Oscar Watch: 'Captain America' For Best Picture? Why Its Directors Think The Academy Should Take Comic Book Movies Seriously

A Marvel comic book movie as a serious contender for a Best Picture Oscar nomination? My reaction when the idea was recently pitched to me by a top publicity firm floating the April 4 release Captain America: The Winter Soldier was that this publicist must be on crack.

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Don’t they know the Academy is basically made up of snobs? The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything, Boyhood, YES, but c’mon, Comic Book movies have no place in the Best Picture race. That became painfully obvious when The Dark Knight was egregiously overlooked as a Best Pic nominee in 2008.

That led the Academy the next year to expand the number of possible BP nominees from five to ten in an effort to include deserving popular fare like Knight. However to date the expansion has only resulted basically in a larger number of the usual suspects that normally get recognized among the year’s best. Give Oscar a small British picture any day, but Captain America? No!

Image (1) birdman__140412012401.jpg for post 713902It’s ironic that one of this year’s major contenders, Birdman does have a storyline involving an actor who played a comic book superhero. But the film focuses on the aging former superhero trying desperately to run away from that image.

Oscar voters can identify with that but real comic book movies are relegated to technical categories such as visual effects and sound and there they will stay, despite the fact that the public flocks to them and critics routinely rate them highly, as shown by review-compilation sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Captain America: The Winter Soldierwhich by the way was good enough to lure Robert Redford back to blockbuster fare, earned an excellent 89% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Marvel’s late-summer smash, Guardians Of The Galaxythe No.1-grossing grossing movie this year, ranked even higher, with 91% positive reviews. And Marvel’s latest X-Men installment, X-Men: Days Of Future Past beat them both, with 92%.

Guardians of the Galaxy posterBut you don’t see the studios behind them launching major Best Picture campaigns, do you? Certainly, when you see companies like Warner Bros staking their future on the genre by announcing a plan for ten comic-based movies between 2016 and 2020  you see the importance to the bottom line. The genre continues to explode but these are regarded as cash cows, not Oscar bait.

But you have to ask yourself is that really fair? Recently at the Venice Film Festival where he was promoting his two latest micro-budgeted movies – The Humbling and Manglehorn – none other than Al Pacino became a convert. He put Guardians Of The Galaxy on a pedestal, erasing his initial reaction when dragged to see it.

“It was not something I would readily go see, but my kids got me to go, and one has to draw the line at where prejudice starts and where it ends – that was good stuff!” Pacino said. “I recognized the ingenious stuff they were doing : the invention, the attractiveness of the way they were performing it. It had Shakespearean feeling to it at times. I was caught up in the big screen, the big sound.”

In a bit of irony, Pacino remains one of the few actors ever to be Oscar -nominated for a comic-book movie role, 1990’s Dick Tracy (and of course Heath Ledger did take a posthumous Supporting Actor Oscar for The Dark Knight).

Anthony+Russo+Captain+America+Winter+Soldier+UtR973ak9otlI met recently with Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and the upcoming 2016 sequel). They’re also Emmy winners for their work in television, including classic shows like Arrested Development  and  Community, told me they  are frustrated that comic book movies, and that includes  their own critically acclaimed film, aren’t getting the kind of Oscar buzz movies that rank far lower on the RT and boxoffice scales seem to be rolling in.

It’s almost as if, as far as Oscar is generally concerned these days, making money is a hindrance. Captain America’s  gross puts it at No. 2 behind Guardians with nearly $260 million domestically and $714 million worldwide to date. Their film is nowhere to be found on pundit prediction lists and it would be a stunner if any critics group even considers it in their year end awards despite that early praise it got in April.

“It’s strange that the comic-book film genre is so often thought of only in terms of its economic merits,”  said Joe Russo. “Yes, it’s shockingly popular and continues to grow, and yes, the box office success of these films can often embarrassingly outweigh their merits, but as Christopher Nolan perhaps first proved, real and valuable filmmaking can be achieved with the genre. It’s sad that some people, seemingly soured by having to endure the massive cultural presence and expectations that even mediocre or poor examples of the genre can generate, react by trying to reject the genre as a whole.

The-Dark-KnightOf course Nolan, snubbed for Dark Knight but nominated in the Best Pic race for the non-comic book Inceptionwill be back this year trying for the first time to break into the Best Director race with his very human space epic, Interstellar (Nov. 5), a film certain to benefit because it is not based on a comic book. 

Russo says that in many ways, comic book films are analogous to the Western, a form not  ignored completely by Oscar in the Best Picture races of the past.

