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Oscar Duel: Do Sci-Fi Films Like Star Trek Belong in Race?

by Anne Thompson
January 8, 2010 2:00 AM
9 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

In this dueling blog, Moviefone.com Oscarologist Jack Mathews and I discuss the recently-announced Producers Guild of America nominations and ask the question, do such sci-fi movies as District 9 and Star Trek, which made the PGA's 10-best ballot, really belong in the Oscar Hunt?

JM -- I have nothing against sci-fi movies in general or in the PGA-nominated District 9 and Star Trek in particular. They're both brilliantly-made, FX-heavy movies. But nominees for Best Picture of the Year? No, oh no, that's just wrong. Only two purebred sci-fi films -- George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's 1982 E.T. -- The Extraterrestrial -- have made Oscar's Best Picture list and neither won. There have been other great sci-fi movies that I think should have been nominated -- Don Siegel's 1957 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Frank Schaffner's 1968 Planet of the Apes, Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien and David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of The Fly -- and it would be a sin for history to place District 9 and the new Star Trek ahead of them.

Thompson on Hollywood

AT -- District 9 has a better chance than Star Trek to make it into the top 10. First, that's because the critic's darling has more gravitas than Star Trek, which after all is a reboot of a venerable franchise. Sequels don't compete for Best Picutre, unless the first movie was nominated, like The Lord of the Rings. That's why Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, one of the most expensive, well-crafted movies of the year, will be relegated to technical nominations, as will Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- and Star Trek.

Maybe, just maybe, the Academy writers branch will come through for the respected Star Trek duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, but I will wager that scrappy alien movie District 9, despite its ickiness and violence, will be the movie that more voters will feel passionately about. Set in South Africa, it cleverly deals with issues such as racism and xenophobia that Academy voters take seriously. The movie is unexpectedly moving, and landed not only a PGA nom but a spot on the Academy's competitive visual effects short list and a USC Scripter nomination.

JM -- I can't get over the fact that we're seriously discussing movies like District 9 and Star Trek as potential Best Picture Oscar nominees. I hope the Academy will come to its senses next year and go back to five nominees. In the meantime, I disagree with your assessment of voter excitement over District 9. I just can't picture many of the older crowd -- the largest segment of the Academy's membership -- warming up to, or even finishing that movie on DVD.

The real question here, it seems to me, is how many of the voters will respond to the Academy's implicit plea for nominations for broad audience movies that would draw more young viewers to the Oscar telecast. It wouldn't take that many of them getting behind a popular film with a big star that they would have never considered before. I'm speaking of, gulp, The Blind Side.

AT -- The Academy is what it is, a diverse group of mostly older film industry folks who want to reward quality films. They're not thinking about helping out the ratings on ABC. The irony is that James Cameron threw them Avatar this year -- the Academy didn't need to spice up the Oscar race with a wider range of nominees. Most Oscar watchers believe this 10-film experiment will be short-lived.

Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger wonders if front-runner Avatar will get extra competition if Star Trek and District 9 do make it into the race. In order to land on the final ballot, a significant number of Academy voters will need to place those films at the number one or two position. With preferential balloting, if the two sci-fi pictures are just filling out the bottom of all the ballots, they won't make it.

So, while I agree that District 9 could be a tough sit for many older voters, there may be enough passionate fans of the movie to push it through. It's the little engine that could of this year's race, the innovative indie upstart with enough serious cred to counter its sci-fi genre DNA.

JM -- No one needs to wonder if Star Trek and District 9 will hurt Avatar. Yeah, all three are sci-fi movies, but Avatar is a one-of-a-kind sci-fi movie, a game changer in sports parlance. I think most voters would have them near the bottom of their ballots, so this all may be moot. I agree with you that Academy voters like to honor quality film, though they had some explainin' to do after giving the Best Pic award to Crash a few years back. I think the Best Picture ballot will fill out with quality little movies like The Messenger or A Serious Man.

And, again, don't forget The Blind Side.

AT -- As a popular movie star in a character role (she went blond!), Sandra Bullock is a lock for an Oscar nomination. But I won't consider The Blind Side as a best-picture Oscar contender (think of it as this year's Gran Torino) unless it gets some support from the Guilds, and it did not even wind up on the PGA's top 10.

