All the talk around town is whether Star Wars can break into the Best Picture race. Scott Feinberg at the Hollywood Reporter has it listed as number 10. Under the current system, a film in the 10th slot will not make it into the Best Picture lineup as it halts at 9 as the maximum. Once again, someone else will have to explain the math to you because I do not understand why this is. It just is. They say they will count films from 5 to 10 but so far, we’ve seen films reach 9 but never 10. Last year, only 8 got in.
A brief history for newbies to the Oscar world. In the old days of Best Picture, they did not have a set number of Best Picture nominees. They had many and used a preferential ballot up until 1945, when they downshifted to five nomination slots for Best Picture and five nominees. This continued for decades. During that time, the director as auteur rose to prominence and thus, the unification between Picture and Director was born. Every time they matched 5/5 it became harder for there to be split votes. In 2008, The Dark Night missed out on a Best Picture nomination and was replaced instead by The Reader. The outcry was so intense that they decided to expand the Best Picture race to the way the Producers Guild does it now: ten nomination slots and ten nominees. With ten nomination slots, it seems possible that the Dark Knight would have gotten in because ten gives voters the opportunity and freedom to pick a good many different types of movies – from animated (both Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated) — films about women (like The Kids Are All Right, An Education and Winter’s Bone — all also directed by women).
But the problem was some voters complained that ten was too many. The less curious voters (predominantly the old guard) wanted it to be the way it used to be: five Best Picture nomination slots and five Best Picture nominees. The Academy compromised in 2011 – deciding to give voters only five slots but expand the tabulation process to allow the number of nominees to range between 5 and 10. When voters had only five slots for nominations, things changed dramatically. Gone were the variation of choices (no animated film has since been nominated, barely any about or by women). Last year’s catastrophe lopped off three of the year’s best films: Nightcrawler, Gone Girl and Foxcatcher because not enough voters felt passionately enough about them — all three had no problem making it on the Producers Guild list with ten slots for nominations and ten slots for Best Picture.
This is where we are today. Voters have five choices, not ten. The illusion is that they have ten but they don’t. Thus, it would have been hard enough for a movie like Inside Out to break in. Now, Star Wars could completely obliterate Inside Out and take whatever slot it might have had. Pixar and Disney are one in the same now so perhaps it’s not the end of the world for that studio in this example, but it’s something to consider.
Why does Star Wars compete with Inside Out and not, say, The Martian? After all, both films are set in space. Partly because The Martian is a film that appeals to adults. Star Wars, likable though it is, well reviewed though it is, blockbuster though it is — isn’t quite up to the task of being mostly an adult film. Unlike The Martian, it’s a movie that can be easily understood by kids. Some might argue that the voters in the 50s, 60s and 70s now will feel nostalgic about the Star Wars reboot to vote for it, especially now in the flurry of the last minute holiday voting that goes on. That’s certainly possible. But it’s equally likely that they will not want to vote for the film series that really changed the direction of Hollywood dramatically — pushing it towards the blockbuster, the sequel, the franchise, and eventually the superhero genre — exactly what Birdman was about. There are many in Hollywood who will feel that way. There are also a lot of members, even if not in the writing, directing or acting branches who might actually see Star Wars as one of the best films of the year.
Since Star Wars in 1977, here are the films nominated for BP that could be considered blockbusters or sci-fi or in any way relating to the legacy of what the first Star Wars started:
Raiders of the Lost Ark (maybe) – 1981
E.T. – 1982
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (maybe)
Between 2009 and 2010 (when there were ten slots)
District 9, Avatar – 2009
Inception – 2010
2011 – to present
Her – 2012
Gravity – 2013 (maybe)
Great sci-fi slash fantasy films that weren’t nominated include Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Star Trek, The Avengers, Looper, Terminator 2, Aliens, The Thing, any Harry Potter movie, any Planet of the Apes movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Matrix, Wall-E, Ghostbusters, 12 Monkeys, Contact, 28 Days Later, The Fly, Star Trek IV, Minority Report, Starman, Brazil, Children of Men.
This year, we’re already looking at three films in contention that are considered science fiction or close to it — Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian (though just barely), and Ex Machina. All three are better than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. More adult, more serious. On the other hand, maybe there hasn’t ever been anything like Star Wars in terms of its cultural impact, good and bad, and the extraordinary way JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy have decided to redirect the franchise with a woman and a black actor in leading roles. That could count for something. It could count for a lot. I guess, in the end, I personally am hoping it doesn’t fly with voters because it would mean bumping one of the excellent films that could be up for the award, and that would be a shame. But, it’s not my award and Star Wars is perfectly fine.
The Producers Guild, however, likely will nominate Star Wars because they have ten slots — and it’s also easy to see it in terms of a massive production tour de force. Thus, Star Wars fans will be eager with excitement that it might translate to an Oscar nominee. It might. One never knows how things will shake out.
Producers Guild might look something like:
Bridge of Spies
The Big Short
Straight Outta Compton
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The best thing Star Wars has going for it is how much money it’s making. It doesn’t matter that, as people keep telling me, “the first Star Wars was nominated.” That doesn’t matter because at that time George Lucas was considered one of the big players of a new generation of filmmakers like Spielberg. But the whole thing crashed into the mountain, as far as Oscar voters are concerned. It’s all gone to shit in terms of the direction Hollywood has taken — largely as a result of Star Wars’ financial success. Yet, at the same time, JJ Abrams isn’t hated the way George Lucas was.
The buzz around Star Wars could make it one of the top five choices for many voters — but it will obliterate Inside Out’s chances of getting in, even though Inside Out is the far better film overall? (Let’s face it). Still, the hype is the hype — and the way The Force Awakens has redirected the franchise is interesting.
Gun to my head right now I might agree with Feinberg, that it could claim the rare (almost mythological) 10th slot. I don’t have much faith in the Force, however, that enough voters will put it as their #1 film of the year (try to imagine the person that would and then try to imagine how many of them are in the Academy) to put it in contention for a nomination in the first place. But, it also can’t be completely dismissed because of the excitement around it.
For now, it goes on the contender tracker.