Gravity is, in addition to some major box office buzz, getting some major awards buzz. Many think it’s likely to be the movie to beat at the Oscars. But history indicates that no matter how great it is, by dint of its subject matter, it’ll have a real fight on its hands.
The Academy Bias
Gravity is a science fiction movie, in a quite literal sense: It’s fiction about science. But no matter how good it is, there’s a pretty severe bias the Academy has against movies that aren’t “important” enough. For example, comedy is rarely seen as awards-quality material, but The Producers won one in 1968… over 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not a knock to The Producers, which is undeniably a classic film, but even so, you always bet against the comedy if it’s even nominated.
That bias has stuck throughout the years. In fact, Alfonso Cuaron, the director of Gravity, has had to deal with it himself. His last film, Children of Men, got a screenplay nomination, but that was it, on the creative side, for Oscars, despite the fact that Men turned up on dozens of top ten lists and won quite a few awards. And its reputation as a film has only grown in the years since.
Still, there is no better demonstration over how much the Academy hates even the whiff of genre than the enormous screwing The Dark Knight got at the Academy Awards. If you look at the awards given out for 2008, by the Producer’s Guild, the Director’s Guild, and so on, four out of five movies nominated for multiple Academy Awards keep turning up, and yet, oddly absent is The Reader, a critically derided film that somehow got a whole bunch of nominations despite nobody liking it.
Many have blamed the age of the Academy for this; others are more skeptical. Either way, Children of Men and The Dark Knight both are a good demonstration of how Oscar wins and quality may not intersect.
And Yet, In Its Favor…
Gravity, however, has a few other things going for it that most SF movies don’t. The first is that it’s anchored by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, who are the only actors in the film and who are both Oscar winners. It’s widely held that actors love to vote for acting showcases, and ninety straight minutes of panic qualifies as an “acting showcase” if there ever was one.
The second is that the Academy does actually seem to like movies about astronauts when they’re packaged as “serious” enough. The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 both racked up quite a few nominations.
And there are times when even the Academy has to bow to reality: One of the few films to win double digits at the Oscars was The Lord of the Rings: Return Of The King. So there is that.
Whether or not Gravity wins Academy Awards is largely academic; what matters is the movie that hits theaters tomorrow is worth watching. Considering that it’s currently at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and 100% with its top critics, it’s fairly safe to say it’s at least worth watching. Still, you can’t help but root for quality to get acknowledged. You know, for once.