This past Sunday night, the 85th Annual Academy Awards ceremony was held in Los Angeles, and while there was certainly a very crowded list of highly deserving nominees, there still seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the Academy and an entire pantheon of films.
Since you’re at the Geek Beat on Movies.com, you can probably guess: geeky films. Science fiction, fantasy and comics rarely seem to break into the list of nominees in a multitude of categories, and the reasons why haven’t always been clear. There are, however, a couple of notable examples that I will cite after I give you the weekly ritual of linking to you the top three geeky articles of the week to be found here at Movies.com.
1) Mark Hamill on Returning to 'Star Wars' and the Fate of Luke Skywalker
2) Storyboard Art Shows Off Badass Alternate 'Alien' Ending
3) 'The Amazing Spider-Man Sequel' Reveals Spidey's New (and Different) Costume
Oscars and Geekiness Don’t Mix Today... but Did They?
As I’ve complained about ad nauseum for a while (some of which occurred in past Geek Beats), I have a hard time abiding the dismissal that the Academy seems to level particularly at superhero films, but also other “geeky” genres. The one that has probably had the least bit of snubbing is probably fantasy, but it has definitely had its fair share of dismissal as well.
But, instead of doing the easy thing and launching into a cynical rant about how well-deserved works can never get the respect they deserve from their peers, I’ll instead go in the complete opposite direction: look fondly at days gone by and observing moments where the Academy got over themselves and recognized much of the groundbreaking work that went into some spectacular examples of films geeks love.
There are five moments from throughout Oscar history that represent some of the best examples of the Academy proving to be rather progressive in regards to honoring geeky films. In order not to sink to the depths of cynicism once again, here they are from number five to number one.
5) Superman Wins Special Achievement in Visual Effects (51st Academy Awards)
When talking about groundbreaking entries in superhero film, practically every conversation has to begin with Richard Donner’s 1978 classic Superman. Although it didn’t take any awards for writing, performance or direction (no matter how well-deserved), the Special Achievement in Visual Effects earned by the film marked the moment when superhero films not only broke into the blockbuster mainstream, but also broke into the attention of the Academy. While the film was nominated in three other areas that year, the fact that it was at least able to bring this one home is definitely an achievement for the genre it spawned. That’s without mentioning the fact that the film earned this award through the sheer phenomenal work that went into making all of us believe a man could fly.
However, that’s not to say that there wasn’t a degree of “snubbery” even then. As director Richard Donner publicly maintained in David Hughes’ book Comic Book Movies, Donner was “disgusted” that two men were left off of the nomination roles for their work in the film. Those men were John Barry, the production designer (who won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars), and Geoffrey Unsworth, the cinematographer. Since both Superman and Superman II were filmed back-to-back, this work would be their final released contributions before their deaths. When seeing the construction of each shot and the particular way characters and scenes were lit, as well as the awe-inspiring designs of Krypton, the Andrew Wyeth-like inspirations for Smallville, and the frenetic and realistic take on Metropolis, it becomes rather easy to share Mr. Donner’s disgust at those lack of nominations.
Still, though, this award ushered in the true beginning of the modern geek film’s recognition at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
4) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Wins Best Picture (76th Academy Awards)
This, perhaps, may be the only time in Oscar history where a “geek” film has been an absolute no-brainer when it came to the coveted Oscar for Best Picture. The win for The Return of the King in this category and it’s other 10 nominated categories in 2004, upon first glance, is a testament to the greatness of the finale of the story, but it’s also pretty easy to take another approach to this win: Did this film’s giant sweep through the Academy honor just this film, or did it also honor all three simultaneously?
The entire trilogy seems most honored through this entry’s 11 Oscar wins, because timing-wise, it makes most sense. Hollywood decided to give the full efforts of the entire production team of the trilogy one big, glorious night filled with wins and celebration for Peter Jackson’s efforts to bring the world of Middle-earth to life. That ceremony in 2004 should surely go down as perhaps the one single, solitary night of the entirety of Oscar history where the interests of both geekdom and the Academy were most aligned, and the results were glorious.