9 Comments

  • None of the Above | January 11, 2010 4:00 AMReply

    I think none of them should be best picture, but if Avatar is in, then the others should be too. District 9 was not as stupid of a story as Avatar, but it was poorly structured. Moon was great for Sam Rockwell's performance and the direction, but the robot was too "Hal" derivative and the production design too Kubrick, Avatar had a silly script and was high cheese fantasy van art (it was also about 45 minutes too long), Star Trek was visually dazzling with really great sound effects, but the story was hard to follow and I got nausious watching all those dolly shots and CGI lens flares. If this is a come back for sci-fi, great! But these are mostly popcorn movies. The only thing worth nominating is the sound effects in Star Trek, Sam Rockwell's performance in Moon and District 9... well for its freshness. Avatar would be fourth for me. I don't even think it would make my top 10. I hope they all get nominated though so that they will cannibalize each other's votes so a really good film like "Inlglorious Basterds" or "The Hurt Locker" can sweep.

  • alan green | January 10, 2010 4:06 AMReply

    "I hope the Academy will come to its senses next year and go back to five nominees." -- agree. are there really en movies a year that are on the highest level? i mean, where does it end. why not 15 nominated films? 20? ...you see my point...

    as for sci-fi getting a nod -- it's a non-issue to me. the only reason it's discussed is the genre used to be, for the most part, pure camp. 'attack of the giant [name of insect here]', etc. kids stuff. saturday matinee flicks. now, that isn't the case. district 9 is a theme-driven drama with sci-fi elements. if it's on the highest level, give it a nom.

    i think the bias/distinction will fade in a few years

  • Michael Shook | January 10, 2010 12:25 AMReply

    How amazingly short-sided, close-minded, and just plain PREJUDICIAL. "That's just wrong", indeed.

  • Matches Malone | January 9, 2010 1:34 AMReply

    Why are we classifying movies according to genre for this discussion? District 9 is a great film, and should be nominated. Avatar, your game changer, was totally predictable, and shouldn't get a nomination, much less a win. Your comment that older viewers won't get either District 9 or Star Trek, can be made of Avatar. Give it the effects award it so richly deserves, and be done with it...

  • Gary | January 8, 2010 9:27 AMReply

    District 9, by far was the best, the most original, and most moving sci-fi movie of the year...and deserves to be nominated, maybe not win. But a nomination for sure.

    Star Trek...just another reboot
    Avatar...just eye candy, lame story...Dances with Blue People
    Moon...great story, not enough exposure
    Blind Side...just another biopic, feel good sports story

  • jaycbird | January 8, 2010 8:48 AMReply

    Thank you, Tom, for bringing up MOON!! At least it is making the BAFTAs long list this week, and in TEN categories! I just wish it had a 'campaign' behind it! Ah well... what's a statue worth, anyway...?

  • Josh T | January 8, 2010 7:18 AMReply

    The 10 nominations for Best Picture of the year should be the 10 Best movies of the year. SIMPLE!

    And Crash was a good movie that year. What kind of "explainin’ to do " should they give? That it won BP because it received the most votes in order to win BP.

  • Jeff R Hall | January 8, 2010 6:20 AMReply

    Wow, talk about bias. The term "Brilliantly made" is directly followed by, "No, oh no, that’s just wrong." I guess quality isn't a consideration?

    If Mr. Matthews is merely speaking of how he believes the Academy will vote, and not commenting on whether he finds D9 quality enough for a nod, I apologize.

  • Tom | January 8, 2010 6:10 AMReply

    I'm not sure whether this debate is about whether District 9 and Trek *should* be nominated or *will* be nominated. Either way, the category is simple - Best Picture. Not Best Arthouse film, or Best Drama, or Best Movie with New Technology, or Best Movie Released in December by the Prestige Branch of A Major Studio Looking to Pump Up the Numbers of it's Upcoming Video Release. Best Picture. Easy.

    As far as not nominating Trek or District 9 because they're not in the same league as Body Snatchers, Planet of the Apes, et. all... crazy. Following this logic, no movie should be nominated this year for anything because superior classics exist in each respected genre across the board. You could play this game all day. Hurt Locker? Paths of Glory. A Serious Man? Crimes and Misdemeanors... and on and on. Invalid reasoning for keeping these titles off the list I say.

    Valid reasoning would be that there are superior films to be nominated, Moon being a prime example. For apparently political reasons only is this film not being supported for any kind of recognition. I love Trek, and though District 9 was good, but Moon is obviously the superior film, sci-fi or not.

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