With a best picture nomination Tuesday, Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” joined the short list of science-fiction films that have been nominated for the film industry’s top prize.
Previous to the Academy’s expansion of the category in 2009, sci-fi nominees were a rarity. There was “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982 and … that was basically it. Though some would categorize Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” or even David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” within the genre.
With eight, “Arrival” earned the second-highest number of noms (tied with “Moonlight”), clinching nods for director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, production design, and editing — in addition to best picture. Since 2009, movies such as “District 9,” “Avatar,” “Inception,” and “Her” have picked up best picture nominations. “Gravity” and “The Martian” have joined the fray as well, but purists might not consider their baked-in-reality premises strictly sci-fi. (Your mileage may also vary on films such as “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”)
The point is the Academy’s best picture expansion has been a boon for a genre that was largely ignored by the organization prior to the 21st Century. “Arrival” may well have made it in with the previous paradigm of five nominees, but the added room makes for a lower bar to clear. That’s certainly been one benefit of the new system.