I think I can speak for most of us when I say how surprising it was this week when the Producers Guild announced that Deadpool was one of the year’s 10 nominees for Best Picture. Some of us were actually delighted about it, not because a superhero movie earned the nomination, though that was certainly nice, but because the PGA actually recognized one of the year’s best films.
This isn’t the first time the producers have honored a superhero movie, of course. The Dark Knight earned a nod in 2009, right before it got stiffed for an Oscar nomination a couple weeks later, thereby leading to an Academy rule change that led to more potential best picture nominations, just in case there was ever again a time when an enterprising group of filmmakers could get their acts together enough to make a comic book movie worth recognizing.
That’s not exactly how things have turned out, as the kinds of movies that have earned those extra spots in the ensuing years tend to be smaller indies that would otherwise have been left in the cold (see: A Serious Man), or perhaps humdrum studio flicks that the old guard love but no one else does (see: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and War Horse). This illustrates the central issue with such awards, that being the snootiness of those doing the voting. After all, back in 2009, the Producers Guild nominated five films for the top honor, and the other four — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire — all earned Oscar nods, while The Dark Knight was beaten out by The Reader, which is only a perfect example of Fake Literary Highbrow Oscar-Bait Garbage.
But now, for the second time, the Producers have recognized a movie starring a superhero, and that’s interesting for a couple reasons.
First, there’s the likelihood that it’ll actually be named as a Best Picture nominee in six days. Using the last four years as a guide, 30 out of 40 PGA nominees were later granted Oscar nods. (seven of 10 each of the last two years, eight of 10 the two prior). That would lead us to believe that a similar number, at least seven and possibly eight, will duplicate the accomplishment this year. It’s probably safe to say that Moonlight, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Fences, Hell or High Water, Arrival and Hidden Figures will be the seven to get nominations, which leaves Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, and Deadpool. If history means anything, one of those three will probably also get a spot.
Now, it’s also worth mentioning that each of the last four years, there was one movie not nominated by the PGA that sneaked into the Oscar noms. Last year it was Room, the year before, Selma, preceded by Philomena and Amour. So let’s assume that happens again this year, which gives us such possibilities as Silence, Loving, Nocturnal Animals, Sully, or 20th Century Women.
Which means that one of the previous three and maybe one of the latter five will round things out. There could be as many as 10 nominees, but that hasn’t happened lately, as it’s almost always either eight or nine. This year is probably no different.
Having seen all of these movies, there is no question in my mind that Deadpool deserves to be on that final list, but of course, that means exactly nothing. Aside from the fact that I don’t have a vote, we’re back to the whole, The Academy Is Still Pretty Snooty and Often Ignores Worthy Movies Like, Say, Straight Outta Compton Because They Are Not Considered Proper “Academy” Films thing, which means that there will be those who won’t even watch the movie, much less vote for it. That’s why I think a less deserving picture like Lion will get the nod because it is a more stereotypical Academy-style project. Which means that, like Compton, Deadpool could very well find itself with a PGA nomination, but end up on the outside looking in when Oscar time comes.
This, as a matter of fact, leads to the second reason why Deadpool’s PGA nomination is so interesting: the general stigma attached to superhero movies and how, at some point — maybe sooner, maybe later — that stigma will finally be overcome and one of those costume sagas will get a chance at the Big Prize.
The case can be made for several of them over the years, most recently Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy two years back, but it still hasn’t happened. This could finally be the year, which would be a big step in the right direction, simply because, let’s face it, every now and again one of these movies is really, genuinely exceptional, and should be duly recognized for being so. Like with Deadpool, a $60 million labor of love for a couple of writers, a first-time director and a star who has literally been trying to get this thing made for a decade and, when the chips were down, ended up coming through with a career-defining performance. Ryan Reynolds is not going to get a Best Actor nomination for playing the title role, but he might very well get one for producing it, which would probably be just as sweet.
The thing is, even if Deadpool does get nominated, it’s not like the floodgates are going to open and, all of a sudden, it’ll be superhero movies hither and yon all over the Best Picture race. The simple truth of it is, much as I personally love these films, most of them still aren’t all that great. Fun, escapist entertainment? Absolutely. Brilliant filmmaking? Usually not.
Incidentally, the same goes for last year’s outlier, Mad Max: Fury Road, which obviously has not ushered a flurry of big-budget action flicks into the conversation. In fact, that movie’s nomination makes me think that Deadpool actually has a realistic shot, simply because, for once, the Academy looked past the end of its nose and recognized the artistic genius behind what director George Miller accomplished. If it could do that last year, why can’t it do the same for Reynolds, fellow producers Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner, director Tim Miller, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick?
Because, for real, that’s what this group did. It created some serious artistic genius, but that genius just happened to be in the form of a genre flick.
It’s about time the Academy made it clear that, once and for all, it’s not the genre that matters, it’s the end product, and this one was one of the best 2016 had to offer. Period.