The Academy Awards have never been heavy on science fiction, and the 2019 awards are no exception. Still, some movies should have been nominated, while others could have been left out. Allow me to write a few words on what I think of this year’s nominations, as they pertain to the science fiction genre.
The only nominated movie that can be considered science fiction is Black Panther. Last year featured five major live action comic book movies: The nominated Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Venom, Ant-Man and The Wasp and Aquaman. I don’t believe any of the five deserved a best movie nomination (nor did any other science fiction movie from 2018). They were all hugely profitable and popular with their audiences, but none brought anything groundbreaking in art direction, story or acting. Of those five, Black Panther is actually the least deserving. It has a very predictable plot, relies too heavily on “wonder weapon” script shortcuts, and it takes itself way too seriously. I just didn’t enjoy myself watching this movie than the rest of the crop. However, it maintained a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating for a while (it still sits in the upper 90s), so a nomination had to be expected. Interestingly, I may not be the only one with this opinion: Black Panther has a lower viewer rating than critics score.
Best Actress/Supporting Actress
I believe two outstanding performances were missed here. First, Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place. She is terrific throughout the movie, and her birth scene has caused me almost physical pain. I would go as far as to label that scene to be my most engrossing piece of my cinema experience of the year. But my award would go to Jodie Foster in Hotel Artemis. She was wonderfully quirky, deranged and conflicted. She pulled it off so believably that her acting raised the movie to a whole new level, outshining the already superb performances from the rest of the cast.
Cinematography is not only about expansive pictures or long tracking shots. It’s also about an inventive use of the camera. I believe that one of the nominees should have been Upgrade. I’m not overly fond of the movie, but the camera work in the fight scenes, where the protagonist remains stationary while the entire world around him twists and turns, is more seamless than the rotating camera in Inception. This alone elevated the movie to a level it otherwise wouldn’t deserve to be at.
Best Visual Effects
Three of five movies in this category can be called science fiction: Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One and Solo: A Star Wars Story. I believe, however, that the beauty of Annihilation should not only have been nominated, but it should have taken the award. The movie depicts a marvelous world, and the effects are so engrossing that the viewer could easily forget this was not real-world Florida. The ending went a little over the top, but until that point the movie (especially viewed in a theater) felt at times almost like a nature documentary.
Best Film Editing
If any science fiction movie was nominated here, it would have to be Venom. For the same reason the first Star Wars movie won this award. The movie may be fine as it is, but editing made it hugely enjoyable. It meticulously paced the movie so that I was never bored, nor exhausted from too much action, and I got my chuckles in carefully managed doses. Venom is, in my opinion, the best Marvel property movie made by Sony, and it owes its success entirely to two factors: Tom Hardy in the leading role and the film editing.
Looking back, science fiction had a fairly poor year in 2018. There were very few movies that stood out, and even then mostly in technical categories. I expect more of the same this year and in the near future. The good news is, however, that direct to stream movies have gained in quality, and many of them can directly compete with cinema blockbusters. If we look carefully, we may find some real gems in the years to come. The only question that remains is whether the Academy takes notice, too.