Oscars - the Academy's favoritism for best picture awards

Why has no science fiction or horror movie ever won a Best Picture award? I just came from surfing www.Oscar.com and made this observation.

Why are the winners always historical epics or “plausibly-realistic” dramas?

Why does a movie have to be “realistic” to win?

I’m sure there have been plenty of sci-fi and horror nominees, but never a winner for those genres. The closest thing to a horror movie that ever won was Silence of the Lambs. IMHO, while SOTL is scary, gory, and disturbing, I consider SOTL a suspense-drama-thriller.

Some classic examples that come to mind which could have won best picture for horror & sci-fi are

2001 A space Oddysey
The Exorcist
Dracula ( 30s w/ Bela Lugosi)
Frankenstein (30s w/ Boris Karloff)
Star Wars (original)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

etc etc

WTF? Why is the Academy so damn stuffy? Loosen the heck up and give a horror or sci fi flick, best picture, for once.

You might as well ask why comedies win so infrequently also.

Or why films that aren’t in English don’t win either.

Or animated films.

Or documentaries.

It’s almost like the Heisman Trophy in college football. It never really goes to the best player overall. It goes to the best player on offense nearly every time.

And the reasons are almost the same. It’s because the voters who vote for those awards have a particular perception of what is “the best” and they aren’t going to change. And that perception has been drummed into their heads throughout time, so it’s even harder to change.

Yours is not the lone voice. I’ve heard rumblings in favor of the creation of new categories, such as pretty much re-categorizing the Best Picture award as “Best Drama” and creating Best Comedy/Musical/Teen Slasher Flick awards. Who knows, reform may be on the way.

For 2001 they added the category for Best Animated Feature Film, so I hope soon they create separate categories for Best Drama and Best Comedy/Musical. It makes sense, and the Golden Globes do it that way now.

I do think, though that sci-fi and horror would still fit into the drama category, so it would still be a tough sell. The academy has rarely taken the summer blockbuster movies seriously, and anyway, the studios promote the dramas more heavily come award season. I think many academy members vote for the movie from the studio that sent them the most free stuff.

Rosemary’s Baby was another horror film that I think had the stuff to be a Best Picture contender.

Like all awards, the Oscars are going to favor those that have something more to say than just “here’s a good story.” Awards throughout the arts go to works with depth – which means dramas.

Comedies get shorted because people can’t agree on what’s funny; and most are lightweight. It’d be hard to pick a comedy that was any good these days. “The Animal”? “Little Nicky”? “Notting Hill”? (Who did you think deserved the best comedy Oscar last year?)

Same thing with science fiction (and I say this as someone with a strong professional interest in the field). Most SF films these days are flashy and gimicky special-effects extravaganza, with less depth than a sheet of aluminum foil. There really hasn’t been a first-class intelligent SF film since “12 Monkeys” (“Gattaca” tried, but was ultimately so poorly thought out that it ended up being just as dumb as “The Time Machine”).

Setting up separate categories is an admission that those films aren’t good enough to compete the dramas on their own. And it won’t fix anything – see the omission of “Waking Life” from the animated nominees (probably because of prejudice among animators against the technology involved).

This may be near the mark in principle, but I don’t think it is actually the case in practice. The truth is–or seems to be–that the Academy doesn’t know what it likes. Winning the Oscar is as much a process of lobbying and publicizing as it is of including merit into the candidate work.

The Academy also tends to be an older set. Roger Ebert even refers to them as generally “stuffy” in one of his reviews, but I can’t remember which one.

Ultimately this renders the Oscars process one of selective “stuffy” Academy taste, sympathy voting, lobbying/publicity, and whatever “theme” (if any) the Academy drifts toward honouring.

Jonatahan Rosenbaum wrote a book on the whole “film conspiracy”. More about it here.

It’s difficult for comedies because very few comedies have much substance, funny as they may be (and do we really want to give simple slapstick or toilet humour awards??). I would have nominated the obscure The Specials as best comedy on the strength of its script alone, which is 17 times better than any other comedy I’ve seen this year. Where else do you see a gothed-out superheroine reply to an invitation to join a super-team with: “Thanks, I’ll think about it. Now get off my lawn, you fucking cunt!”

The reason Science Fiction films never win is not necessarily due to the quality or themes of sci-fi films–there are extremely good and powerful works that pop up from time to time, but they never win in spite of their merits–but because science fiction is simply not something that everyone is able to A) understand, B) appreciate. It’s a field normally derided as escapist fun for kids, but sci-fi can be much harder to execute and view than mainstream films. Obviously I’m not talking about your generic action-packed sci-fi Independence Day type flick.

Twelve Monkeys was a good film and good science fiction, but probably not one of the all-time greatest sci-fi films. Not something I would put next to Metropolis, 2001, or Blade Runner for example.

You say there hasn’t been a first-class intelligent sci-fi film since 12 Monkeys (1995) but I have to disagree–there have actually been some rather more intelligent films since then. What about Dark City (1998), Existenz (1999), Donnie Darko (2001), Avalon (2001), and similar films so deep it is advisable to wear a life-jacket while viewing them? True, none of these films was as popular as Twelve Monkeys and all of them were harder to grasp, but that is not to say they weren’t worthy of attention. These films will stand the test of time, IMHO, and will probably become classics.

I think Gattaca and The Thirteenth Floor were perhaps a tier below the films mentioned above, but they tried, they partially succeeded, and they sure as heck weren’t anywhere near as bad as The Time Machine or similar embarrassing drivel. Contrast the admittedly too character-involved Gattaca with outright sappy efforts such as The Truman Show and I think the former comes out looking quite dignified.

Then there are films that are more seriously flawed, but that made important (if sometimes overlooked) contributions nonetheless, such as Event Horizon (1997), The Matrix (1999), The Cell (2000), and so on. I particularly enjoyed The Cell’s amazing visuals, its pace, and the mind-therapy; I was delighted with the energy, stylishness, and layered reality of The Matrix; and I found that Event Horizon had one hell of a setting (the curiously organic ship and the “horror in outer space” approach) even though it was quite a weak movie overall.

You are probably right. In one sense having multiple categories may be a good thing for the type of film that is usually overlooked, such as animated films–a category they introduced at the last Oscars. Of course, that means that the award for Best Film will essentially be off-limits to any genres that already have their own category, so I guess we’ll never see an animated feature win the best film award.

I imagine that eventually the stuffy Academy will reluctantly introduce a category for “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Film” as well, in order to keep the fans happy without compromising the “integrity” of the Best Film award. Unfortunately they won’t be able to vote when selecting the winner, since I doubt the average Academy member understands more than the bare basics of Science Fiction.

So, when the artist can’t make up his mind what the heck he’s trying to say, so instead decides to confuse his audience even more than himself, that’s good art?

And I don’t know if you’re lumping fantasy in with SF, but a great many folks think that Fellowship of the Ring was shafted this year. It doesn’t even have the problems with “understandability” that you might find in science fiction: It’s magic, you’re not expected to understand it.

I have a different opinion of that film. It is confusing, but it does work. It certainly does have a rather strong fantasy element that is quite bewildering and escapes analysis, but then again as Arthur C. Clarke noted sufficiently advanced technology could look like magic to a less advanced civilization.

Actually I consider the two fields distinct, although some films do draw from both. The Lord of the Rings is clearly a fantasy film, I loved it–can’t wait for the release of the extended version this autumn-- and I am one of those who think it was shafted at the Oscars.

But I think that if the Academy ever does decide to set up a category specifically to honour these films that normally do not win the “Best Film” award, the category will include both sci-fi and fantasy.

I agree completely with what you say about “understanding” magic.