The Oscars. That familiar Sunday night in February where the great and the good gather to celebrate a small selection of films that you probably haven't seen. It's a rather curious trend that Oscar winners - particularly in the major categories - are increasingly likely to be movies that are only minor hits or even downright unsuccessful at the box office. The Oscars is decidedly not a popularity contest. However, that might lead one to think that cult, curious films for geeks would be popular with the awards crowd. Surely a film that shuns the limelight and tells a decidedly uncool, unrealistic tale is something that the Oscars would praise?
Absolutely not. There is scarcely any more unlikely genre of film to receive Oscar praise than your typical geeky sci-fi/fantasy adventure. But why is this? Why are the Academy so afraid of rewarding films that indulge themselves in magic, space travel or other assorted geekery? Is it their inherent silliness? Is it their lack of realism or "truth"? And is there any way to tackle this problem?
Before we get started, for sure it is a major problem with the Oscars. There are countless stories of shocking exclusions from the major awards that are very likely to do with the film itself rather than any lack of merit. Why, for example, did the Harry Potter series never receive a single nomination in any of the big categories for any of its instalments? Is it because they just weren't very good films? A whole bunch of people would disagree with you.
More recently, why did the universally acclaimed script for Guardians of the Galaxy not receive a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay? The enormous critical and commercial success of the film, led by a script so hilarious and lovingly crafted that it has breathed new life into the original source material and kick-started a whole trend of upcoming "quirky" films just like it. Why on earth did no award or even a nomination materialise?
How about the rather stunning fact that no animated film has ever won Best Picture - the first two Toy Story films, each with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, weren't even nominated despite the unanimous praise and enormous cultural impact of those films.
And this year, there's been another glaring example. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which received widespread applause and is now the USA's most successful film of all time, didn't win a single Oscar and didn't get any major nominations.
The evidence is clear - the Academy don't like these type of films. There's no specific genre that I'm describing here - rather, it encompasses the whole concept of a "geeky" film. All these films fall under the same basic categories - they take place in other worlds; they involve high-concept ideas; they feature cartoonish action and adventure; and they're generally made for mass appeal.
And therein lies the first and most commonly offered reason for the continued snubbing of such films - they're simply too successful. As strange as this sounds, there's a lot to back this idea up. The initial statement I made at the beginning has another side to the coin - the more money a film makes, the less likely it is to win an Oscar. Take Steven Spielberg, for example. He's probably the most widely beloved and certainly the most commerically successful director of all time. He has received just one Oscar for Best Picture (in 1993 for Schindler's List). Then there's Harrison Ford - who has only ever received one nomination, back in 1985 for Witness, and Christopher Lee who never received a single nod in his 70-year career awash with critical praise. Meanwhile, Daniel Day Lewis, who has never really had any mainstream success, has won three Best Actor Oscars - and Meryl Streep, who has a legendary reputation and no less than 15 nominations for Best Actress behind her, has only very rarely scored a massive hit.
So maybe it comes down to the notion that the Oscars just don't like films - and people - who make a lot of money. It just so happens that right now, geeky films (comic book movies in particular) are the hottest property in cinema and are therefore Academy poison. It's rather absurd, however, to assume that mass success means a film is somehow less artistic, unique or innovative than an arthouse movie. The original Star Wars broke every record in the book, yet is nevertheless rightly considered one of the most important turning points in cinematic history and to this day is an arguably unsurpassed achievement in terms of breaking boundaries and delivering something new. It didn't win Best Picture. The only logical conclusion is that the success of Star Wars hurt its chances.
But hang on a second - there's a great whopping exception to the rule to consider here. Let's consider The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - one-third of one of the most exceptionally nerdy and also outlandishly successful film franchises ever produced. Somehow, it came away with 11 Oscars, and won in every single category it was nominated for. It is joint with Titanic and Ben-Hur as the biggest Oscar winner ever, and is the only remotely geeky or fantasy-based film ever to win Best Picture. Why was this film such an astonishing break from the norm?
There's a few possibilities here to consider. It could be possible that the Academy gave these awards begrudgingly - it really would have been hard to justify giving some of those awards to other films in that particular year. It's also entirely possible that the Academy recognise their reluctance to acknowledge geeky pictures and chose to make a point of giving the award to the crowned king of nerd cinema in order to stay relevant.
In any case, all three Lord of the Rings films are generally considered to be fantastically produced works and were likely just too hard for the Academy to ignore. Not to mention that there were still major snubs for Lord of the Rings - there was only one acting nomination across all three films (Ian McKellen for Fellowship) and the ignorance of Andy Serkis' performance as Gollum in The Two Towers is one of the most infamous award snubs in Oscar history.
What does make The Lord of the Rings stand out, however, is its stubborn refusal to be childish. Although it is fantastical and escapist, The Lord of the Rings deals directly with very heavy themes such as the consequences of war, the loss of innocence, and genocide. It largely keeps the somewhat inaccessible language of Tolkien's books and features a seriously trendy and not-at-all-mainstream-at-the-time cast including the highly respected Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Ian McKellen.
And that's what I consider to be the key to all this. It's not the popularity of films that cause the Academy to back away; it's the whole tone that they capture. So many geeky films are made for the child in all of us - if that makes them childish, then so be it. Unfortunately, it seems that the Academy like their films rather more grown-up, more authentic, more real than this. It's no co-incidence that Schindler's List got Spielberg his Best Picture win and not E.T; that Gandhi won the year after Raiders of the Lost Ark failed.
And that's why Guardians of the Galaxy didn't get a screenplay nomination - it's just too damn fun to be any good, surely? And that Star Wars thing from 1977, that thing's just too dumb to be as good as Annie Hall, right?
It's as simple as that, as far as I can see. When it comes to geek cinema, the Oscars are no measure of intrinsic quality. I never had any doubt that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would walk away empty-handed whilst grim-flick The Revenant would steal the show. The next time a fun, adventurous, deeply satisfying geek blockbuster is entirely ignored by the Oscars, take it as a compliment.
Because it probably means it was really good.
Andy is a writer, musician, graduate, and super-geek. Ginger glasses-wearer. Star Wars obsessive and Doctor Who enthusiast. Specialises in film music and currently writing his first book on the subject. Follow Andy on Twitter.