3D. Motion capture. High frame rate.
We live in an age where technological perfection is not only possible, but expected. Computer generated sound and visual effects are better than ever before. As a result, modern cinema is bound only by the imaginations of filmmakers. This year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to reward one film with an astounding seven nominations for such technological achievements: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. The movie is now in the race for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
Historically only four films other than Gravity have scored these nominations. Starting with Titanic in 1997, the other movies to earn this honor were Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2002), Hugo (2011) and Life of Pi (2012). Even Peter Jackson’s Oscar-sweeping The Return of the King (2002) was only nominated for four of the seven technological awards before going on to win Best Picture.
Nevertheless, most movies excelling in these areas have found little success in the Best Picture category. The four aforementioned movies not only earned acknowledgement for technological superiority, but a Best Picture nod, as well. Yet only James Cameron’s seafaring Titanic managed to win.
Perhaps this is the result of traditionalism. It is hard to deny; although the Academy has recognized computer-generated spectacle in some capacity, it has not seen fit to award those films with its highest honor. In antiquity, most Best Picture winners have been costume dramas, not robust displays of new technology.
Three years ago, visually complex films like Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3 lost to Tom Hooper’s period piece The King’s Speech. For 2011, the silent drama comedy The Artist from Michael Hazanavicius nabbed Best Picture from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. In 2012, the thrilling true story of Ben Affleck’s Argo beat out Ang Lee’s fantastical Life of Pi.
This pattern puts Gravity’s chances in contention. The movie has been noted repeatedly for its cutting edge approach to cinematic immersion. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s confident guidance and Emmanuel Lubezki’s ambitious cinematography merged to produce the most memorable theater-going experience in years. In concert with a compelling story and standout performances, it came as no surprise when Gravity was also nominated for Best Picture. But given the Academy’s predilection for less technological movies, can Gravity still win?
It doesn’t look good. Gravity has followed the pattern of its technologically impressive but ultimately unsuccessful compatriots. Like Life of Pi, Master and Commander and Hugo before it, Gravity failed to win big at this year’s Screen Actors Guild awards ceremony, although it did earn Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film at the Directors Guild awards.
In fact, the only edge these movies had over Titanic is that they all won Movie of the Year from the American Film Institute, and that’s not saying much considering the AFI awards only hit the scene two years after Titanic was released. And importantly, those four films also missed out on the coveted Best Motion Picture award at the Golden Globes. Titanic, on the other hand, nabbed the that accolade in 1998.
And of course, Titanic falls into the well-worn historical drama trend that the Academy seems to prefer. The only sci-fi/fantasy film to win big in recent memory was The Return of the King, and in that case the film’s technological merits were married to impressive technical feats. Practical effects in The Return of the King, from costuming to makeup, were just as prominent as computer generated imagery. This does not bode well for the effects-laden Gravity.
It’s still not clear who will win Best Picture this year. However, those holding out hope for Gravity are probably in for disappointment. The Academy has their preferences and Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s white knuckled journey through space doesn’t fit the conservative mold of its predecessors. What’s more, Gravity missed out on a key win from the Golden Globes this year, stymying its momentum as it enters the 86th Academy Awards. Holding onto its traditionalist history, the Academy is likely to leave Gravity floating in space.
This article was originally published on ScottFeinberg.com.