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Oscar Duel: Do Sci-Fi Films Like Star Trek Belong in Race?

Oscar Duel: Do Sci-Fi Films Like Star Trek Belong in Race?

In this dueling blog, Moviefone.com Oscarologist Jack Mathews and I discuss the recently-announced Producers Guild of America nominations and ask the question, do such sci-fi movies as District 9 and Star Trek, which made the PGA’s 10-best ballot, really belong in the Oscar Hunt?

JM — I have nothing against sci-fi movies in general or in the PGA-nominated District 9 and Star Trek in particular. They’re both brilliantly-made, FX-heavy movies. But nominees for Best Picture of the Year? No, oh no, that’s just wrong. Only two purebred sci-fi films — George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars and Steven Spielberg’s 1982 E.T. — The Extraterrestrial — have made Oscar’s Best Picture list and neither won. There have been other great sci-fi movies that I think should have been nominated — Don Siegel’s 1957 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Frank Schaffner’s 1968 Planet of the Apes, Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien and David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly — and it would be a sin for history to place District 9 and the new Star Trek ahead of them.

AT District 9 has a better chance than Star Trek to make it into the top 10. First, that’s because the critic’s darling has more gravitas than Star Trek, which after all is a reboot of a venerable franchise. Sequels don’t compete for Best Picutre, unless the first movie was nominated, like The Lord of the Rings. That’s why Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, one of the most expensive, well-crafted movies of the year, will be relegated to technical nominations, as will Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen — and Star Trek.

Maybe, just maybe, the Academy writers branch will come through for the respected Star Trek duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, but I will wager that scrappy alien movie District 9, despite its ickiness and violence, will be the movie that more voters will feel passionately about. Set in South Africa, it cleverly deals with issues such as racism and xenophobia that Academy voters take seriously. The movie is unexpectedly moving, and landed not only a PGA nom but a spot on the Academy’s competitive visual effects short list and a USC Scripter nomination.

JM — I can’t get over the fact that we’re seriously discussing movies like District 9 and Star Trek as potential Best Picture Oscar nominees. I hope the Academy will come to its senses next year and go back to five nominees. In the meantime, I disagree with your assessment of voter excitement over District 9. I just can’t picture many of the older crowd — the largest segment of the Academy’s membership — warming up to, or even finishing that movie on DVD.

The real question here, it seems to me, is how many of the voters will respond to the Academy’s implicit plea for nominations for broad audience movies that would draw more young viewers to the Oscar telecast. It wouldn’t take that many of them getting behind a popular film with a big star that they would have never considered before. I’m speaking of, gulp, The Blind Side.

AT — The Academy is what it is, a diverse group of mostly older film industry folks who want to reward quality films. They’re not thinking about helping out the ratings on ABC. The irony is that James Cameron threw them Avatar this year — the Academy didn’t need to spice up the Oscar race with a wider range of nominees. Most Oscar watchers believe this 10-film experiment will be short-lived.

Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger wonders if front-runner Avatar will get extra competition if Star Trek and District 9 do make it into the race. In order to land on the final ballot, a significant number of Academy voters will need to place those films at the number one or two position. With preferential balloting, if the two sci-fi pictures are just filling out the bottom of all the ballots, they won’t make it.

So, while I agree that District 9 could be a tough sit for many older voters, there may be enough passionate fans of the movie to push it through. It’s the little engine that could of this year’s race, the innovative indie upstart with enough serious cred to counter its sci-fi genre DNA.

JM — No one needs to wonder if Star Trek and District 9 will hurt Avatar. Yeah, all three are sci-fi movies, but Avatar is a one-of-a-kind sci-fi movie, a game changer in sports parlance. I think most voters would have them near the bottom of their ballots, so this all may be moot. I agree with you that Academy voters like to honor quality film, though they had some explainin’ to do after giving the Best Pic award to Crash a few years back. I think the Best Picture ballot will fill out with quality little movies like The Messenger or A Serious Man.

And, again, don’t forget The Blind Side.

AT — As a popular movie star in a character role (she went blond!), Sandra Bullock is a lock for an Oscar nomination. But I won’t consider The Blind Side as a best-picture Oscar contender (think of it as this year’s Gran Torino) unless it gets some support from the Guilds, and it did not even wind up on the PGA’s top 10.

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