The Geek Beat: Which 2016 Geeky Movies and Performances Were Oscar Worthy?

The Geek Beat: Which 2016 Geeky Movies and Performances Were Oscar Worthy?

Mar 02, 2017

The 89th Academy Awards ceremony was memorable for a lot of reasons – and more than just the big mistake that capped off the show.

However, one area where the event didn't offer up too many surprises was in the number of Oscars it awarded to the sort of films sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movie fans were talking about all year. Sure, Arrival received a respectable number of nominations (eight, including a “Best Picture” nomination) but director Denis Villeneuve 's brilliant alien-encounter drama only ended up winning in one category: Sound Editing.

With that in mind, it's worth pondering which representatives of geek cinema might merit consideration in some of the major Oscar categories if the Academy Awards were, well... a little less dismissive of that genre.

(As always, keep in mind that this is intended to be a conversation starter, not the final word on which films and filmmakers should receive a nod.)


Best Picture

Obviously, Arrival should be in the conversation here, and the film's Oscar nomination was well deserved. A cerebral, emotional exploration of what it means to be human and how we perceive the world around us, Villeneuve's film is so much more than the sum of its parts and shows the raw potential of the genre to make us think about the world – and ourselves – differently.

While there's little to no chance it would ever get such esteemed recognition, Deadpool is also worth considering here due to the waves it made in the industry and the way its success is likely to shape movies for years to come. The “R”-rated, over-the-top film based on the Marvel Comics character shattered conventional wisdom about comic book movies and created an environment in which “The Deadpool Effect” is a topic of serious discussion among industry insiders.

Also for your consideration: There was nothing quite like Kubo and the Two Strings or The Witch in 2016, with the former showcasing the art of storytelling in ways no other film dared, and the latter reminding us how powerful a subtle eye and a sense of emotion can be in cinema.


Best Director

Again, Arrival director Villeneuve has earned a place here, but it might be worth considering Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, too. The first filmmaker to truly break from the tone of the Star Wars saga that had been established over the previous 40 years, Edwards managed to find just the right balance of old and new to firmly root Rogue One in the Star Wars universe while making a film that felt very different from any of the seven films that came before it. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and it can be a volatile compound in the wrong filmmaker's hands, but Edwards proved himself up to the task and then some with his gritty Star Wars adventure.

Also worth considering: Sci-fi thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane was a surprise hit and one of the year's scariest movies, and a lot of the credit for its success is owed to director Dan Trachtenberg, who made a small movie feel far bigger than it was and far more terrifying than most audiences expected it to be.


Best Actor

He's not the sort of actor who typically receives these kinds of awards, but Ryan Reynolds wasn't playing the typical kind of leading role in Deadpool, either. There's something to be said for an actor playing a role that it truly seems like he (or she) was born to play, and after watching Deadpool, it's nearly impossible to consider anyone else playing the role better – which is pretty much the definition of a great performance.


Best Actress

Arrival actress Amy Adams gave one heck of a performance in that film to earn her Oscar nomination, creating a surprising amount of depth to her character and conveying some pretty powerful, complicated elements, and it feels like a bit of a stretch to come up with anyone who came close to playing her role at the same level. The closest contenders might be Felicity Jones or Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who both stood out in Rogue One and 10 Cloverfield Lane, respectively, but it's reaching a bit.


Best Supporting Actor

The fact that John Goodman didn't get a legitimate nod as one of the year's best supporting actors feels like a snub, given his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Every bit of the mood that drives the film originates from his character, and everything from the way he breathes to the way he positions himself in a room is intentional – and terribly, terrifyingly effective. Goodman gives the sort of performance that blends a brilliant sense of nuance with the near-constant, simmering threat of what he suggests he can do – generally without speaking a word about it. Scarier than any alien creature or digitally created monster, Goodman's character is the element that makes or breaks 10 Cloverfield Lane as a movie, and fortunately, the film succeeds in a big way.


Best Supporting Actress

However you feel about the Ghostbusters reboot, one thing there seems to be some general agreement on is that Kate McKinnon was one of the best parts – if not the best part – of the film. A little bit Egon Spengler, a little bit Peter Venkman, McKinnon's eccentric, self-assured engineer Jillian Holtzmann at times felt like an amalgam of all the characters from the original 1984 film, and at other times felt like something entirely fresh and new to the Ghostbusters universe. She stole every scene she was in, and made a new generation of Ghostbusters fans eager to add a Jillian Holtzmann action figure to their collection. In one of the year's most polarizing movies, McKinnon's performance was a rock-solid win for nerdy heroes and geek cinema.


Best Screenplay

If you've read Ted Chiang's 1998 novella Story of Your Life, you already know much an achievement it was for screenwriter Eric Heisserer to turn that short story into the movie that came to be known as Arrival. The frequently nonlinear narrative presented all kinds of problems for traditional cinematic storytelling, and the fact that the final product that went to the screen was as viable and effective as it was is a triumph of storytelling that really should have earned Heisserer an Oscar.

On the flip side, a movie like Deadpool makes it easy to forget how important a strong script is because it's done so well. It's no secret that comedy isn't easy, and it's even less easy to make the sort of frantic, fast-paced humor that fuels Deadpool feel natural to the point where audiences are likely to think the majority of the dialogue is ad-libbed. That sense of free-association is intentional, and it's the product of two masters of their craft in screenwriting duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.


This week's question: Which movies and filmmakers from last year's superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy films do you think are deserving of Oscar consideration?

Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.

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