Sci-Fi Fridays, Episode 59: Five Ways ‘Arrival’ Can Avoid the Oscar Fate of ‘Interstellar’


Has Denis Villeneuve crafted a new sci-fi classic with his well-received “Arrival?” That’s for audiences to ultimately decide, but critics emerging from recent festival screenings were bowled over by its ingenuity. Several were also quick to remark how esoteric and perplexing it might come across to Academy voters. Like “Interstellar” before it – which nabbed five Oscar nominations sans a Best Picture nod – will this be another instance of grandiose ideas muddling awards prospects? Time will tell, but what is for certain is that Paramount will need to learn from past campaign mistakes. Being unsure which pony they wanted to back in the 2015 race (“Selma” and “Interstellar”) ended up hurting both films’ chances. Below are five ways the groundbreaking “Arrival” can avoid the anticlimactic reaction from AMPAS “Interstellar” received.

1. Ship out screeners far in advance 

The absence of screeners was instrumental in the awards downfall of Paramount’s “Selma.” The film missed nods from SAG and lost momentum heading into Oscar nomination morning. “Interstellar,” meanwhile, was campaigned as an “event” movie-going experience. If voters weren’t awestruck from a big-screen engagement, chances are they weren’t about to revisit the film at home. Paramount must ship “Arrival” screeners early with the promise that lingering questions will be resolved upon repeat viewing.

2. Compare the film’s legacy to past sci-fi masterpieces 

Villeneuve should bring up past snubs like “2001: A Space Odyssey” during awards lunches as a reminder that certain films require multiple viewings to appreciate. Hitting the Academy where they’re most vulnerable – reminding them of their historic blind spots – is essential to avoid repeating said history. “Interstellar” and “Prometheus” made the mistake of using their content to directly associate with “2001,” thus appearing inferior. If Villeneuve can convince the Academy he has the next all-timer within reach, no member would shirk at the opportunity to reward accordingly.

3. The face of the awards campaign should be Amy Adams 

Just like the movie, the ultimate human selling point of the campaign should be Adams herself. Adams’ peers are fully aware of her Oscar-less mantle. If this is indeed her sixth nomination, voters will have a tough time looking in the mirror if they deny her the gold once more. It might seem ethically icky to play on Academy guilt, but Adams’ career is proof that she’s long overdue for recognition. If men competing in Lead Actor can easily carry their film to a Best Picture nod, the same should be true for Adams. Like Sandra Bullock before her, she’s the sci-fi heroine who single-handedly anchors the film’s emotion and thematic resonance.

"Incendies" Portraits - 2010 Toronto International Film Festival

4. Paramount needs to treat Villeneuve like the celebrated auteur that he is

Directors are often judged by the story their films exhibit. What’s unfortunate is the lack of appreciation for the craft itself. Villeneuve movies are stylish, dark, visceral, visually intoxicating experiences you won’t forget even if the script frustrates. “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” “Sicario” and “Incendies” are all aesthetically striking films that certify Villeneuve’s command of cinema. There’s no reason why his name shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Nolan, Scorsese, Tarantino, Malick, Spielberg or Eastwood. With “Arrival” and the upcoming “Blade Runner” sequel, there’s no excuse for Hollywood to treat Villeneuve as a nameless artist undeserving of a reputation.

This awards season, Paramount has an opportunity to give Villeneuve the auteur spotlight. Paying him tribute or likening him to some of the best in the business will increase the clout of “Arrival.” By branding Villeneuve, Paramount will ensure his film hits the zeitgeist.

5. Emphasize relevance and universal appeal

If the studio believes in the enduring humanistic power of this film, it should feel comfortable politicizing it. “Arrival” is ultimately about communication and how important it is in maintaining peace. Lack of communication, understanding and truth are what’s causing a major divide among today’s populace. If a film is able to encapsulate this conflict and present it in a way that’s accessible, it could have a profound effect. Paramount must reiterate that in these chaotic times of strife and mistrust, “Arrival” is the movie we all need moving forward. A prospective Best Picture nominee is stronger if it reflects the cultural climate of its respective year.

Here are some suggestions for how “Arrival” can avoid failed Best Picture aspirations of past sci-fi films. Please provide some additional advice for the Oscar hopeful in the comments below!