Does Oscar hate genre?
Tonight brings us the final sparkly conclusion to the 2012 awards season. We’ve mourned the exclusion of films and performances we championed (“Margaret,” “Shame,” “Drive” and so on) and we’ve acquiesced to the inevitable wins and losses of those that were nominated.
Or have we?
As The Guardian notes, Seth Rogen, who’s best known for his work as a broad comedic actor (though he broke some new-ish ground this year with “50/50” and “The Green Hornet”) spoke out in defense of genre films in a recent interview with Film News. "I honestly thought ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ was one of the best movies of the year,” he said. “It got no love from awards, whatsoever. I loved that fucking movie! It was great! And, I thought ‘Drive’ was awesome too. That got nominated for an Independent Spirit award, but didn't get any Oscar nominations."
Of course, "Drive" did get one nod -- in one of the races most people just don't pay any attention (Best Sound Editing) -- but interestingly enough, Rogen’s forte, comedy (which is generally underserved by the Academy) made a strong showing this year. The Best Actor frontrunners are the leads of two dramedies: “The Artist” and “The Descendents” (with the former poised to sweep the Oscars). And “Bridesmaids”’s Melissa McCarthy was a strong presence all throughout the precursor season prior to securing a nod for Best Supporting Actress alongside Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wigg for Best Original Screenplay.
However, there is a decided absence of large-scale event films present in the top-tier nominations this year. Genre and Oscar seem to have an ambiguous relationship. Westerns didn’t really begin to make a showing until they were a novelty. It is as if the Academy feels somehow adverse to the inclusion of studio mainstays, which were once westerns and are now largely grandiose comic-book adaptations and actioners.
There are of course a few notable exceptions to the rule. Peter Jackson's “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy certainly left a footprint on Oscar, as did James Cameron’s “Avatar.” It’s possible that the Academy found that those particular endeavors were simply too big to ignore, or perhaps there is a case to be made that if a genre film has merit (and is reasonably well known) it has a chance of making it to the nominations list. “District 9” might be an example of just such an offering (don’t get me started on “Moon,” though), but undeniably it needed the extra padding of 10 nominees to get there.
And as significant as “Avatar”’s (contentious) inclusion was, there is an equally glaring example of what is, for many, an egregious genre omission in the form of “The Dark Knight" in 2008 (which had a big hand in the shift to a larger Best Picture field in the first place).
Ultimately, we are often befuddled by what makes the cut versus what does not and are, with equal frequency, in disagreement no matter the genre. There is a decisive camp that would name “Drive” as the best film of the year. Certainly there was an outcry when Albert Brooks’s name was not called on January 24. Sadly, none of the film’s supporters seem to be voting members of either the Academy or the Independent Spirit Awards. Though I must say that I count “Drive” as more of an art house miss the likes of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Shame,” or “Margaret” than a genre snub.
Kris’s Oscar Talk co-host Anne Thompson named “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as one of her top 10 films of the year, and I believe that there is a strong portion of the critics’ circle that would prefer to see “Rise” in the Best Picture mix in lieu of surprise last-minute addition “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” We could, ostensibly, count both "Midnight in Paris" and "Hugo" as films with fantasy elements, but those selections also have the weight of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, respectively, at the helm.
Part of the purpose of the Academy Awards is to increase the revenue of the films that are nominated, so there may be a subconscious bias against films which are already industry bread and butter staples and don't need the boost. Or, it may just be that the old(er) white(ish) gentlemen that are running the show are just not hip to the aesthetic merits of the majority of genre fair.
What will be interesting to note is how the Academy and the critical realm at large responds to this year’s crop of genre offerings. If they live up to their perceived potential, “The Dark Knight Rises” and/or “Prometheus” may just be the fanboy films to fight for and win Oscar glory.
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