It’s that time of year again. March 2nd is heading our way and the Academy is about to celebrate the best and brightest Hollywood has to offer. Certainly 2013 was a great year with such Oscar nominated fare as HER, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and so many other high-caliber, thought provoking films. It is always a pleasant surprise when putting together a top 10 list and facing the realization that there is a plethora of greatness to choose from. Not surprisingly however is the lack of genre specific feature films vying for recognition. Aside from Alfonso Cuarón’s extraordinary space drama GRAVITY the Academy Awards seem to forget that horror, science fiction and fantasy are all an important part of modern cinema.
Rarely will horror or science fiction find itself on display with the best of the best. Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule, but so very few that you could probably count the films to receive serious recognition on your fingers. Ruth Gordon won Best Supporting Actress in 1969 for her work in the unforgettable ROSEMARY’S BABY. The 1973 classic THE EXORCIST received numerous nominations, among them Best Actress for Ellen Burstyn, Best Supporting Actress for Linda Blair, Best Director for William Friedkin, Best Picture and more. William Peter Blatty ultimately won that year for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Best Adapted Screenplay).
Other big genre winners over the past few decades include THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in 1991. This massive success not only took home Best Picture but it also earned Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins Best Actress and Best Actor statuettes. The great Kathy Bates scared up a Best Actress win with her portrayal of Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel MISERY the year before in 1990. And if we are talking about fantasy as well we could include the majestic THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING which swept the awards ceremony back in 2004.
Certainly every single one of these films could be considered genre on some level. Yet each one had an impressive budget with a name director or a studio willing to spend some advertising dollars to reach out to Academy members. But what about this year’s THE CONJURING? It was a surprise hit for writer/director James Wan and quite frankly, both Vera Farmiga and Lily Taylor give outstanding, award worthy performances. Is it simply because this was too crowded a year? That very likely is part of it, but would this well-reviewed tale of a haunting find enough voters to check the ballot for a ghost story with a little possession thrown in. It seems that even if the playing field wasn’t quite so packed it may just be that a film like this would not be considered Academy Award worthy.
Back in 2012, there was one performance so intense that it still haunts me. While Ciaran Foy’s CITADEL is a flawed film, Aneurin Barnard is absolutely stunning as an agoraphobic father desperately trying to save his daughter from a demented gang of feral children. Of course a film like this might never be nominated for anything outside a film festival or two, yet Barnard gives an incredible performance in a small horror film without a major studio behind it. Isn’t that really one of the major problems with the Academy Awards in general? Most of the time the winners depend on the money spent, the politics behind it or whether or not they have won before. And if you are talking a not so mainstream horror film or thriller, it doesn’t appear that you have a chance in hell for any sort of recognition.
Maybe it’s the booze talkin', but the Academy needs to give horror a little more respect. To create real terror or tension is a powerful thing. If you are making an audience believe that there is a demonic force threatening a family, you’ve done an incredible job. Or if you create a sense of paranoia and dread as a father with a debilitating fear of the world outside, it is a performance worth paying attention to. What will happen if GRAVITY is the big winner this year? Will it open the door for more science fiction in the eyes of the Academy? I’d like to think so, but once again you have a larger-than-life feature with star-power behind it. Maybe one day we’ll not only see big budget genre films battling for Oscar Gold, but somehow maybe a movie like THE CONJURING, CITADEL or even this past year’s STOKER will find the respect they deserve.