2006: Oscar snubs genre again!

Well, this year's Oscar nominations are out, and the big news in the mainstream media is that the entertaining but over-rated BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (basically an old-fashioned tear-jerker about a couple having a live-long affair -- the only innovation being that they're gay) got the most nominations. For our purposes at Hollywood Gothique, however, we will focus on a different piece of news: once again, genre films (horror, fantasy, and science-fiction) were all but shut out of the major categoriies, their handful of nominations falling in technical categories like makeup and special effects.

The big winners (comparatively speaking) were KING KONG, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, and WAR OF THE WORLDS, which tied with three nominations each. Other nominees include CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, BATMAN BEGINS, STAR WARS, EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, and HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, with one nomination each.

About the only good news for genre fans was the Best Animated Feature category, which saw computer-generated efforts shut out in favor of one traditional cell-drawn film and two stop-motion films: HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE, and WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. None of them was perfect, but all were created by talented people who deserve recognition, so I'd be happy to see any of them go home with the statue.

I was willing to cut some slack for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year, because most of 2005's genre films were not that great; in fact, I couldn't even come up with a decent Top Ten list. Most of the good efforts were crowd-pleasers like CONSTANTINE and BATMAN BEGINS that tend to be overlooked as mere entertainments, lacking in the sort of depth that earns serious recognition. The obvious Oscar-bait contender was KING KONG, which was clearly intended as a TITANIC-size blockbuster that would overwhelm both movie-goers and critics; it even had the additional advantage of an Oscar-pedigree in the form of Peter Jackson, whose previous film LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING won the statue for Best Picture. Unfortunately, this is a case where the director's reach exceeded his grasp, resulting in a disapopinting, overlong movie that didn't deserve nominations, so we can be thankful that the Academy didn't feel honor-bound to hand a few over to Jackson just for trying to hard.

However, when you see names like Kiera Knightly in the Best Actress category (for her mediocre performance in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), you realize that perfection is not a prerequisite for a nomination, and it's fair to point out that even last year's relatively disappointing crop of fantasy films were no worse than some of the stuff that did get nominated. Keannu Reeves' performance in CONSTANTINE and Christopher Nolan's direction in BATMAN BEGINS were at least as worthy of recognition, but that just ain't gonna happen to films based on comic book characters.

Steven Spielberg has recreated his clever trick of 1993, when he relased both a both a sci-fi summer blockbuster (JURASSIC PARK) that earned techincal nominations and a serious drama about Jews (SCHINDLER'S LIST) that earned a Best Picture nod. Spielberg's dynamic duo in 2005 was WAR OF THE WORLDS and MUNICH, proving once again that popular entertainers get nominated when they turn serious. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Rachel Weiz, who was in th hit CONSTANTINE, was nominated for her work in THE CONSTANT GARDNER.) Without a major research grant, I can't prove why this happens; my hypothesis is that the more people you entertain, the more people are likely to nominate you, but they feel guilty about voting for something like WAR OF THE WORLDS (or CONSTANTINE), so they go for the more obvious Oscar-choice.

It's also interesting to note that STAR WARS, EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, the most successful film from last year, was almost shut out of the nominations; even in the technical categories, it was only recognized for makeup, not for sound editing of visual effects. I'd have to check back through the Academy's records to be sure, but I think that makes this the first STAR WARS movie not to be nominated for its special effects.

Here is a list of the categories in which genre films earned nominations:

  • ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: Howl's Moving Castle, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  • ART DIRECTION: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; King Kong
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY: Batman Begins
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP: The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING: King Kong, War of the Worlds
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING: Chronicles of Narnia; King Kong; War of the Worlds
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS: Chronicles of Narnia; King Kong; War of the Worlds