Monday, 16 December 2013

Oscars 2014: Will Gravity Pave The Way For Science Fiction At The Academy Awards?

I just don’t get it.

For decades, the Academy Awards have claimed to celebrate the best cinematic achievements of the year but unfortunately, this only applies to the golden few. If your film is a historical drama based on real events and happens to feature a transformative performance from Meryl Streep, then you’re in luck. However, if you deviate from this tried and tested Academy formula in any way, your chances of even being nominated for an Oscar diminish greatly.

So-called ‘lowbrow’ genres such as horror and fantasy have had a pretty rough deal at the Oscars but in my opinion, sci-fi has suffered most of all, despite its often cerebral content. Sure, for every Blade Runner you get twenty Oblivion’s but isn’t that true of all genres? Does that mean historical drama 12 Years a Slave shouldn’t be considered by the Academy just because Pearl Harbour exists?
Classic sci-fi can showcase the craft of writing and acting just as well as any genre if in the right hands, yet the Academy tends to just view science fiction as a showcase for visual effects. Don’t worry though guys! Who needs a Best Picture win when you can receive the award for… Best Visual Effects. Oh... My condolences Spielberg and Kubrick. Apparently A Clockwork Orange and ET just aren’t as good as The French Connection and Gandhi. Never mind. There’s always the Saturn Awards.

Quite frankly, it's embarrassing that a body called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences regularly fails to recognise science fiction. The techniques developed during the production of some of the sci-fi greats have forever changed the way cinema is made yet little recognition is given for these achievements. Poor Cameron, crying into his millions…

Now, here are some facts that may shock and disturb your die-hard love of sci-fi to its core. Since the Academy Awards began in 1929, over five hundred films have been nominated for the coveted Best Picture trophy. Out of those, only six were science fiction. Six. That’s not great… but it gets even worse. Not a single one of these films even won. To date, a sci-fi movie has never been deemed worthy of a Best Picture award by the Academy. I can just hear the voters now;

A Clockwork Orange? “What’s up with that penis sculpture?”
Star Wars? “Who shot first again?”
ET? “So his finger’s a phone…”
Avatar? “Urgh I hate cartoons!”
District 9? “The prawns are aliens who are a metaphor for apartheid…say what?”
Inception? You’re dreaming if you think a sci-fi will beat The King’s Speech!”

And what about the incredible science fiction films that didn’t even receive a Best Picture nomination? 2001, Close Encounters, Moon… the list goes on.
The trend seems to be improving in recent years, as more and more science fiction films are receiving nominations, but it could be argued that this is only happening because the amount of nominees has also increased. Would Avatar and District 9 have both received nominations in the same year if only five films had been nominated instead of ten?

Well, if universal acclaim is anything to go by, then Gravity definitely has a shot and a nomination would be the Academy’s chance to reward director 
Alfonso Cuaron for the incredible Children of Men which missed out last time. The minimalist, almost indie tone of the film may also help sway the voters who are left cold by sci-fi’s of the blockbuster variety.

Something that may also work in Gravity’s favour is the fact that it’s not science fiction in the true sense of the world. Many argue that the film is simply a disaster movie in space and is only being labelled as a sci-fi due to its unusual setting. Following this line of thinking, you could argue that Apollo 11 is a sci-fi too and that film was nominated for nine awards, although a win for Best Picture never materialised.

Bravery, drama, a harrowing lead performance…the Academy lap up extreme survival stories like a Twi-Hard laps up vacant acting so Gravity may have a chance yet. It’s an Oscar baiting drama in robot sheep’s clothing.

The potential success of Gravity at the Academy Awards is a step in the right direction for science fiction, but I worry that it may prove to be the exception rather than the rule. When will an unashamedly sci-fi movie take the gong?   
The campaign starts here. Let’s make science fiction Oscar worthy.

The Transformers franchise may have been a huge success at the box office but Michael Bay has about as much chance of winning an Oscar as Miley Cyrus, so let’s get some more credible directors to tackle the genre. Want gangsters in space? Call Scorsese. Want a witty existential comedy about robots in love? Call Woody. Want blue-skinned eco-warriors defending the environment? Call Cameron… oh wait.
Respected directors do occasionally turn to sci-fi, but we need more Nolan’s, Cameron’s and Cuaron’s to convince the Oscars that the genre is worthy of recognition. Pure science fiction will struggle to win over the voters who look down on the genre as the realm of geeks and losers.

Whether Gravity is truly science fiction or not is largely irrelevant. What it does show is that hybridity is the key right now. Combine elements of sci-fi with other Oscar baiting genres such as survival drama, historical drama or Meryl Streep drama and the little genre that could might just have a shot, fooling the Academy into thinking that they haven’t deviated from their formula.

At the end of the day though, some of you may be wondering whether it even matters if the Oscars choose to acknowledge science fiction or not. For a new generation raised within the geek culture of today, ostracised genres such as science fiction, horror and fantasy certainly do deserve the recognition reserved for more ‘adult’ fare and if the Academy fail to recognise that, they will soon become a thing of the past, much like the very historical dramas they seem so keen to embrace.

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