Basic interpretation of the data would seem to show that, if you want to be the last people standing on the Oscar stage at the end of the night, you best make a drama. But, despite what those smiling/frowning greek masks would have you believe, the binary between drama and comedy is incomplete. Especially when it comes to selecting Best Picture, it’s not about whether a film made you laugh or cry, whether it’s a drama or a comedy: it’s about populism and prestige.
All the award ceremonies, and the various guilds behind them, do consistently reward a specific genre, but it isn’t drama. They reward OSCAR MOVIES. And comedies, unless built out of melancholy and whimsy, just aren’t in that genre. Only this year it might be different. Because this year we have Deadpool.
If past award trajectory is to be believed (and these days, who knows: data couldn’t predict a president, so why trust it with something as important as Oscar futures?) the R-rated, meta-masturbatory superhero flick is on it’s way to receiving, at the very least, a Best Picture nod. Golden Globe nomination? Check. Writers Guild nomination? Yup. Critics’ Choice nom? Sure. Producers Guild nomination? That too. Ryan Reynolds’ baby is getting all the right attention going into the Big Dance. We won’t know until the end of the month, but it’s not not possible. Which, huh.
There’s two ways you could look at this. 1) This is yet one more example of the imminent cultural decay — of populism pushing against the out-of-touch tastes of the elites (even though, well, the Academy is made up of only elites). The Dark Knight, whose Oscar snub was responsible for the Academy opening up the Best Picture category to more than five films, at least had weight: it dealt with moral issues on a grand scale. And it didn’t have a single fart joke. To nominate a film like Deadpool is to engage in the kind of crass commercialism that chases ratings and money or True Art. After all, if you want dude-bros to tune into the Gay Superbowl that is the Oscars, put a little Deadpool in it.
One of the commenters on the io9 story we linked to above (and, uh, just did there again) tried to make that argument, only from the other side. He pointed out that the Oscars have lost touch with moviegoers because instead of rewarding big, crowd-pleasing dramas like Forrest Gump, they give awards to small-scale pictures that few people actually see (unless they win an Oscar, of course). But, while history seems to support this assertion, this anonymous person on the internet still got it backwards. It’s not that the Oscars decided not to give hardware to popular dramas, it’s that Hollywood stopped making those kind of pictures.
Aside from what’s happening in the horror genre, the two kinds of movies that get made are big budget action movies, typically based on existing properties, and intimate Important films made on the (relative) cheap. Basically, a film either has to make a lot of money, or win some serious awards. There is little room in the middle — and the best of middle is what the Oscars used to love.
Which leads us to the other way of looking at Deadpool’s potential Oscar future. In the same way it cleverly subverted and tweaked the superhero genre, it’s changing how critics — who are just as tired of the prestige/populist dichotomy as the rest of us — judge movies. Through sheer force of will and damn-it-if-that-isn’t-fun charm, Deadpool forces us to judge it on it’s own merits, as if it were in a cinematic vacuum (one which, paradoxically, makes references to several films outside said vacuum).
Imagine if the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences tweaked the category name from Best Picture to Best Picture For What It Is. We could ditch the overly-earnest, preening Oscar bait films, and focus on movies that may not deal with weighty subjects, but are nearly perfect executions of what they intended to be. And by that rubric, hell yeah Deadpool deserves a nomination. Because it does have great writing, and believable, winning performances. And it is, heaven forbid, different. But mostly because it’s the most Deadpool-y movie to ever Deadpool. And maybe that should count for something.