Sense of Wonder: Oscars snub cinefantastique – again

ARGO and LIFE OF PI won big at the 85th Oscars.

Hopefully, the above headline needs no explanation, but in case you have any doubts, we’re talking about cinefantastique the genre, not Cinefantastique, the online magazine of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. Although there have been a few exceptions in recent decades (e.g., a Best Picture win for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences traditionally under-represents imagi-movies at each year’s Oscars, and the 2013 ceremony was no exception – and no surprise, since few horror, fantasy, and science fiction films were even nominated.
It is not as if there were not some worthy contenders from 2012: CLOUD ATLAS, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, ROBOT AND FRANK (especially Frank Langella’s performance), THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – to name a few. However, even in categories that traditionally offer a glimmer of hope (technical areas such as special effects), the genre went ignored.
ARGO: Ben Affleck directs John Goodman as John Chambers, the real-life makeup artists who won an Oscar for PLANET OF THE APES.
Best Picture ARGO: Ben Affleck directs John Goodman as John Chambers, the real-life makeup artists who won an Oscar for PLANET OF THE APES.

The only solace, such as it was, took the form of two borderline titles that won in several categories: ARGO and LIFE OF PI. The former is a fact-based political thriller, but its plot is based around using a phony science fiction film as cover to spirit hostages out of Iran, and the film actually uses the concept of sci-fi fantasy heroism in pop culture as a yardstick by which to measure real-life accomplishment. The latter uses effects-heavy imagery to recount one person’s lonely trek aboard a lifeboat in a way that questions the reality of the events, which may be just a personal fantasy.
ARGO took home the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Film Editing (William Goldenberg), and Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio). I cannot exactly argue with ARGO’s Best Picture win – it is a great movie – but I would have preferred to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (obviously impossible) or at least LES MISERABLES.
LIFE OF PI earned Oscar gold for Visual FX.
LIFE OF PI earned Oscar gold for Cinematography and Visual FX.

LIFE OF PI won for Cinematography (Claudio Miranda), Directing (Ang Lee), Music (Mychael Danna), and Visual Effects (Bill Westernhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott).
The win for Visual Effects is not a big surprise, but it is something of a disappointment since this is one of the few categories in which outright science fiction films have a shot at the gold statuette. This year’s nominees included THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE AVENGERS, PROMETHEUS, and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Presumably, THE HOBBIT and PROMETHEUS lost because voters felt they had seen the effects before in LORD OF THE RINGS and ALIEN, respectively. THE AVENGERS looked too much like TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. And SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lost because it was simply a bad movie, and the Academy seldom singles out isolated pockets of quality in otherwise undeserving films.
Merida in BRAVE from Disney-Pixar
Merida in BRAVE from Disney-Pixar

In the Animated Feature category, voters apparently could not decide on a good film, so they gave the award to BRAVE for being a Pixar Production. Personally, I think nominee FRANKENWEENIE is seriously flawed in the story department, but even so, it far surpasses Pixar’s latest step into mediocrity. Easily the best animated film of the year – THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY – was not even nominated, nor was the worthy RISE OF THE GUARDIANS.
At least PAPERMAN took home the gold in the Animated Short category – the film was the only good thing about having to sit through WRECK IT RALPH, which incredibly was nominated in the Feature Animated category, along with the equally unworthy PARANORMAN. (I have not seen the other nominee THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS, so I will reserve comment.)
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SKYFALL, the latest James Bond adventure, is less science fiction-oriented than many of its predecessors, but it still straddles the borderline of the genre. The film earned several nominations, including Cinematography, Original Score, and Sound Editing, and won for Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers) and Best Song (Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth). Adele (who goes simply by her first name) performed the song during the ceremony – the first winner for a franchise noted for its memorable theme songs. (Shirley Bassey was also on hand to perform the title tune from 1963’s GOLDFINGER, which really set the standard for 007 songs.)
The Best Song win for “Skyfall” is one of the few decisions I can truly applaud for the 85 Annual Academy Awards. The song is the best thing about the film – and one of the best James Bond them song in over nearly two decades.
THE HOBBIT, Peter Jackson’s disappointing prequel to his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, failed to impress Oscar voters. Nominated in three categories – Makeup, Production Design, and Visual Effects – the film went zero for three on Oscar night.
The terrible SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was had to chances to win – for Costumes and Visual Effects – but lost out in both categories.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (another borderline effort, which includes some fantasy creatures) was nominated in categories for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Directing but came away empty handed.
So there you have it. It took AMPAS only 76 years to finally award a Best Picture win to a fantasy film (the aforementioned LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING). Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another seven decades for history to repeat itself.

Wreck-It Ralph review

Wreck-It Raph commiserates with a group of video game bad guys.
Wreck-It Raph commiserates with a group of video game bad guys.

