Certain Hollywood actors seem to revel in their geek status, whether it be grinning Simon Pegg turning out to pose with Stormtroopers at Star Wars-related events, or painfully earnest Andrew Garfield arriving at Comic-Con in a ropey homemade Spider-Man costume. If we're to believe his on-screen persona, Seth Rogen is a naive, dope-smoking slacker who struggles with the ladies, not the hugely successful actor and screenwriter who has taken Hollywood by storm in the past couple of years. Could this be why the star of Knocked Up and Pineapple Express has just gone on record to berate the absence of Drive and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol from this year's Oscars hunt? Is he simply playing up to the image of the overgrown kid who loves genre movies with plenty of spectacle while secretly gorging himself on Terrence Malick?
"I honestly thought Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was one of the best movies of the year. It got no love from awards, whatsoever. I loved that fucking movie!" Rogen told Collider. "It was great! And, I thought Drive was awesome too. That got nominated for an Independent Spirit award, but didn't get any Oscar nominations."
On the other hand, perhaps Rogen has something of a point. Take a look down the list of nominees at this year's Oscars, and there's a notable absence of genre material in the major categories, while a number of movies that were actually pretty poorly received by critics appear to have inexplicably crept in.
Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn's ultra-stylish superhero tale cum gangster exploitation flick, is the most obvious omission, nominated only for sound editing. With his Cannes-celebrated thriller, Winding Refn pulled off the rare trick of creating a movie that was so much more than the sum of its parts. How Albert Brooks missed out on a best supporting actor nod for his grimy, grimly functional mob boss is beyond me.
Don't just take my word for it. According to the review aggregator website rottentomatoes.com, Drive was one of the top five widely released movies of 2011, with a 93% "fresh" rating. That's way ahead of best picture nominees such as War Horse (76%) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (45%), a film which ought to fare better at the Razzies.
The year's top wide-release film is another genre effort, David Yates's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, with a staggering 96% "fresh" rating, ahead of every single film on the best picture nominees list bar The Artist (97%). Other genre films which performed well with critics but picked up little or no Oscars love include Duncan Jones's Source Code (91%), Joe Cornish's Attack the Block (90%), perfectly pitched comedy horror Tucker & Dale vs Evil (85%), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (83%, confined to the best special effects category) and JJ Abrams's warm and cuddly sci-fi thriller Super 8 (82%). Even the latest Fast and Furious film, which the excellent Twitchfilm blog has been semi-jokingly touting for awards season glory all year, managed 78%.
The truth is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always been loth to honour genre fare. It took until the 1990s for a western to win the Oscar for best picture (barring 1931's Cimmaron), and neither Dances with Wolves (1990) nor Unforgiven (1992) slipped all that comfortably into the classic John Ford/Howard Hawks mould. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy triumphed largely in the technical categories until Return of the King took the best picture Oscar in 2004. The first Star Wars triptych was also confined to wins in the technical categories, though Frank Oz would surely have won best puppet for Yoda had the organisers seen fit to include such a gong.
What is unforgivable from the Academy (though it is not as bad in this regard as the Golden Globes) is the lazy inclusion each year of films and actors who fit a certain A-list Hollywood mould: the George Clooneys and the Steven Spielbergs, these days even the Brad Pitts. The body also likes to reward film-makers and thespians who it regards as having been under-praised in the past: hence the best supporting actor nods for venerable veterans Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow this time around. Finally, there's the bias towards movies with grand, sweeping themes and/or plenty of historical import: hence, the presence of the execrable Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the blandly average War Horse this year and victory for (solid but hardly spectacular) Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker two years ago.
The other reason that genre movies often miss out is easier to understand. Studios may trumpet the wonders of 3D and the awesome impact of seeing a particular blockbuster on a huge IMAX screen, but such plus points do not translate well to awards ceremonies where famous faces are usually the centre of focus. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol may have been one of the year's most enjoyable spectacles, but wheeling out the guy in the Nirvana T-shirt and unkempt facial hair who handled the technical stuff is not quite as sexy as seeing Michelle Williams or George Clooney arrive on stage to collect their best actor prize from last year's incumbent.
It's also worth pointing out that many of the films this column triumphs do not need the kind of boost that Oscars glory brings to find an audience. Awards season rightly rewards movies which may otherwise slip under the radar – until recently only The Help of this year's major contenders had passed $100m at the global box office. Decent fanboy-friendly films from the past year such as Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Source Code will find their audience without help from the Academy, which is why studios did not pitch them for an Oscars run.
Rogen should perhaps not weep, then, for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which earlier this year emerged as the most successful film in the series so far at the box office. But Drive … well, Winding Refn's film has been shockingly under-served. It's exactly the kind of film which could have done with a little help from the Academy. More than any other film this year, its absence hints that Oscars voters remain, at heart, out-of-touch, po-faced stick-in-the-muds.
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