2010: The Year Oscar Goes Geek?
by Michael Avila
Date: 03 December 2009 Time: 05:32 PM ET
For your consideration ... "Star Trek?"If you think discussing this summer's blockbuster reboot for Academy Awards contention is just pie-in-the-sky Geekeration, you haven't been paying attention. During a standout year for genre films, J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" just may be the Fanboy favorite with the inside track to snagging a spot in the newly expanded Best Picture Oscar category.
The Academy doubled the nominees in the Best Picture category from five to ten films. That move was meant, in theory at least, to open the door for crowd-pleasing science fiction/fantasy fare such as "Star Trek," "District 9" and "Where the Wild Things Are" to crash Hollywood's biggest party. "It looks like there is going to be a sci-fi film in the best picture race," says Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger. "My feeling is that "Star Trek" has the best shot. The reviews were pretty fantastic, and even...non-science fiction fans appreciated it." The fact that this has been considered a down year for Oscar-worthy contenders, along with a well-timed DVD & Blu-ray release in mid-November, all seem to play in 'Trek's' favor. But it's the exclusion of "The Dark Knight" from last year's Best Picture Oscar race that may turn out to be the second best thing - besides J.J. Abrams beaming aboard to take the COM -- to happen to the Star Trek franchise this century. The startling snub of 2008's biggest commercial hit is cited by many observers as the proverbial back-breaking straw that forced the Academy to finally look in the mirror and shake things up in a fashion that could yield one of the most interesting Oscar races in history. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Sid Ganis didn't come right out and say Christopher Nolan's film spurred the change, but he admitted back in June that "The Dark Knight" came up during a post-mortem discussion after last year's Oscar telecast. The move is also a return to a grand old Oscar tradition. From 1931-1943, the Academy had 10 nominees for its top award. In fact, the Mar. broadcast will include a 70th anniversary tribute to the 1939 contenders, a legendary group of pictures that includes "Gone With the Wind" (the winner), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "Stagecoach" and "The Wizard of Oz", a movie that falls squarely into the fantasy movie realm Oscar voters have chosen to mostly ignore over much of its history. "I don't think "The Dark Knight" not being nominated for Best Picture last year is the only reason they expanded it this year, but it certainly is a reason," according to Karger, a veteran Oscar season analyst. "And certainly the hope is that some more audience-friendly films will now make it into the race alongside the typical Oscar fare." But Trekkers may want to hold off on planning a camp-out outside the Kodak Theater. Because as it has done so many other times, the Academy may have bungled this latest attempt to shake up Oscar. One look at Tom O'Neil's Gold Derby blog for the LA Times, which gauges the temperature of the awards season, suggests that instead of providing slots for a summer blockbuster, Oscar voters may simply use the five extra selections to add more movies that no one outside of New York and L.A. has seen. The latest roundup of Oscar buzz-watchers actually shows "District 9" as having the best shot for sci-fi to make the Big Dance, but it's far from a sure thing. With "Invictus" and "Nine" just starting to screen for voters - both films are heavily pedigreed Oscar contenders - having 10 slots may still not be enough to get a genre movie in the door. The best shot at shaking up Oscar's status quo could be Hollywood's newest action hero, Carl Fredricksen. According to Karger and several other award watchers, Disney/Pixar's "Up" has maintained its momentum as it tries to break out of the Best Animated Film ghetto and become only the second animated film to earn a Best Picture nod. "District 9" also has the credentials. Besides strong reviews across-the-board, the modestly budgeted movie earned more than $100 million at the box office. It can't hurt that its producer, Peter Jackson, has a couple of Golden Dudes of his own. But the film's graphic violence and aliens-on-Earth premise may prove too much for Oscar voters to handle. "I just don't know if its going to have as wide an appeal with the more conservative members of the Academy," cautions Karger, " who would sooner go for the more...straight down the middle film like 'Star Trek.'" Not everyone agrees on "Star Trek's" chances. "...To be blunt, if "Star Trek" gets nominated, it'll be an indication that as a year