“Snubbing comic book movies because of their ubiquity is akin to dismissing the Western as matinee fodder,” said Joe Russo

Of course, many a great western was indeed snubbed, including John Wayne’s classic pair of The Searchers and Rio Bravo, which between them received zero Oscar nominations. More recently, Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves turned things around, both winning  Best Picture.

And as Russo points out, no fantasy film had ever won until the Lord Of The Rings trilogy smashed that myth with three consecutive Best Picture nominations and a sweeping win in 2003 for the third installment, The Return Of The King.

captain-america-winter-soldier-robert-redford-chris-evansTheir own film, which Anthony Russo describes as a hybrid between a superhero movie and a straight, serious thriller, not only would have to erase an 86-year-old voting pattern, it also would have to overcome its early April release date, itself a real uphill climb.It’s extremely rare for any film released before May, and generally even before Fall, to land a Best Pic nod.

But they aren’t giving up hope. They feel having Redford (snubbed in the Best Actor race last year for All Is Lost) helps put the film in a different league.

“The moment we were able to cast Redford changed everything, because it gave a deeper cultural context to the movie,” said Joe Russo. “Not only are you taking one of the most famous actors of all time, you’re taking one of the most famous thriller actors of all time (Three Days Of The Condor). And we’re su728973bverting his on-screen persona and his off-screen persona at the same time. He’s a villain in the movie. He’s never played a villain, and not only is he a villain, but he’s a fascist.”

Joe Russo said the film has a true “civil liberties conundrum” at its heart but was actually written six months before the controversies surrounding NSA leaker Edward Snowden scandal exploded. “We went after ideas that we felt were very zeitgeist,” he said.

So with critical acclaim, industry respectability, all the elements, why no chance at Oscar love, or even an attempt?

“That’s a very interesting question,” said Joe Russo. “I think you look at all those awards ceremonies, there’s a whole process of advocacy for those awards, right? What is the value of the award (to Marvel)? And why should they spend the money required to go down that road? To create the box office? They already have the box office.”

But Anthony Russo says their film feels more like a ’70s-style thriller than anything else.

“It’s a real movie, real filmmaking, and it has really high aspirations, in terms of what cinema can be and what it can do, and what our experience of it is,” Anthony says. “It has every intention on the part of the filmmakers to reach audiences on the deepest level.”

He went on to point out the many ways their film differs from standard comic-book fare and cited influences like The Manchurian Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days Of The Condor  and The French Connection. 

During the course of our conversation they also mentioned how the comedy genre also rarely gets its due from the Academy.

“We’ve done comedy and drama,” said Joe Russo. “Comedy is f*****g  hard. It’s really hard. The very specific craft involved in the rhythm and the pacing and the tone. Tone is so hard to manage. I think it’s the hardest thing for a filmmaker to do.”

Perhaps an Oscar campaign could more successfully be mounted if they dropped the name Captain America and just called it The Winter Soldier. Now that the Academy could probably get behind.  No trace of comic book origins there!

“It’s fascinating, very interesting, very enigmatic how it all works, the Academy,”  said Anthony Russo.

    1. Here come the snot-dicks with their “I hate superhero/sci-fi/mainstream commercial” rant yet again.

      As if “Who Wants to be a Millionaire the movie”… whoops! ‘Scuse me, I meant “Slumdog Millionaire” was worthy to win. My ass.

      I suppose the “Kate Winslet Nazi porn” flick, “The Reader” is somehow more worthy of a nomination than Dark Knight.

      Then we have Hurt Locker…cliched crap from someone still learning how to write.

      Oh please, dear “sophisticated cinephiles,” please, oh please answer me this…which one of you has busted out your bluray of The Artist or The King’s Speech lately?

      No?

      Um okay. How ’bout Ghandi, The Pianist, Shakespeare in Love?

      A Beautiful mind? Chicago?

      Oh I know! How ’bout Crash?! C’mon! Crash!!!

      No takers, huh. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Cockbags.

  1. The Winter Soldier was good, but let’s not act like it was even close to The Dark Knight or warranting of Oscar consideration. People need to start reading reviews instead of losing their minds over the Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” if they want to gauge the actual critical response.

    That being said, the Academy is not going to change for another couple of decades when the old stick-in-the-muds are phased out by nature.

