Sci-Fi Fridays, Episode 7: How ‘Gravity’s’ Oscar® Performance Might Affect ‘Interstellar’

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Don’t kid yourselves, ladies and gentlemen — there’s always a cause and effect pattern at work, especially when it comes to who and what wins an Oscar. Whether we want to let go or not (Leo might not like the latter choice), the past always finds a way to make a mark on the future. This is certainly the case when a rare type of movie genre wins a major Academy Award, namely the “Best Picture” Oscar. Do you think voters were itching to recognize another fantasy movie after The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King walked away with 11 trophies in 2004? After the “it’s time” hunger has been satiated, there’s no need to return for more patronizing pats on the back, regardless of merit. Which is why I have a feeling that Gravity’s overall performance on Oscar Sunday will amount to more than just a good or bad night. Its victory or colossal loss (well, I guess six or seven Oscar wins isn’t such a loss after all…) will set the stage for the 2015 Oscar prospects of Christopher Nolan’s truly ambitious sci-fi project, Interstellar.

Of the 512 films the Academy has nominated for “Best Picture,” only eight of them represent the science fiction film genre: A Clockwork Orange (1971), Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982), Avatar (2009), District 9 (2009), Inception (2010), Gravity (2013), and Her (2013). Some might say the gross dismissal of 2001: A Space Odyssey by AMPAS helped A Clockwork Orange and director Stanley Kubrick get recognized just three years later, amending an oversight that never should have occurred in the first place. Star Wars, E.T. and Avatar were nominated for “Best Picture” primarily because their impact on the film industry and pop culture was virtually undeniable: all three broke box office records and had no serious competition when it came to their status as the highest grossing film of the respective year. The huge gap between E.T. and Avatar (a whopping 27 years!) proves this point: if you aren’t part of the zeitgeist, you might as well sit on the bleachers.

However, looking at the last five years — where five science fiction films have been nominated for “Best Picture” (more than half in Academy history) — there’s clearly a correlation between expanding the category and the increase in recognition of sci-fi in major fields. How else do you explain two lineups (2010 and 2014) that saw two science fiction films competing against one another for the main prize? Yet, a part of me feels there’s also a movement at work within the Academy that’s actively trying to eke out a win for sci-fi in “Best Picture,” a movement that’s grown stronger over the years as the number of sci-fi movies in the category has exponentially increased.

This what Interstellar's 2015 Oscar chances will look like if Gravity wins "Bet Picture."
This is what Interstellar’s 2015 Oscar prospects will look like if Gravity wins “Best Picture.”

With that being said, I firmly believe Gravity will make history as the one consensus film that wins “Best Picture” on Sunday, finally ending a long-standing bias against its represented movie genre. If this happens, I also strongly believe you can rule out 2014’s Interstellar as a frontrunner in the 2015 ceremony. I’m sure Nolan’s ambitious time-traveling epic will reap plenty of nominations…but a Gravity victory in 2014 would significantly lower the drive to reward yet another movie belonging to a genre that took 86 years to finally reach the podium. And since a preferential voting system will likely remain in place, do you think Academy members will go out of their way to give brownie points to Interstellar after Gravity dominated their rankings the year prior? I highly doubt it…and this is all before factoring in the Nolan bias within the AMPAS circle (which could partly be attributed to mainstream voices badgering the awards group for continually ignoring his contributions in major ways).

However — and this is a big “BUT” — if Gravity were to lose on Sunday, you might as well be predicting Interstellar to win “Best Picture” come post-Oscar morning. The fury of coming so close yet still losing, especially given that Gravity is by far the most accessible science fiction movie ever to be up for major awards, would have grumblers practically begging for Interstellar screeners to arrive on their doorstep ASAP. The “it’s time” rationale would be dangling over Academy members’ heads like a baby’s crib toy. And no offense to the 2014 lineup, but no baity project looks remotely up the Academy’s alley with the exceptions of Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken and Ridley Scott’s Exodus (and those two directors aren’t guaranteed to get the initial wave of critical support that Interstellar likely will). If competition is light — which I suspect it will be this year — and Gravity loses “Best Picture” on Sunday, Interstellar will be set up for one great awards season. The reverse will occur if the opposite were to happen, and it’s a tad unfortunate that one film’s historical accomplishment could cost another movie — perhaps equally, if not more deserving of cinema’s highest accolade — the “Best Picture” Oscar because of its affiliation with the same genre. Nobody said this game was nice or clean — it’s downright dirty, and for every genuine handshake there follows a left-hook sucker punch. I’m simply relaying the facts.

Now that my thoughts have been shared, it’s time for you guys to join the discussion. Tell me what you think the impact Gravity might have on Interstellar’s 2015 awards prospects if it dominates Sunday’s Oscar ceremony.