Superheroes Represent At The Oscars

Last night, the Academy Awards were surprisingly kind to superhero films. Sure, there were some disappointments, big and small; seriously, First Man had better special effects than Avengers: Infinity War? Please. But on the whole the superhero film genre was well represented in the Academy Awards for films that came out in 2018.

Recognizing the MCU

Comic book fans had reasons to celebrate last month when Black Panther was nominated for best film. As we all know, this is the first time a superhero film earned that prestigious nomination. Whether or not the film deserved it is open for debate. But nevertheless it was a great and historic moment for fans as at last the superhero film was recognized as a genuine piece of cinematic art. OK, this is a bit hyperbolic, but the fact is that for too long superhero films were considered juvenile fare though that has been far from the truth.

black panther at wakanda

In the past, these films were often nominated for best visual effects or some other technical category and sometimes won. That has changed slowly over recent years. The Dark Knight picked up an award for Best Supporting Actor in addition to getting numerous technical nominations. However, many rightly felt that The Dark Knight should have been nominated for Best Picture, and this snub caused a changed in the amount of films that can get the Best Picture nomination. Others also believed that Logan should have received a Best Picture nomination, but it did get one for Best Adapted Screenplay. This was the first time a superhero film got such a distinguished nomination. With this, it was only a matter of time before a superhero film was nominated for Best Picture and that happened only a year later.

Of course, cynics will credit Black Panther’s numerous nominations to a strong marketing campaign from Disney, and they would not be wrong. But in the end the film studio was largely successful with Black Panther nabbing the coveted Best Picture nomination. Honestly, it winning was always a long shot, especially since it didn’t garner nominations for directing, writing or acting. Traditionally, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a huge bias against genre films. No science fiction film has ever won, and only a couple of fantasy films have won including The Shape of Water. Also, that film just won for Best Picture the year before. There wasn’t any way the Academy would allow a genre film to win for Best Picture two years in a row. In fact, this doesn’t happen with other genres. Besides, the Academy likes to pick “important” biographies or historical dramas with timely messages.

Put all that aside for now. It was great that not only was Black Panther nominated, but that it actually won three well-deserved awards. The most for any superhero film. Frankly, it would have been a shock if the film didn’t win for Best Costume Design or Best Production Design. In these categories, Black Panther excelled with its unique and eye-popping visual look and costumes. The award for Best Original Music Score was a pleasant surprise since the score was so enchanting. These wins signal the Academy’s recognition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) quality and caliber. This will be the first of many awards that the MCU will win. It may be a long time before an MCU film or any superhero film will win for Best Picture, but it will happen.

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Argo’s Sci-Fi Connection

Argo producer

One thing not really being talked about in the movie trades and news regarding the movie Argo winning the Oscar for Best Picture is Argo’s sci-fi angle. It’s the first time this has happened with a Best Picture winner.

For the unaware reader, the movie is about the CIA’s efforts during the Iran Hostage Crisis to rescue six Americans hiding in a Canadian embassy in Tehran. A crucial sub-plot in Argo has to do with Ben Affleck’s character of CIA operative Tony Mendez coming up with the off-the-wall idea of entering Iran to rescue the American hostages by posing as a film producer. This scheme involves him supposedly producing a fake “science fantasy adventure” movie called Argo and he wants to film the project in Iran because of its exotic location. Unbelievably this scheme works as Mendez is given permission by Iran to enter the hostile country for location scouting.

Actually Argo the fake movie was based on a never-made sci-fi movie called Lord Of Light (based on a book of the same name). Lord Of Light went far enough into pre-production that legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby was commissioned to draw some concept art for the film project.

kirby argo 2

The whole thing with the fictitious movie is just a gimmick while Argo is devoted to the efforts to smuggle out the Americans. The movie cannot be considered sci-fi at all, yet it has a sliver of a sci-fi connection. This is the closest that the disrespected genre (in Hollywood’s eyes) has come to date for being part of a movie that is a Best Picture winner. Not much, but it’s a first step.

Perhaps one day a genuine sci-fi movie will earn that Best Picture honor on Oscar night.

Lewis T. Grove