in film, 2009 stank, because outside of technical categories, there's no way it should be represented at the Oscars," says science fiction author John Scalzi. "It's a fun movie, but it's not Best Picture caliber by any sensible determination." Scalzi, who writes about science fiction, among other topics, on his blog Whatever and is the creative consultant for "Stargate Universe," says talk of a nomination for 'Trek' is overstated because its reviews were more a "good for what it is" reception than pure acceptance. He thinks "District 9" has the best shot of any genre film of making the final cut. "Because it had commercial success as well as critical success, and for genre films that matters; the Academy typically only nominates genre films for Best Picture when they are also one of the biggest hits of the year. But I would be very surprised to see it there." Of course, who's to say a crowd-pleasing blockbuster isn't Academy Award material? Looking back at films such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T.," movies that scored box office and critical bouquets, who in their right mind doesn't think Academy voters got it wrong when they bypassed them? The question is, should "Star Trek" be in the discussion? While it certainly enjoyed stellar reviews (including one from this website), is it, as Scalzi mentioned, 'Best Picture' caliber? Worthy of earning a nomination only 18 other genre pictures have earned in the Academy's 81-year history? The list of genre films that have been overlooked in the past is staggering. "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Superman," "Alien," "The Empire Strikes Back," "Blade Runner," "The Matrix" and "Pan's Labyrinth" were all given the cold shoulder. So was the original "King Kong." Is "Star Trek" really deserving of such an accolade, or will scoring a nomination be an indication that the Oscars have lost some of its luster? "The more I think about it, I really don't like the idea of doubling the nominees. It obviously makes it half as exclusive as it once was...and I do think it dilutes it," admits Karger. " There's even people talking about "The Hangover" getting nominated for Best Picture! If something like that happens, the decision can only be viewed as a failure." In past years, the technical awards division is where effects-heavy blockbusters were shuffled off. And unless there is a major break in tradition and voter preference, those categories may still be the best chance for "District 9." What about "Moon?" Duncan Jones' critical darling struck a chord with those who actually did see it, but it may be the longest of long shots. Made for just $5 million, it never opened in wide release and didn't receive a huge publicity push from Sony Pictures Classics. Perhaps sensing the slim chances of his film being nominated, Jones has turned his attention toward getting his lead actor, Sam Rockwell, award consideration. He launched a grass-roots campaign via Twitter to promote Rockwell for Best Actor. "It would take a miracle for him to get nominated," Karger says. "I do think that one day Sam Rockwell will have an Oscar nomination but I don't think it's this year." "Getting a nomination is not just about [the acting]. It's about the machinery. And he does not have any of the machinery behind it. And you got to have at least a little bit [to get Oscar's attention]." Among other genre films, the surprising success of Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" sparked early debate over the film's Oscar chances. The critical adoration is there, but will an adaptation of a children's book that isn't really a kids' movie make the final cut? Latest indications are that it won't. Hopefully, Karen O's killer soundtrack gets some consideration. Alex Rivera's under-appreciated and little-seen "Sleep Dealer" is out of the running because Mexico submitted "Stellet Licht" (Silent Light) for Best Foreign-Language Film consideration. Viggo Mortensen's powerful turn as the Father protecting his son in the post-apocalyptic world of "The Road" stands a chance of earning him a second Oscar nomination. However, mixed reviews for the movie and a limited promotional push likely leaves that film out of the running for Best Picture. Then there's the wild card in the bunch, a little film called "Avatar." James Cameron's much-ballyhooed other-worldly adventure could be a major player for Oscars and every other industry award if it comes close to fulfilling on the prefab hype of 'changing the game' of movies. And don't think for a minute that the online backlash that's been brewing will have much of an impact. "Titanic" was rumored to sink faster than Leo did at the end of the film. We all remember how that turned out, don't we?