Discuss: Can Cuarón's 'Gravity' Reverse Oscar's Sci-Fi Dry Spell?
by Joey Magidson
October 7, 2013
By now I hope most (if not all) of you have seen Alfonso Cuaron's terrific new film Gravity at least once. Some of you have probably even seen it a bunch of times already. Not only is it an epic piece of cinema and among the year's best movies, it also represents a rare science fiction Oscar contender (and yes, I know calling it "sci-fi" is debatable, but it's close enough). That genre has had a hard going in the Best Picture field over the years, but it's possible that the days of knowing that a sci-fi flick was a surefire Academy loser might very well be over this year. I don't actually think that Gravity will take home the Oscar at this point, but it could make a stronger play than just about any other contender of its ilk over the last decade or so.
Some of you might be curious about the history of sci-fi and the Academy Awards. Well, it's not the longest history ever. Basically, of the over 500 films nominated for Best Picture to date (503, if you want the specific number), only a half dozen have ever been science fiction. Yes, only six. The first was Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (surprisingly 2001: A Space Odyssey was not nominated for Best Picture but did win Best Effects) and the most recent was Nolan's Inception. Between those two, Avatar, District 9 (in the same year for those, a feat we may never see again), E.T., and Star Wars were also nominated for Best Picture. They all lost too. So sci-fi is zero for 503. Gravity will almost assuredly become the 504th nominee, but will it be a serious player to win? I doubt it, but it's not impossible.
To get to the bottom of that particular question and the reason for my answer, you have to look at Cuaron's Gravity both as a sci-fi masterpiece and on its own as an awards contender. What it has in common with those aforementioned sci-fi movies is that it is likely to go down as an all time classic for the genre. The trouble is, that kind of longevity takes years to establish, not months, so by the time most accept it as a classic, the Oscar ceremony will be long over, for this year at least.
Now, considering how Gravity is one of the more universally praised sci-fi outings in a long time (just look here at all that Alex had to say) and a certified blockbuster now to boot, does that improve its chances somewhat? Sure it does, but at the same time, if the Academy rejected the highest grossing film of all time, that doesn't bode well for this one here. Money is a factor here, but Oscar likes to have "their" sorts of films make money and then reward, as opposed to leaving their comfort zone to reward a financial success.
If you want something to grab on to as a reason for why the film could possibly pull the upset, you can look to how this is the rare movie of its ilk that displays a very auteur-ish bent. This feels almost more like an indie flick than a true blockbuster, so that could certainly sway some voters. Going by my predictions from a few days ago here, I have Gravity scoring nine nominations, but double digit nods are hardly out of the question. In fact, many have it getting a dozen noms. That would put it in play to be the most nominated film of the year, something it will need if it wants any chance to compete for the biggest prizes out there.
You can mark the movie down for Best Picture, Director, Actress, and most technical nominations, so where we'll truly see if the Academy adores Gravity is in the Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay fields. If Oscar truly is on board with this flick, the Screenplay nomination should be easy, but if George Clooney can score a nod for his small part, that'll truly say something. He's a dark horse in this race now for sure.
As for wins, if only Sandra Bullock hadn't already won, this would be the spot for Gravity to dominate (she's not assured of a loss, but I wouldn't bet on her winning a second Oscar so soon). Bullock does have a chance to pull a major upset though. I'd put her in third place right now, behind Amy Adams (in American Hustle) and Cate Blanchett (in Blue Jasmine), so if the former disappoints and the latter fades during the precursors, it's possible Bullock could wind up the last woman standing. She certainly has her crusaders, as we saw with the Criticwire Critics' Poll from TIFF which embraced her quite a bit and the movie itself.
As it stands now, I think Gravity will take the majority of the tech categories (notably Best Visual Effects, which seems a forgone conclusion already). Should it do better than the four wins I currently predict, that could mean something for sure. For example, Avatar won three Oscars while coming in second place to The Hurt Locker. Granted that had District 9 also competing in some of the same categories and splitting votes (something Gravity won't have to deal with), but the tech categories are where the film will do its damage.
Keep this in mind… not everyone agrees with me about Gravity probably not taking Best Picture. A cursory search on Twitter (tweets here, here, and here for example) will find plenty of folks who feel strongly that this is a frontrunner for Best Director and/or Picture. Also working in its favor is that the Academy could be warming towards sci-fi. 2010 was a pretty good year for the genre, though up until then it was sort of a wasteland for films of its ilk, so one line of thinking has this potentially groundbreaking film being the one to finally shatter this glass ceiling, as it were.
Even if Gravity doesn't wind up winning Best Picture, and again, I expect that it won't when all is said and done, fans of the movie (myself included) can take solace in the fact that this likely going to go down in the annals of sci-fi history as an all-time classic. That should mean something, right? What do you think?