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Genre Movies Get Their Moment in the Oscar Spotlight

This year’s Oscar nominations ended up being a boon to genre movies, which seem to always struggle with Academy voters.

Not least of them is Guillermo del Toro’s field-leading fairytale “The Shape of Water.” A beautifully-crafted distant cousin to del Toro’s previous Oscar success story, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the film scooped up 13 nominations, including best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actor, and best supporting actress. Naturally, it also performed beautifully throughout the craft categories.

“I’ve always seen monsters as very spiritual figures for me, very metaphorical,” del Toro said on a recent episode of Variety‘s “Playback” podcast. “They sort of embody concepts for me. … [But] I don’t know what I do. People say, ‘You’re a horror filmmaker, fantasy’ — no, I love fables.”

Jordan Peele’s horror-satire “Get Out” became the first February release to receive a best picture nomination since another horror film, Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” 26 years ago. It was also the first such film to be nominated in the top category since “Black Swan” in 2010.

“It felt like the comedy education I got the last decade or so worked perfectly in this film,” Peele said on another episode of “Playback” upon the film’s release. “I feel both horror and laughter are ways we face our demons, ways we deal with our fears of death. It’s about tension, tension, tension, then release, with a certain pinpoint precision. In a way that’s a metaphor for life and death. We spend our whole lives fearing the ultimate absurdity, which is that this is temporary.”

Get Out” was also nominated for best picture, best actor, and best original screenplay.

Another milestone in the nominations was the adapted screenplay bid for “Logan”; James Mangold’s film became the first superhero adaptation ever nominated for writing. Mangold pushed for a hard-R version of Hugh Jackman’s beloved Wolverine in the character’s send-off picture. He spoke to that on another episode of “Playback” nearly a year ago.

“[Violence is] central to the entire story of this character,” Mangold said. “One thing has been essentially true about Logan through his comic book and movie history, which is that he is carrying a ton of shame on his back about dark deeds he did when he was younger, when he was a drug-pumped killer. In the metaphor to the western, he was a gunslinger. A lot of people were hurt and they weren’t all guilty. It wasn’t always the justified death. I think that’s something that has been played with throughout comic book history, but the idea for me of this character coming to terms with his life in a final film seemed necessary, to go deeper into his odd relationship with violence.”

Finally, the genre film with the most nominations this year was Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction epic “Blade Runner 2049.” The film landed five nominations in the craft categories on the heels of the director’s banner showing for “Arrival” last year. Villeneuve and his cinematographer Roger Deakins looked at everything from Brutalist architecture in London to photos of the 2009 red dust storm in Sydney, Australia, to help determine the look of the dystopian sequel.

“The fun is doing it,” Deakins, who received his 14th nomination to date for the film, told Variety in a recent interview. “I’m really pleased the film is getting some good reactions. It has something to say. It makes people think. And it’s quite different from a lot of what you see. I read one review that mentioned Andrei Tarkovsky, and it mentioned that ‘Blade Runner 2049’ owes as much to Tarkovsky as anything else, which is kind of nice.”

The 90th Oscars will be held on March 4.

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