For the past 90 years, the Academy Awards have never recognized a science-fiction film as the Best Picture of the year, not even once. That all changed Sunday night.
The Shape of Water, the science-fiction fantasy romance about a sea creature falling in love with a human, took home four Oscars from this year’s Academy Awards, with one of them being the highly-coveted award for Best Picture. This win is notable for multiple reasons. One is because this marks the third occasion where a Mexican-American filmmaker won Best Director at the Academy Awards (congratulations, Guillermo Del Toro). Another reason is because this is the first film to win Best Picture this decade without being nominated for Outstanding Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. But perhaps the most notable achievement The Shape of Water can claim is that it is the first science-fiction film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, breaking a losing streak going on for more than 90 years.
High praise is due for The Shape of Water for its music, its production value, and its fantastic performances by its esteemed cast. And yet, the win feels underwhelming, mostly because there were several science-fiction films that deserved to win the esteemed award in the past, yet did not win because of its genre association.
Here are five films that should have won Best Picture long before The Shape Of Water’s historical win:
5. Inception over The King’s Speech
Don’t get me wrong, The King’s Speech was a powerfully-acted and wonderfully written slice of British royalty drama. But compared to the original, exciting, and unexpected uniqueness of Inception? It’s too by-the-books. Its standard melodrama threatens to blend in with the rest of Best Picture royalty, including The English Patient, Shakespeare In Love, The Last Emperor, Amadeus, Gandhi, etc.
During the 83rd Academy Awards, The King’s Speech and Inception tied in Oscar wins, with The King’s Speech winning in its writing, directing, and acting categories, while Inception swept in the technical categories. One wonders if Inception was a more appropriate winner for some of The King’s Speech’s accolades. At the very least, it’s a straight-up sham that Christopher Nolan wasn’t even nominated for Best Director that year.
4. The Dark Knight over Slumdog Millionaire
No disservice to 2008 Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire. By every metric, it was one of the most outstanding pictures of the year, and it definitely deserved to win out of the films nominated. But in comparison to the immediate influence and impact of The Dark Knight? It can’t help but pale in comparison. Most movies do.
Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars from the 81st Academy Awards, the most wins of any film that night. The Dark Knight conversely only won two Oscars, one for Best Sound Editing and the other for Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. As host Hugh Jackman said at the beginning of his monologue, “How come comic-book movies never get nominated? How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?”
3. Star Wars over Annie Hall
Everyone loves Annie Hall. Remember its sequel, Annie Hall: The Empire Strikes Back? What about the prequel, Annie Hall: The Phantom Menace? Or its reboot, Annie Hall: The Force Awakens? I love all of the Annie Hall movies, don’t you?
Oops, I’m sorry, I meant to type Star Wars. While franchising shouldn’t be the only reason why a film should be considered Best Picture-worthy (see the Transformers series as evidence of this), Star Wars is a franchise that fans have been passionate about for a long time now, and few films in the series are as influential or as timeless as the very first Star Wars movie was. It’s simply outrageous that Woody Allen has four Academy Awards and George Lucas doesn’t even have one, although to be fair, George Lucas did give us the sub-par Star Wars prequels later on. Maybe that was his form of payback for being snubbed at the Oscars.
2. The Matrix over American Beauty
The fact that The Green Mile, The Cider House Rules, and The Sixth Sense all lost Best Picture to American Beauty is ridiculous enough on its own. The fact that The Matrix wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture that year makes the injury feel all the more worse.
Considering the complex ideas and philosophies The Matrix explored in relation to mankind’s reliance on technology and artificial intelligence, it’s frustrating to see that it was only nominated in four technical categories. It thankfully won all four awards it was nominated for, but that’s beside the point. The point is how could such a creative, captivating, and innovative science-fiction film be skipped over in exchange for an awkward mid-life crisis sex drama? Don’t even get me started on the creepy real-life similarities American Beauty’s plot shares with its lead, Kevin Spacey.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey over Oliver!
Why did Oliver! win Best Picture? Has anyone even seen it? Can anyone name somebody from the cast without looking on iMDB? Can somebody sing any one of the many tunes from this flatly, uninspired musical? Can anyone quote a line from the movie besides the “Please sir, I want some more” bit? If you can, please enlighten me, because I know I can’t.
Meanwhile, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterful achievement in effects, editing, and storytelling: a captivating homily on mankind’s nature and evolution. Maybe it was too ahead of its time for the academy to fully comprehend or appreciate, and I can certainly understand that. But to not even nominate it for Best Picture is just downright absurd, especially in comparison to that year’s winner. At least Stanley Kubrick won Best Visual Effects for his work on the film.
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All the same, The Shape of Water is still a historical Best Picture win, one that will hopefully represent a watershed moment for science-fiction films and their representation at the Academy Awards. I’m not saying The Shape of Water didn’t deserve to win Best Picture. I’m saying these films should have won it first.