Awards season report card: How genre fare is faring

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Dec 12, 2017

Costumes, makeup, and VFX are great and all. In fact, they lie within the hallowed territory where sci-fi has a long history of innovating — and of being duly recognized for it. But will this be the year when sci-fi actually breaks the mold of predictability and lands an Oscar for one of the biggies? You know: best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, best screenplay?

We surely don’t know. And neither do the data-crunching analysts who, year by technologically progressing year, take this sort of stuff ever more seriously. What we do know, though, is that there’s a loose and general correlation between late-year awards season and, when the worm finally turns in late January, the overall look of the pool of Academy Awards nominees.

This year, more than ever, genre films have an unprecedented number of legitimate seats reserved at the end-of-year awards table. And with nominations for this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards set to be released Wednesday, the picture’s about to get even clearer.

The Shape of Water shaping up well

If the Golden Globes offer any indication of where the critical zeitgeist is headed as we round the corner toward the Academy Awards, watch out for The Shape of Water — Guillermo del Toro’s dramatic fantasy that frames a very human story on the genre convention of a creature feature.

The Shape of Water is up for a whopping seven Golden Globes — more than any other film in contention this year — including best drama, best director, best actress, best supporting actress, and best supporting actor.

Del Toro’s early-season recognition marks what may end up being just the first of many future awards scores for genre fare. A pair of much more conventional awards-season films — the darkly comedic crime drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the historical drama The Post — trail close behind The Shape of Water’s seven Golden Globe nods, with six nominations apiece.

To emphasize the point that genre flicks may be on an ascent toward critical legitimacy, del Toro’s movie isn't alone at the awards party. Jordan Peele’s Get Out, an unsettlingly funny, racially tinged horror film that carries the idea of cultural appropriation to the most extreme of logical conclusions, has been nominated in two Golden Globe categories — including a nod, considered a sub-category snub by some, for best comedy.

The genre TV titans

Taking things a step even further, the Golden Globes’ TV nominations — which, of course, are off the table come Oscar season — nevertheless nudge sci-fi even further into the realm of critically important art. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix’s Stranger Things, and HBO’s Game of Thrones took three of the five available nominations for best television drama.

There’s also a subtext to this year’s highly praised genre films that weren’t included in the Golden Globes. Digital ink has been spilled both early and late over the awards-season fortunes of Blade Runner 2049 and Wonder Woman, a pair of lauded genre movies the Hollywood Foreign Press Association left out of this year’s batch of major nominees.

The snubs

What’s the subtext? The fact that anybody's even talking in serious tones about the exclusion of a Philip K. Dick adaptation, on the one hand, and a DC comic book heroine, on the other. In 2017, the film awards season isn’t just crowded with the genre movies that got in. It’s also flanked by real contenders, contenders whose omission has some people genuinely upset. And that, in its own way, is pretty cool.

The 75th Golden Globe Awards will be handed out on January 7 — two weeks and change before the January 23 announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees. The 90th Academy Awards ceremony comes along on March 4, putting a bow on this year’s batch of recognized successes. It’ll be interesting to see whether The Shape of Water, along with other genre films, end up re-shaping what the wider world tends to think of — when it seeks to culturally curate a movie as a significant work of art.