    1. I’ll take Captain America, The Winter Soldier over that bloated, ponderous overrated bore The Dark Knight.

  2. Good call. The purpose of a good movie is to make money. This is a business. As Pete points out, the Academy is notorious for favoring the “artsy” movies over blockbusters. Look at AVATAR getting beat by THE HURT LOCKER in 2010 for Best Picture. Really?

    1. Exactly. Hurt Locker was a nice, taut little thriller-certainly not Oscar-worthy. But Avatar, like Star Wars, was a groundbreaking, exciting, visual extravaganza, with an important message too. It will have a far greater impact over time on the cinematic landscape.

      1. The Hurt Locker nor Avatar are “Best Picture,” worthy. Avatar was a visual extravaganza, but that’s all it had going for it. I guess you could say the message is important, but it’s a pretty well-used and rehashed one that you can find in many older films. I’ve literally never heard one person say they liked Avatar because of the story. It certainly is not going to have a long-lasting impact on pop culture and cinema like Star Wars did. Even the innovation is kind of over-played. It’s hardly the first movie to use 3D and CGI and didn’t blow peoples minds with a huge leap forward in FX like Star Wars did. The FX were awesome, but the artistic design was kind of a mixed bag. Some designs were breath taking and some were pretty pedestrian and ripped straight from other movies. The main design of the aliens was downright stupid. It deserved awards for FX, but not for best picture.

        1. >>>>” I’ve literally never heard one person say they liked Avatar because of the story. ”

          I like Avatar because of the story.

          So there’s your one.

          And I’m guessing a fairly good percentage the $2.7 Billion worth of movie-goers did too.

          1. I liked the story the first few times I heard it. Like when I watched Fern Gully, Dances with Wolves, etc.

            Avatar was an expensive pop corn flick and an advertisement for the latest in digital FX and 3D tech. It was lazy storytelling though.

      2. Avatar was empty eye candy with a trite, cliched plotline. You’d be better off touting Captain America as your poster child for a big-budget blockbuster that deserves an Oscar nod. Especially the FIRST Captain America movie.

      3. I almost feel angry by the comparison… Star Wars has a deep and complex story and has generated millions of fans who are also making their own stories about it, is rooted in our culture as movie goers (or movie makers) because it’s great. Avatar has no story at all, even the so called message is recycled, it’s way too basic and simple, it’s dumb, it’s predictable in every sense possible… I don’t think a movie with exceptional visuals (I do give Avatar that, but just that) can compensate the lack of story.
        Oh the other hand The Winters Soldier has a story, a really good one. And if comic movies remain gaining terrain as “more serious movies” eventually the Oscar will come.

    2. Yes really … even though it’s 6000 or so individuals, including me, who vote, for the Academy Awards, it is OUR decision what is the best in any category, not yours. And most Academy members are in the Academy because of the expertise they’ve exhibited in their fields of expertise. I dare say, we know a little more about movies as a craft, art, and even business than you do. Personally, I thought Avatar was a great technical achievement and nothing more. I’m not a huge fan of many indies either, but the money the studios spend now on comic book films and franchises has precluded the financing of reasonably budgeted studio films about real characters dealing with real situations in strong stories with scintillating dialogue.

      1. You represent the other 99% of the acting community. Your SAG card is a mere formality. Just because you were an extra in Police Academy 4 doesn’t give you the ‘expertise’ to pick best picture winners. That logic is so delusional. Preaching on a forum about how much your opinion is worth. Thanks of the laughs.

  3. TERRIFIC PIECE by Deadline!

    A VERY GOOD counter-opinion to the snobby ‘Birdman’ director’s recent Q&A that calls out arrogant snobbery against comic-book fantasy and popcorn fare in general by the critics of The Academy.

    I WISH CA: TWS had a chance at getting recognition for it’s lofty themes etc, but – like westerns – it may indeed be YEARS before they get their due credit by the award folks.

    IN SPITE OF THAT, it can’t be denied that the overall quality of superhero adaptations has grown by leaps & bounds…

    1. Beyond snobbery! I felt humiliated by his comments. Thank God my brother did not read “those” comments by(this) director of ‘Birdman.’ I remember when he(my brother) first purchased ‘The Dark Knight’ comic book series, and the ‘X-men’ series a long, long, time ago. And he’s certainly not an idiot. And probably has contributed more than any person I know to Boxoffice revenue and jobs(in) Hollywood!

    2. Westerns got recognized when they grew up. Winter Soldier is not the grown-up comic book movie you’re looking for. Birdman is.

