Genre Oscar Winners

Well, come the cold light of day on the morning after, it's time to assess the dismal showing by genre films at this year's Oscar telecast.

Of course, this is nothing new. Fantasy, horror, and science-fiction films are traditionally ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, except in technical categories. There are rare exceptions (like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which could be considered a horror film), but that's all they are: rare exceptions.

Perhaps the happiest news for fantasy fans was in the Best Animated Film category, whose Oscar went to WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. The film is actually a disappointment compared to the excellent short subjects starring the plasticine characters, but it was nice to see their Oscar streak continue (both THE WRONG TROUSERS and A CLOSE SHAVE won in the animated short subject category). And of course, it was nice to see the Academy honor an old-fashioned stop-motion film, instead handing out a statue to yet another computer-generated movie.

This year, the big winner among genre pics (at least in terms of numbers) was KING KONG, which took away three statuettes, in the categories of Sound Mixing, Sound Mixing, and Special Effects. Unfortunately no one (least all of the Academy experts) seems to know what the distintinction is between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing (the former category used to be known as "Achievement in Sound"), so it seems as if KONG walked away with two awards for more or less the same thing.

Of course, it's hard to fault the Academy for honring the KONG's achievement in sound, considering that much of it had to be synthesized from scratch, but I really think that WAR OF THE WORLDS did a far more effective job in this category: the awesome sound effects in that film really did make it seem that Doomsday was approaching.

As for special effects, I'll just say that the winner in any category should be perfect (or close to it), and although much of KONG was great, I couldn't stand it's glut of computer-generated overhead fly-by shots (which didn't look very convincing), and as I mentioned in my review of the film, Kong looked a bit pot-bellied to me -- not the mythic figure of an ape he should have been.

The only other genre winner was THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, which took opt honor in the makeup category.

As for the telecast itself, it was the usual mish-mash of highs and lows. Jon Stewart was pretty funny, as were some of the spoofs of negative attack ads ("Charlize Theron earned another nomination with the same old trick: hagging it up"), and as usual, the tribute montages (to old film noir classics and to film-related people who have died in the past year) were entertaining and moving.

The continuing problem is that the Academy wants to present a fast-paced television show -- this may be understandable, but it should not outweigh the fact that this is an awards ceremony first and a piece of television entertainment second. The time limit on acceptance speeches may keep viewers at home from growing bored, but we need to remember that this is supposed to be a night about the winners. Those people worked hard to earn their Oscars, and they deserve a chance to deliver a speech without being cut off. This is especially galling in cases where there are multiple winners, and only one is given a chance to speak. The problem was exacerbated this year by having the orchestra play music beneath the speeches. They might as well have played the JEOPARDY theme -- it was the musical equivalent of a ticking clock, reminding everyone that time was passing and the winners should just spit out a few words and move on so we could get to the next envelope.

At least, thank god, this year did not continue the odious practise of handing out some awards in the aisles, so that winners in certain less prestigious categories were not even allowed to walk up to the stage. Hopefully, some winners will start complaining, and the Academy will wake up to the fact that it seems absolutely unforgivably rude to treat the winners like customers in the express lane at a supermarket.