OSCARS WEEKLY – The case for ‘Wonder Woman’ for Best Picture

Almost a decade ago, a major change came to the Academy Awards. It was 2008, and The Dark Knight was on everyone’s lips. It captured the box-office dollars, naturally. It was one of the best reviewed films of the year, surprisingly. And it featured one of the greatest (and soon-to-be Oscar-winning) performances ever committed to film. It had all the makings of a Best Picture nominee. But it was a “genre” film. As they often do, the Academy failed to take it seriously, and its snub from the five nominees was met with angry howls, and not just from Batman fans.

Fearing they were losing touch with modern-day audiences (the ratings for the Oscars ceremony were spiraling down, year by year), the Academy made the bold decision to increase their Best Picture nominees from five to 10, hearkening back to the 1930s and 40s when this was how the Oscars were run. It was hoped this would widen the possibilities for “genre” or blockbuster films of the future to get a look in. And for a while it worked.

That first year of ten nominees saw hugely popular films like Up and Avatar included, as well as something as left-field as District 9. Likewise with the following year, with the inclusion of Toy Story 3 and Inception. But it was short-lived, and the last few years have seen the Academy fall back to nominating the same type of films it had always given preference to – dramas, period pieces, and biopics. Even though a comic-book superhero film was the catalyst for this expansion of nominees, a film of that genre has still failed to receive a Best Picture nomination.

And that’s not for a lack of possibilities. Films like Guardians of the GalaxyDeadpool, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier certainly had the rave reviews and the box-office results to be considered. Deadpool even managed to squeak in to the Golden Globe and PGA nominations. Yet all were overlooked by the Academy, much to the chagrin of those who deem these movies worthy of more than just box-office dollars. That could all change with the arrival of a film that truly demands to be amongst this year’s nominees – Wonder Woman.

Now just hear me out. I know a lot of people will groan and roll their eyes. It’s just a fun action popcorn flick, right? How dare I say it should be included as one of the best films of the year? But there’s so much more to Wonder Woman than just entertainment. Few pieces of cinema have captured the cultural zeitgeist this year like Patty Jenkins’ brilliant film. And it wasn’t so long ago when the Academy would indeed recognise such buzzed-about films.

Star WarsJawsET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Exorcist, Beauty and the Beast – all were nominated for Best Picture, and that was when there were only five slots available. If you don’t know your Oscars history, this could be pretty shocking, right? I genuinely feel the majority of these would not be nominated today. They’re all “genre” films outside the usual Oscar-bait genres. They all made huge box-office dollars. They all had enormous impact on pop culture. And they were all wonderful popcorn cinema. Yet they all found themselves nominated for the big prize. So why can’t Wonder Woman do the same?

But there’s something Wonder Woman has that none of these previous nominees did – the weight of cultural importance. It’s been a difficult time for women lately, what with Hillary’s crushing loss and the disgraceful sexual harassment scandals plaguing Hollywood. The arrival of a brave, intelligent, and heroic female cinematic icon could not have been more timely, especially delivered to us by a female director. In the insanely hyper-masculine world of superhero films, a pair of females have shown up the men and delivered something truly masterful.

This is perfectly typified by the sequence where Diana ignores the warnings of her non-believer male cohorts and bravely crosses the No Man’s Land battlefield, deflecting bullets and striking down her enemies. It truly was one of the greatest moments in cinema this year. Or any year. It was a scene women could cheer for. Here was a strong female superhero, not using her beauty to win the day. Diana is fierce with a capital F. And it has nothing to do with how she looks.

Yes, Gal Gadot is utterly gorgeous. And yes, her costume shows off her striking physique. But it’s never played for glorification. It’s a minor aspect of this character, and overlooking her beauty is part of Jenkins’ deft vision for this film. She wants you to see the strength of the woman by what’s in her very core, not what we see when we look at her. Jenkins and Gadot fill this film with lashings of heart, humour, wit, and, most importantly, hope.

That hope spreads outside the film itself, in that Wonder Woman is a clear example that films led and crafted by women can indeed make box-office dollars. Audiences of both genders want to see females at the forefront of any type of film. This was proven by the results the film achieved, which are utterly astonishing, to say the least. $821 million worldwide, $412 million from the US alone. The biggest box-office ever for a film directed by a female. The biggest box-office of the new DC franchise. The biggest superhero origin film of all-time. For a film many worried would fail, these numbers are staggering. And that kind of success deserves to be recognised by the Academy.

But it’s not just the huge financial success of the film that demands it be a Best Picture nominee. The film itself is expertly crafted and wonderfully made. The screenplay is emotional and perfectly paced, filled with engaging character development for Diana and those surrounding her. It’s beautifully shot and features glorious production and costume design. It has a soaring score, with that now-iconic Wonder Woman theme song, taking centre-stage. The casting is utter perfection. And it’s just downright entertaining, from start to finish. What more could you want from a Best Picture nominee?

Now I can bang on about how great this film is and why it deserves to be nominated until I’m blue in the face, but can it actually happen? The answer is absolutely yes. I won’t bore you with the rather complicated process of how the final nominees for Best Picture are chosen. It’s a preferential ballot system, and just thinking about how it all works makes my head spin. If you are curious to the ins-and-outs of the process, Steve Pond of The Wrap summarises it rather neatly here.

Basically, to secure the nomination, Wonder Woman will need to receive around 200 or so #1 votes on the nomination ballot forms. Doesn’t sound all that many, does it? But I know the Academy. And I know what they’re like, or rather, what films they like. It’s not going to be easy to change people’s minds about what constitutes a Best Picture-worthy nominee. The old white guys of the Academy are probably so freaked out by this film, they’d rather pick anything but Wonder Woman this year. But, fittingly, there is hope.

Over the last few years, the Academy has been increasing and diversifying its memberships rank, as a response to the embarrassing #OscarsSoWhite backlash. Earlier this year, the Academy added over 700 new members to their voting pool, including Gal Gadot herself. This new group of voters are younger and more diverse, with many women and people of colour joining the vote. Is it that unfathomable to think many of these new voters adored Wonder Woman and would love to see it represented on Oscar night?

And the other glimmer of hope is Warner Bros. and their commitment to launch a full-scale Oscar campaign for this film, across all categories. I’ve spoken many times before about the importance of Oscar campaigning in the modern-day awards season, so this bodes extremely well for the film’s chances. They will likely spend big bucks on this campaign. Nabbing a Best Picture nomination would be a major coup for the studio, especially over its intense rival, Marvel Studios. To be the studio responsible for the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination is something Warner Bros. would desperately love. And with intelligent and articulate women like Jenkins and Gadot leading the campaigning over the next few months, it genuinely could be on the cards.

Wonder Woman is one of the greatest success stories of cinema in 2017. It’s one of the best films we’ve seen this year, and one of the most lovingly received by audiences and critics alike. It’s a triumph of blockbuster filmmaking, and a turning-point for the role of women in cinema, both in-front-of and behind the camera. These very notions demand it be considered as a Best Picture nominee, and I implore the Academy to make it happen.