3) Sigourney Weaver Nominated for Best Actress in Aliens (59th Academy Awards)
Perhaps one of the more surprising turn of events to come to pass in Academy/geek history, its recognition of Sigourney Weaver’s powerful performance as Ellen Ripley in Aliens has to mark quite the ceiling being broken. Not only was Aliens a balls-to-the-wall action film, but it was a vehicle for a fight between humans and extraterrestrial creatures bent on impregnating us through our face holes and making babies to destroy everything else around them. Strictly on concept, that doesn’t exactly sound like typical Oscar fare from a performance perspective, but Sigourney Weaver proved everyone wrong with her singularly powerful and nuanced return as that human space trucker that returns to LV-426, bringing death to the monstrosities that keep her up at night. The film’s tagline of “This Time, It’s War” proved to be a truer and more multifaceted statement than most realized.
When looking at the people behind the scenes, usually they are the ones most confident of outside recognition for their work. In this instance, though, it’s easy to see watching Aliens’ “making of” documentary on the Alien Anthology Blu-ray collection that surprise came from both sides! Everyone from Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton to producer Gale Anne Hurd all expressed a great deal of surprise that Weaver’s performance earned its spot. Although she didn’t take the Oscar home that night, the fact that she was even nominated for that role, for that film, was likely a turning point that allowed for future successes. Such as…
2) Heath Ledger Wins Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight (81st Academy Awards)
While it seemed many Hollywood insiders were surprised at the snubbing of The Dark Knight for Best Picture at the 81st Academy Awards, there was absolutely no question that Heath Ledger earned his nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his haunting, idiosyncratic, dynamic and terrifyingly unique performance as the Joker. While the shock and sadness of Ledger’s death may have played into the nomination a bit, the end result is hard to dispute. The precedent this win set, though, is almost equally as astonishing as the win itself.
Although it is easily set apart from what are deemed the typical trappings of a comic book movie, The Dark Knight is still a comic book movie spawned from the genre of superheroes. Ledger’s performance and win in this category made the statement to film professionals and fans everywhere that it’s possible for such outings to have a seat at the very exclusive table of Oscar winners in performance categories.
If you gave me 30 more pages, I would not be able to rightfully espouse my love of Ledger’s take on the Joker, as both a film fan and as a comic book fan. His performance will surely stand the test of time in cinematic history and influence an untold number of future comic book creators, but it will also be because he did it first that an actor or actress will win another performance Oscar for being in a geek film, and for many of us, that day can’t come soon enough.
1) Star Wars Is Nominated for Best Picture (50th Academy Awards)
When Star Wars was initially released in May of 1977… well, I don’t have to remind you of how huge it was. It spawned an entire generation of incredible sci-fi, helped to craft the modern blockbuster, and began one of the most influential space opera sagas of all time. When you look at what a modern geek film is, practically every facet of its lineage leads back to Star Wars. The night of the 50th Academy Awards, Star Wars took home seven Oscars out of 10 nominations and one Special Achievement. It obviously swept the technical categories (which is important given the time period), but in addition to those it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay, as well as taking it home for Best Original Score.
The fact that Star Wars got into the class of Best Picture nominees that year, though, says a lot. It provided a foundation from which many other genre films have been able to build upon, including many of the more modern examples seen in examplesfive through two. Because this groundbreaking film caused the Academy to take a very close look at practically every level of its production, Star Wars made sure that modern filmmakers tending toward geeky genre films get their chance to have the ultimate recognition in Hollywood, which means that I really have no choice but to recognize it in the top spot of this particular list.
My Pick This Week at the Comic Shop (Releasing 2/27)
If you’ve managed to stay away from the heavy spoilers surrounding this week’s Batman Incorporated #8, you’re to be commended. I was not spared, and I’m egregiously disappointed by that. Either way, though, every single issue of writer Grant Morrison's run on Batman and his library of titles has been an event for me, and this issue, even before the spoiler, was no exception. I’ve been following the saga of Damian Wayne from his first appearance in Batman #655 (way back in July of 2006), and the entirety of Morrison’s epic (I’m not overusing that word, this is a six-and-a-half year run of epic proportions) has proven to give me some of the most rewarding comic book storytelling I’ve ever had the good fortune of reading.
Suffice it to say that it seems a great deal of Morrison’s entire work with Batman and his cast of characters seems to be coming to a head in this particular issue, and I don’t think it’s one to be missed. It’s my pick of the week for that reason, as well as the fact that it’s Grant Morrison, and it’s Batman. In the immortal words of Stan Lee, “’Nuff said.”
That does it this week for the Geek Beat, thanks for stopping by and we’ll see you again in seven days!
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and retailer, and geeky contributor to GeekNation.com, Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his weekly piece The Geek Beat every Tuesday and the Star Trek Into Darkness Countdown every other Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.