Better luck next year (or decade)

The nominees for the 81st Academy Award for Best Picture are:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

(The rest of the nominees are here.)

Although this year’s list of Academy Award nominees for Best Picture aren’t as obscure or impossible to watch as last year’s, I’m noting a distinct lack of love for genre titles, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button notwithstanding. I never really held out hope that The Dark Knight would get into the ring with the “serious” movies, but I’m taking its snub worse than I anticipated. (But I am laughing at its nomination for Best Film Editing.) I truly thought that it had the best shot at getting a science-fiction/fantasy film back into consideration after the years-long drought since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won in 2004.

As I predicted, Wall*E gets to sit at the kiddie table with Bolt and Kung-Fu Panda. The Best Animated Feature is the “Hurray! Everyone’s a winner even when they’re a loser!” category. If critical success stands above any other marker (which explains how No Country for Old Men won last year), then how the hell could Wall*E have been excluded and The Reader promoted? Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and Entertainment Weekly‘s individual pools of critical reviews all place Wall*E at the top (or nearer to it than any of the nominees).

The Academy Awards: where movies win Best Picture because a cadre of hipster assholes and old farts say they do.

The other major categories are not much more heartening. (And are even more insulting and bizarre, like Wall*E’s nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Best story, but not Best Picture?) The Best Director category is in lock-step with Best Picture. (Sorry, Christopher Nolan.) There are three genre performances nominated out of twenty, two of which are from Benjamin Button with the third being the inevitable nod towards the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Robert Downey Jr. is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his “daring” role in Tropic Thunder (which he will never win, because two words: Heath. Ledger.) and never mind that he gave a more lively, funny, sly, and vulnerable performance as Tony Stark in Iron Man. It’s just a stupid comic book movie, and nobody died after making it; ergo, as only one “fringe” movie may be praised at a time, The Dark Knight trumps. (Ledger’s win would also achieve an unholy trifecta of Oscar stereotypes by giving him an award: for a later role after being snubbed for Brokeback Mountain; after his death; and for an eccentric performance in a movie otherwise regarded as not worth Academy time.)

Genre fans will have to content themselves once again with the fleeting thrill of hearing mega blockbusters announced for minor categories like Best Makeup (go Hellboy II!), Best Sound Editing (if they don’t give it to Wall*E, I’m waking Cthulhu), Best Visual Effects (Iron Man has a lock on this one)—you know, all those categories where the band starts playing the exit music before the winners even have their statuettes.

And that’s Hollywood for you: the studios will gladly make the projects that we want to see, happy to pocket our money. (We made them billions this year—fully $1bn on The Dark Knight alone, the box office gross almost triple that of all the Best Picture nominees put together.) But respect and recognition will be hard to come by for years yet. In the meantime, we’re made to feel as though we should be grateful that we are tossed a bone with some of these categories because they could just excise them from the bloated telecast and lump them with the Science & Technical Awards. And they wonder why ratings for the broadcast are constantly slipping? Maybe because the people who fund the self-congratulatory love-in for movies they never saw are tired of their choices being denigrated in favor of the vanity vehicles? Because we can see through the transparent bid for our attention in their choice of having Wolverine host while blithely ignoring the genre that got him his big break in the first place?

Hugh Jackman or no Hugh Jackman, I’m voting with my remote and just not watching this year.


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