Thursday, September 27, 2012

Can "Looper" Bring Some Sci-Fi Presence to the Best Picture Category?

Left to right: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis
UPDATE: I have posted a review for Looper here.

Now that the Oscar Buzz is entering its third week, we finally see the release of the much anticipated time travel film Looper. The film has been hyped as being one of the greatest in the genre. However, there's nothing more appealing than Gordon-Levitt continuing a winning streak this year by holding his own against seasoned veteran Bruce Willis. Even if the film delivers when it opens nationwide tomorrow and turns Johnson into the household name he deserves, will this science fiction film stand a chance at getting any momentum when it comes time for an Oscar?

To provide background on why Looper is a big deal, we must first turn to Johnson. If you haven't watched Brick or The Brothers Bloom, please sit down and watch them NOW. These films show a director with confidence and style that is unmatched. He may not yet be on the level of Paul Thomas Anderson, but his journey into oddball genre twists has provided some of the most authentic, engaging, and often humorous stories of the past ten years. He's also directed two of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, including the bottle episode "Fly." In some ways he is overly stylized, but the narrative rarely fails as a result.

Add in Gordon-Levitt and Willis, and you can see why Looper is a big deal. It isn't just another science fiction movie. In fact, the plot according to IMdB is actually pretty brilliant:
"In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by transporting back Joe's future self."
The secret ingredient here is that the mob controls time travel. Not being privy to advanced screenings, I am as clueless as you are at this point on whether it will be any good. However, if it is as energetic and fun as the trailers imply, then this may end up being one of the best movies of the year. In fact, critics like Noel Murray have compared it to the iconic cyberpunk film from co-directors the Wachowskis' The Matrix. Of course, any existential sci-fi film with style and praise gets that tag. The most recent one that I can think of is director Christopher Nolan's Inception, which also stars Gordon-Levitt. Still, nothing made me feel more gratified than when I opened Tumblr and saw this posted from Total Film:

How can one not get excited for this movie after reading this comparison? Sure, it is not quite the most reliable source, but any critic that can provide a five star review and compare it to iconic films by James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, and Terry Gilliam has some courage. These are defined classics and this is what got me thinking. Not that I wasn't already hoping for a great movie. Can Looper get a nomination for Best Picture? I am sure that it can get something for editing or technical categories, but Best Picture is my concern.

Here is the reality. If every other movie that has prestige comes out and suck, Looper will still not beat it. The voters are notoriously old and their tastes skewer that way. For the most part, the winners in some way pander to their tastes, whether they be movies or loving old parliament. This will never change, not even if Looper turns out to be better than The Matrix (which won four technical Oscars for editing and sound mixing). However, I feel that there could be a silver lining. Ten years ago, I would say that there wasn't a chance, but right now is a great time to stay optimistic.

Why is this? The history of sci-fi and Best Picture nominations hasn't been that many. Star Wars lost to Annie Hall, Avatar lost to The Hurt Locker... there have been eight nominations and zero wins. It is also bleak when you consider that director Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial couldn't win, even with his growing prestige and Gandhi director Richard Attenborough stated in his speech that E.T.deserved the award more. It is just reality. The voters have always preferred existential studies of the self over mysticism and awe. True, films like Return of the King and Gladiator defy this logic, but it isn't too often.

Still, I want you to take notice of a trend that has been growing in the past few years. When the category moved from 10 nominations in 2010, we saw TWO sci-fi movies get nominated: Avatar and District 9. Of the two, the former made sense because it was director James Cameron's follow-up to Best Picture winner Titanic. It also helped because Avatar had this revolutionary vibe around it that substituted for a mediocre plot. 

Sharlto Copley in Best Picture nominee District 9
However, District 9 was a curious choice. Director Neil Blomkamp is a first timer whose tale was kind of violent and bizarre. It didn't follow too many of the Oscars' short cuts to a Best Picture slot. At most, the alien/human parallels could be seen as taking a Crash approach in analyzing cultural differences. The only other point of logic could be that it was produced by Academy favorite Peter Jackson, but even that seems far fetched. Of the ten nominated that year, this one felt most out of place, though established what I see as a step forward in sci-fi acceptance. This continued the following year with Inception

Then the category flummoxed to 5 to 10 slots. There is no definitive number on an annual basis. This is my one concern going in. However, With three sci-fi Best Picture nominees in the past three years, we are looking at a chance for a continuing growth. Presuming that the nominations result in a few empty spots, we could see Looper get some momentum for being a clever take on an old concept. If anything, it makes as much sense as District 9 getting nominated in 2010. This is presuming that the movie is clever, fun, and has something tangible for the elderly voters to select.

In a perfect world, a film would be judged on its merits, not on how it appeals to the voter. However, I am suspecting that Looper will not get anything more than technical in a field that is already promised to be cluttered by The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Looper is first and foremost an action film that is meant to engage and have fun. If the voters cannot see that in The Avengers or even past nominee Christopher Nolan's latest film, then the new guy on the block will stand less of a chance. 

At very least, I am hoping that this film escalates director Rian Johnson onto everyone's radar. I find him to be a very talented man and one that is finally getting the projects and hype that he has long deserved. I am also hoping that Joseph Gordon-Levitt finally gets a nomination. I doubt it will be for Looper (it should have been for 50/50), but if any actor has stepped out of this generation and defined a new cool and work ethic, it is him. Even a pity nomination for Lincoln will help me sleep better at night.

So while I have strong doubts that Looper, presuming that it is the great movie that we're waiting for, will get any big buzz when it comes to the ceremony. While I hold District 9 as the small glimmer of hope, even that seemed like a fluke. I believe that Johnson is too new to the Academy to get any recognition. Still, we're in a time where sci-fi is starting to get accepted in the major categories. 

Does this movie stand a chance, or is the concept of time travel over the voter's heads? If sci-fi was to get represented at this year's ceremony, do you think that it will be for Looper or the opinion-splitting epic from directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis called Cloud Atlas, which stars Oscar winners Halle Berry, Tom Hanks Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, and has a way higher concept? 

No comments:

Post a Comment