Some reactions to the jabs against superhero movies at the Oscars

In my Oscar reactions post, I already addressed the jabs against superhero movies during the ceremony and explained why they sat badly with me. Hell, even Birdman winning the Oscar for best picture can be seen as a slam against superhero movies, since it’s a movie about an actor who used to star in a popular superhero franchise, starring three actors who used to be in popular superhero franchises, trying to make a comeback with a serious Broadway role and yet being haunted by his superheroic past.

It seems I wasn’t the only person who had that reaction, because in the past few days several posts and articles have popped up commenting on why the Oscars seem to hate science fiction and superhero movies, a question posed by Entertainment Monthly.

Hence, the International Business Times points out that the Oscars are biassed against science fiction, fantasy and horror films as well as foreign language films. Even worse, non-English-language that are massive successes around the world such as Run, Lola, Run, Good-Bye, Lenin, The Intouchables, Monsieur Claude and his Daughters as well as any number of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean films are regularly snubbed even in the foreign language category. Apparently, playing very ill or disabled people only nets you an Oscar, if you’re American or British, as Francois Cluzet and Katrin Sass can attest.

And should a science fiction, fantasy or horror movie manage to win any Oscars in one of the prestigious categories, critics and cultural pundits usually view it as a sign that the world is about to end and that Hollywood has fallen to the barbarians. View the reactions to the many Oscars won by The Return of the King (which even took best picture, the only SFF film ever to do so), Avatar and Gravity. View the reaction to Silence of the Lambs, a horror movie, becoming only the third movie ever to win the quintuple, i.e. best film, best actor, best actress, best director and best screenplay (the other two were Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night in 1935 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976 BTW). View the reactions to Kathy Bates winning an Oscar for Misery (“She’s old. And fat. And won for a horror movie.” – Yeah, cause she was amazing). I guess Heath Ledger was only spared those reactions when he won for his marvellous portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight (and for the record, I don’t even like that movie), because he was dead by the time he won the award and besides, it’s kind of obvious that his posthumous win for The Dark Knight was an attempt to make up for the snub for Brokeback Mountain earlier.

The Wrap makes a point I made as well, namely that slams against superhero movies look kind of hypocritical when many present and past Oscar winners and nominees have appeared in such movies. Also kudos for remembering that J.K. Simmons used to play J. Jonah Jameson, that Felicity Jones was Felicia Hardy and Marion Cotillard was Talia al Ghul and that Benedict Cumberbatch will soon be Doctor Strange. Oh yes, and apparently Viola Davis is in the running for the role of Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad now, which makes me happy, because I find her so much more suitable for the part than Oprah Winfrey of all people.

Meanwhile, James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, points out that he didn’t feel offended by those remarks but resents the implication that directors of superhero movies and other big budget spectaculars put less care into their films than directors of arty indie fare. There’s also a nice little counterjab against Dan Gilroy, who apparently made disparaging remarks about a “tsunami of superhero movies” at the Independent Spirit Awards, when Gunn points out that Gilroy’s wife Rene Russo actually played Frigga in the two Thor movies (and was great in the role, too, particularly in The Dark World), so stones and glasshouses and all that.

Blastr comments on James Gunn’s comments and adds a few of their own.

ETA: Den of Geek discusses why the Academy seems to hate Christopher Nolan in particular, since Interstellar was only nominated in a few technical categories, while Christopher Nolan was not nominated at all. Now I’ve never much cared for Christopher Nolan’s work ever since I watched Memento and wondered what all the fuss was about. Nonetheless, both Nolan and Interstellar are better than some of what was nominated.

If the Academy was merely biassed against entertainment movies, the snubs against SFF movies might be more bearable. But it simply isn’t true that the Academy only awards adventurous arthouse movies, because it doesn’t (never mind that some SFF and comic book movies are artistically adventurous such as Sin City or From Dusk Till Dawn or Under the Skin or Only Lovers Left Alive). For every Boyhood and Birdman, which tries to do something different artistically, there are lots conventional biopics and sick people dramas and bloated historical epics and propaganda epics that don’t do anything we haven’t seen a thousand times before in the past eighty years. Nor does the Academy hate fluffy entertainment as the many wins for musicals even in the best picture category over the years attest. Ditto for tearjerking melodramas, which frequently win as well in spite of being blatantly manipulative. I mean, in what world is Titanic a better movie than Aliens or the first two Terminators or even Avatar? In what world is Chicago a better film than The Two Towers? In what world is Annie Hall a better film than either Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

In many ways, the Oscars have never moved on since the 1930s. Studios are still producing a lot of what they deem “popular trash for the masses” to finance the prestigious Oscar-bait pictures, the biographies of “great men” (and they’re still overwhelmingly men), the blatant propaganda flicks disguised as high art, the tearjerking melodramas about people being ill or dying in dramatic ways. And in twenty or fifty or eighty years, film fans will react to those choices just as we do to the Oscar winners of the 1930s. “What do you mean, Eddie Redmayne won his Oscar for The Imitation Game rather than Jupiter Ascending?” – “They could have awarded the 2012 Oscar for best picture to The Avengers and instead they chose Argo? What the fuck is Argo anyway?” – “Slumdog Millionaire honestly won best picture instead of The Dark Knight, which wasn’t even nominated?”

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1 Response to Some reactions to the jabs against superhero movies at the Oscars

  1. Mark H. says:

    I think it’s in the nature of awards that they are biased. If there wouldn’t be any bias there would be just one awards for novels, one for movies, and so on. Sometimes I share that bias, sometimes I don’t, so for instance, I agree with you 100% with everything that you criticize about the German Book Award.

    Membership of the Academy is open to international film makers, but most of the members happen to be American (a similar situation like with SFWA and the Nebulas, I guess), so of course I don’t expect the Oscars to honor the best in movies on a global scale. Compared to the 90s and 00s when I started to watch the Oscars there are actually much more nominations for foreign language movies in categories other than for the best foreign language movie.

    Another bias of the Oscars was also always the niche between the big blockbuster movies and the independent artsy movies, and I personally would prefer if that would stay that way. I think that niche is getting narrower in the last 10 years or so. You have the cine plexes which show the blockbusters and you have the arthouse cinemas which show the independent movies, but the kind of movies that people sometimes call “gehobener Mainstream” in Germany (which could be translated to “superior mainstream”, maybe?) almost disappeared from mainstream cinemas. People don’t put big money anymore into challenging screenplays like they did it in the 9os and 00s. So if you can preserve some of the culture around it, I’m all for it.

    Which doesn’t mean that I doesn’t also dislike a lot about the Oscar’s, the biases in favor of movies about WW2 or more recently explicit US patriotism in movies: Argo, Zero Dark Thirty… I thought Argo was one of the most annoying and artistically and technically boring of recent years. And yes the American bio pic tends to follow a very boring standard formula.

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