It’s been ten years since a science-fiction film was singled out as a serious nominee for best picture. I’m not talking fantasy (Lord of the Rings) or fable (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) but straight-up sci-fi, like the head-spinning jumps between reality and the afterlife that distinguished The Sixth Sense way back in 1999.
That’s a long, long time to ignore cinema’s most popular genre.
I was encouraged Thursday to see the National Board of Review add District 9 to its list of the top 10 independent films of the year – going even further with Star Trek, naming it one of the top 10 films of 2009 – and I’m hoping this will be enough to nudge all of you into giving another sci-fi film a shot at the top award before the decade comes to an end.
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Neill Blomkamp’s film is smart, stylish and suspenseful – not to mention wildly popular. It balances the action of Aliens and the intricate details of Children of Men with the social commentary of Dark City or WALL-E. Like last year’s Dark Knight, which was roundly snubbed by the Academy, or 2006’s Casino Royale, which suffered much the same fate, it is one of those rare mass entertainments that also sets out to suvert expectations and challenge the audience.
The history of the Oscars ceremony, though, is one that tends to favor drama over adventure, intimate scenes over visionary special effects. In 1978, it was Annie Hall that beat out Star Wars for best picture. In 1982, it was Gandhi that trounced E.T. Even as Peter Weir was being nominated for best director, The Truman Show was being snubbed in favor of comedies and period pieces.
I must admit: District 9 would be a long shot, if not for the fact that you expanded this year’s best picture competition to include 10 nominees. If we’re talking the ten best films of the year, I think District 9 clears that bar. More than that: I think it would go on to stand a decent chance of wooing voters. Sure, Precious and Up in the Air will be right there, hogging the headlines. We might even see another popular favorite, such as Harry Potter, sneak onto the ballot. But I think ten nominees will inspire a whole new sort of debate, and as all those intimate dramas start splitting votes, perhaps a sci-fi contingent among Academy voters – those who appreciate stories that dare to think big – will unite around the best film of its kind in years.
If Avatar lives up to expectations, who knows: Perhaps we could even see two sci-fi epics going head to head.
When The Dark Knight got snubbed last year, it unleashed outrage online. But you can make it right this year by at least acknowledging a groundbreaking film that succeeded in captivating the world. You have ten slots to fill, and I think we all know a sci-fi film deserves to make the cut for once.
For your consideration: District 9. Best picture.
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