  4. If the Academy opted to ignore billion dollar babies like The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, The Deathly Hallows Part II, The Avengers and Skyfall even though these films were critically acclaimed (some of them considerably more so than The Winter Soldier) with solid Oscar campaigns, I’m fairly certain they won’t give a second (or even first) look to The Winter Soldier which was a very entertaining sequel (and that is a great accomplishment already) that delivered unspectacularly good Box Office (considering the price tag, it kind of NEEDED that 700M). If a comic book film could gain some traction in Best Picture this year, it will be Guardians of the Galaxy, mainly because it still has that shiny new toy vibe and because its success (both commercial and critical) kind of took everyone by surprise, but as I said, if they didn’t go for the films mentioned above, it seems rather impossible they would go for either of these two this year. Personally, I’m just glad both were at least good films.

  5. What they need to do is make less comic book movies. Birdman will represent a meditation on the genre during awards season.

  6. Genre films that end up being classics that stand the test of time have repeatedly been snubbed over smaller, less memorable ones. The Dark Knight, Skyfall, and now The Winter Soldier, are enormously entertaining, complex, political, action-packed thrillers with great performances by top-notch actors. They are much better films than The Hurt Locker, King’s Speech, Argo and other recent Best Picture winners that won’t have anywhere near the lasting impact.

    It’s the same dilemma as TV where The Walking Dead, far more entertaining, thrilling and emotional than anything else on TV, is consistently snubbed by the Emmys. And there’s the stigma that if something is enjoyed by the masses, it can’t be that good quality-wise. And that’s ridiculous. From Jaws and Star Wars, to Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy, high quality films can be popular too.

    1. I agree. The first Captain America at least showed some stylistic originality. The second one was standard-issue conspiracy thriller stuff with some really exceptional fight scenes and a couple of really hot guys in the two title roles. Not that I’m complaining, but jeeze, an Oscar should merit higher standards, right?

    1. They refuse to honor stunt work because they’d have to show clips of the stunt, dispelling the illusion that a particular megastar had performed the action.

  7. People often mistake making money with making art. If that were the case then comic books would be winning significant awards too.

  8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly among my favorite films this year. Is it as good as The Dark Knight? Probably not, but it shouldn’t have to compete against TDK; it should have to compete against this year’s crop of movies. And so far I’d consider it one of the ten best. Return of the King, after all, didn’t have to prove it was better than Star Wars to break the track record of the Academy not recognizing fantasy. Nor should it have.

      1. The Dark Knight is BETTER than Winter Soldier, Captain America is just another overrated garbage from Marvel.

        1. The Dark Knight is lame attempt to throw The Killing joke and The dark knight Returns together. The part that worked well was The Killing Joke aspects ie The Joker. Everything else was boring.

  9. If the story is great ,then it should be nominated but its the stigma of it being comic book related that hurts it. Maybe that’ll change.

  10. Sure, consider a comic book movie for Best Picture. But first make one that doesn’t feature a silly story, mindless action sequences, gaping plot holes and wooden acting like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did. None of these Marvel movies comes anywhere close to Best Picture quality.

    So far, the only ones that *might* have qualified have been Tim Burton’s Batman and Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But Burton’s comic book movies were too campy and the first Batman was up against Driving Miss Daisy, Born on the Fourth of July, and, Field of Dreams, and My Left Foot. It would have been a shame if Batman had beaten all of them out. The Dark Knight would have been up against No Country for Old Men, Atonement, and There Will Be Blood, among others. Again…fat chance at earning Best Picture.

    Do these directors not realize that their movies are only monstrously successful because of the built-in viewership of comic fans who have grown into movie fans? Ultimately, their success is derived from the buzz generated by fanboys (of which I, admittedly, am one (sort of)), and if they were making films like Winter Soldier about original characters, the films would flop–not even earning back their original investments.

    1. Oh please. Batman/The Dark Knight were no more Best Picture material than Captain America, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. Some silly action flicks are really good silly action flicks, but none of them are Great Art and the fanboys need to go watch a real movie and understand the difference.

      1. Most of the films that win Best Picture are not great art. The films that win during awards season are tailored to suit the tastes of the hoary heads of the Academy by aping the themes and tone they prefer. Few of them reach the level of true art because their narrow focus on satisfying the miniscule art house audience prevents them from doing so.

      2. That’s a ridiculously snobbish attitude.

        Let’s not forget the fact that Crash was a Best Picture Academy award winner.

        So don’t sit there and act like a picture like that could be any more deserving of an Academy Award win than Captain America or Guardians.

        Not all movies have to be “serious” or devoid of fun and “silly action” to be Oscar worthy or enjoyable at a cerebral level.

