The 2009 Golden Globe nominees have been announced by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and it's always fun to see what exactly -- if anything -- has caught the critics' attention from the sci-fi/fantasy genre. It's a hit-or-miss proposition.
I sometimes harp on the glaring omission of sci-fi and fantasy as a field from the big awards machines, but this year's Golden Globes nominations have at least highlighted some of this year's essentials.
The Curious Film of Benjamin Button
It's a strange year when a fantasy film gets positioned as year-end statue-bait, but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which received 5 Golden Globe nominations, is an unusual film. Like Meet Joe Black, another Brad Pitt film, Button's supernatural elements (Benjamin Button is based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald story following a man born in his eighties and aging backwards) are in the service of a more standard-issue serious drama of character exploration and forlorn romance.
I don't say that as a criticism. On the contrary, I think the category of "fantasy" needs to be redefined. Thanks to the big-budget blockbuster success of certain effects-saturated films, particularly The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films (as well as the major superhero franchises as a special, semi-isolated subcategory), fantasy in motion pictures has come to be identified with a massive budget for special effects magic and a commensurate deemphasis on storylines and characterization.
The failure of that line of thinking was clearly demonstrated by The Golden Compass, a bloated and empty exercise in CGI excess that had no soul, and made no sense. More films in which the supernatural is used as a means, rather than as an end, are warranted.
Button is nominated for Best Motion Picture -- Drama, Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture -- Drama (Brad Pitt), Best Director -- Motion Picture (David Fincher), Best Screenplay -- Motion Picture (Eric Roth), and Best Original Score -- Motion Picture (Alexandre Desplat).
Other Film Nominations
The Golden Globes nominations include one other important science-fiction/fantasy nomination: The HFPA recognized the late Heath Ledger's revelatory performance as the Joker in the second Christopher Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight.
Ledger's deeply nuanced portrait of the disturbed villain elevated The Dark Knight from being merely great to something more, a film worth seeing for the Joker's evocation of the darker aspects of the hero's vendetta. As he did with all his films, Ledger crawled deep inside the Joker and revealed to us almost unbearable truth in characterization.
Ledger's is the only nod for The Dark Knight, and the competition in his category is very strange: Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder, Ralph Fiennes for The Duchess, and Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt. Tropic Thunder, a dark comedy with some strange performances, might not be taken seriously, and Hoffman and Fiennes have won, and will continue to win, plenty of statues; so there as a real chance that Ledger, given the uniqueness of this performance, its being the sole nomination for the film, and his death, will be posthumously recognized.
Apart from The Dark Knight the other major sci-fi film to be recognized is Pixar's Wall-E, about the lonely robot on an empty world who eventually meets up with others of his kind. Wall-e was nominated for Best Animated Film (opposite Kung Fu Panda and Bolt) and Best Original Song (Peter Gabriel's "Down to Earth"). Wall-E was a charming movie, but on the other hand Kung Fu Panda had the "wow" factor -- as in, everyone I know who saw it, including me, walked out saying, "Wow! I expected it to be dumb and it really wasn't!"
Television Nods: True Blood? Really?
Out of all the really strong science fiction and fantasy on television this year, from Battlestar Galactica to Pushing Daisies, the one show the HFPA chose to recognize was the campy southern vampire drama True Blood.
True Blood was a lot of fun, don't get me wrong. It was well-produced, evocative, and strongly acted. But the male lead was a dud, its storylines veered widely between the melodramatic and the downright silly, and as often as possible the episodes -- and in fact the entire season -- ended on women screaming. The revelation of the murderer hinged on the hilarious discovery of a teach-yourself-Cajun cassette. True Blood was a blast, and I enjoyed it a lot. But as the only sci-fi/fantasy series nominated for a Golden Globe, I must admit there are names I'd rather see. It occurs to me to wonder whether the HBO brand was a subconscious factor in its selection.
True Blood's competition in the category of Best Television Series -- Drama is Dexter, House (the only broadcast network series nominated in this category), In Treatment, and Mad Men. Let's face facts, vampire-lovers: True Blood stands no chance winning against a field like that.
Anna Paquin stands a slightly better chance in True Blood's other category, Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series -- Drama. Her category-mates are Sally Field, Mariska Hargitay, January Jones, and Kyra Sedgwick -- all top-drawer actors. But Paquin was the best thing about True Blood by a country mile, so she may have a shot.
No sci-fi or fantasy show was nominated in television comedy or mini-series.