Over the decades, Walt Disney Animation Studios has done a fine job of creating numerous animated feature films that appeal not only to children but also to the child in all of us: THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and TANGLED come to mind. And then, on the other hand, there’s WRECK-IT RALPH, which plays like an afternoon kiddie cartoon that somehow escaped to the big screen. Oh sure, some references to old-fashioned video-games may fly over the heads of younger viewers, but little else will. The story  pushes a heartfelt message, but the humorous antics are pitched at a strictly juvenile level that will have parents yawning while their children roar in approval.
In fact, I am so obviously not the film’s target audience that I have pressed back into service Timmy, the imaginary five-year-old nephew who reviewed UNDERDOG back in 2007. Amazingly, five years later, Timmy remains five years old, making him the ideal audience for WRECK-IT RALPH. Take it away, Timmy:

This movie was about this guy named Ralph who didn’t like being a bad guy anymore because the good guy has all the fun and Ralph doesn’t like it that people don’t like him and they don’t invite him to their party and they don’t give him cake. And it made me feel sad for Ralph except Ralph breaks everything when he goes to the party, and he was kind of stupid, so I started to just think he was stupid and I didn’t like him more than the other people who didn’t like him.
Ralph goes to another games where they go in space and kill space alien bug monsters and it was really cool and I wanted the rest of the movie to be there but then Ralph gets a medal and he goes to another game that was like a girlie game called SugarSlush or something like that, and it was kind of boring there and I thought they wouldn’t stay there too long but they did stay too long like almost the rest of the movie and I kept wanting to see the space alien bug monsters again, and we did but not in the other game – they were in the girlie game and that was kind of fun because I hated the girlie game and liked seeing the bugs eat everything but it took too long for this to happen.
Anyway Ralph gets his medal but this girl steals it because she needs it to get in a race to win so she can show the other girls she’s as good as them, and Ralph hates her because she stole his medal but then he sees the other girls bash up her car and Ralph feels sorry for her and stops the other girls, and then I felt sorry for the girl and I kind of liked Ralph too because he was nice to the girl after the other girls were mean to her. It was kind of mushy but kind of good too. But then some other stuff happened and it wasn’t as good anymore.
But then the Fix-It Felix guy comes to take Ralph back to his game because no one is playing the game anymore because there is nothing for Fix-It Felix to fix when Ralph is gone, but before they can go back the bugs come, and there’s this cool lady from the alien space bug game who shoots ray guns at the bugs and Fix-It Felix likes here and it’s kind of mushy but funny too because he’s like little and short and she’s big and strong.
And towards the end the other girl who stole Ralph’s medal gets to race but she doesn’t get to the finish line because the bugs eat the finish line, but Ralph helps her, so he’s like not really a bad guy anymore but he has to act like a bad guy in the game with Fix-It Felix but now Fix-It Felix is nice to him and everybody is happy, and it was okay towards the end with the race and the space alien bugs, but I just wish that part came sooner.
Oh, and I almost forgot, the girlie game was kind of boring but it looked kind of pretty like candy and it made me want to go to the snack bar and buy some candy after the movie was over.

Well, there’s not much to add to that. The plot of WRECK-IT RAPH is essentially a rewrite of TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: a character who tires of his job, tries something new, then returns to doing what he does well at the end. John C. Reilly is great as the voice of Ralph, but the character himself is a bit of a dumb lug; at least he learns his lesson by the end.
Much expertise went into crafting the 3D computer-animation, which is lovely to look at but not particularly engaging. Jumping from game to game allows for some amusing clashes of style, but that carries the film only so far.
There are just enough good moments to make WRECK-IT RALPH a bit more than a waste of time for anyone over ten,  but most parents will find the film’s greatest value when it arrives on video, and they can pop it into the player to distract the kids, while Mom and Dad do something else.
wreck it ralph poster cropWRECK-IT RALPH ( Walt Disney Animation Studios, November 2, 2012). Directed by Rich Moore. Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston. Voices: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg. 108 Minutes. Rated PG

Wreck It Ralph in Theatres November 2

Walt Disney Studios releases this 3-D computer-generated family-friendly fantasy film. Hilarity ensues when an old-fashioned videogame villain decides he wants to become a hero and begins hopping to other games. (Read CFQ’s review here.)
Directed by Rich Moore.
Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston.
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence.


  • John C. Reilly … Wreck-It Ralph (voice)
  • Jack McBrayer … Fix-It Felix (voice)
  • Sarah Silverman … Vanellope von Schweetz (voice)
  • Jane Lynch … Sergeant Calhoun (voice)
  • Adam Carolla … Wynchel (voice)
  • Jamie Elman … Rancis Fluggerbutter (voice)
  • Rachael Harris … Deanna (voice) (as Rachel Harris)
  • Dennis Haysbert … General Hologram (voice)
  • Mindy Kaling … Taffyta Muttonfudge (voice)

Release Date: November 2, 2012
wreck it ralph