        Let’s not forget that if it wasn’t for those “silly action flicks”, none of your artsy-fartsy crap would ever get made at all.

        1. When the Oscar for Best Picture went to Crash instead of Brokeback Mountain, can the Academy be taken seriously?

          1. I’d say that about Annie Hall winning over Star Wars. That’s when all of my f***s about Oscar were taken back.

    2. You got the wrong year there, bud. The Dark Knight came out in 2008, the year that Slumdog Millionaire won the Best Picture Oscar. The other movies you listed (Atonement, No Country, etc) were from 2007.

  11. Camoon guys we all know that those kind of movies have not deserved an Oscar by now. The good thing is that they are getting better and better and Marvel and DC realise that good stories and good acting are far more important than Baam Boom CGI. I personally think that X men are by far the best examples so far ( First Class my favourite) for good Super Hero movies.
    And you never know-one of the 3000 upcoming comic book movies might be even good enough for an Oscar

  12. Dark Knight is way over embellished. Take away the Joker and what do we have, another dull Batman and silly gimmicks like a boat of criminals reflecting over…morals? What’s the word I’m looking for..heavy handed.

    1. Agreed, The dude. All anyone talks about in TDK is Ledger’s performance because there’s nothing else to recommend it. And Ledger was good but he wasn’t definitive. Someone else could play the Joker and be just as effective.

  13. Can we clarify this article please?

    Superhero movies have been snubbed by the academy, not comic books movies in general. Road to perdition alone got nominations in the major categories…guess what. That’s a comic book. Men in Black, Ghost World, history of violence (with a support role nom), Wanted, He’ll boy 2 are all comic book based properties that played in the Oscars race.

    The superhero sub genre of comics has been snubbed, and frankly as good as ledger was in dark knight, I called it seconds after ledger tragically died that WB would do a huge campaign for him. Robert Downey Jr, imo got snubbed a second time.

    Personally I hope RDJ takes home an Oscar for his role of Tony Stark. As a marvel zombie (yes I read the books, and for years before marvel studios was a twinkle in anyone’s eye) RDJ performance is flawless of the character.

    I think the tides are starting to change with the academy when things like spirited away and enimen have Oscar wins.

    Most importantly, not only is the question of how long before the academy stops snubbing brilliant technical and story telling with the superhero genre, but how long before we see some women get nominated for their roles? Rebecca Romin, imo, was brilliant as mystique. ScarJo:now that her character is being more fleshed out is doing a great job as black widow. Paltrow as pepper Potts is probably some of the most ingenious casting next to Glenn close in guardians of the galaxy.

    1. Thank you! A script full of expos, poorly directed action scenes, boring plot about the double-cross to the double-cross inside shield… not sure why they called it “The Winter Soldier” because he only appears for a few minutes wearing a bad wig.

      1. “Winter Soldier” figuratively applies to Cap’s nebulous sense of duty as well as Hydra’s hidden agenda as an Illuminati organization, both emerging as events unfurl. The other non-points you state are mere conjecture.

    2. Superhero movies are fine, if you’re eight. They should not even be in the discussion for Best Pictures.

        1. No, the poster is absolutely right. Life is much more nuanced than any of these good ‘n evil movies allow for. If art reflects society then we’re living in the world of the sound and fury, easily digestible soundbite, where nobody wants to grow up. A world of eternal children.

  14. You’re making a ton of money. Getting to make giant movies with all the toys and massive budgets at your fingertips.

    Be happy and shrug off the awards lament!

    1. Shouldn’t the oscars be a celebration of film it’s not a celebration if one type of movie is being discriminated against i feel that big budjet films can be just as good as artsy oscar bait these days look at dawn of planet of the apes a film with an important social message about acceptance and society and how easily it can destroy itself under fear and hate andy serkis should at least get an oscar nod for the role and before the academy bitch about how it’s not “real acting ” he commanded the screen for the whole movie with very little dialogue mostly sign language so that shoud not be used as an argument against his performance especially since the guy from the artist won best actor despite not saying a single word in the entire film he was in

  15. I have seen much worse movies, than TWS, win Best Picture without even looking at the field of nominees.

  16. Well today every new boy takes rotten like the new metter for good movies on the superhero movies i belive that gardians and winter soldier are good but no a oscar contender, on the other hand you have the most philosophical movie and thrilling movie of the genere the dark knight a cult movie that deserves the nomination but didnt make it amd it will be the only super hero movie to take the pass of the years like the great one

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