matlin took the prize for Children of A Lesser God, one of the few examples of a great performance by a disabled actor in a lead role to receive a ton of popular acclaim. That said… boy, in any other year, it’s hard to justify denying Sigourney Weaver here. This isn’t just rare sci-fi recognition, it’s sci-fi/action/horror (whaaat!) and on top of that, a sequel. From beginning to end, though, Weaver owns her portrayal of Ellen Ripley by expanding on it and giving her layers we didn’t get to see the first time, particularly in her emotional connection to little Newt. Watch how much she does here without dialogue, as Ripley psychs herself up for the big showdown.
“The Power of Love” (from Back to the Future) for Best Song (1985)
Compelling arguments can be made for all of these so far, as well as plenty more that didn’t fit on this list of five. But I’m going to come right out and say that I’m saltier about this than any other Oscar loss, everrrr. Without checking, if you went with your gut, you’d say of course Huey Lewis and the News’ iconic, endlessly sing-along-worthy Billboard #1-smash from Back to the Future won Best Original Song of 1985, right? Wrong. And then, I’d dare you to guess which song did win without looking it up. Go on. YOU CAN’T… well, unless you’re a trainspotter like me. Sorry, Lionel Richie, I’m a fan but HELLO (*giggle*) – “Say You, Say Me” is not one of your best and it’s not particularly memorable, either. (The movie it’s from, White Nights, is not half bad though especially if you’re a dance fan.)