The Producer's Guild of America, a key predictor of Oscar nominees, has released its Best Picture selections for 2009. Three of its ten choices were science fiction blockbusters, which could mean the genre is getting long overdue mainstream critical recognition.
As guest blogger extraordinaire Marc Bernardin noted on Monday, Avatar has emerged as a legitimate contender to win Best Picture at next year's Academy Awards. Apparently it's time to add a couple more genre films to that list, as the PGA also nominated District 9 and Star Trek for Best Picture. Joining the science fiction trio are Up, Inglourious Basterds, An Education, Invictus, Precious, and Up in the Air.
The Producer's Guild expanded its field of Best Picture nominees from five to ten this year to keep pace with the Oscars. The doubling of the Best Picture field was widely seen as a reaction to the snubs of the massively successful, critically acclaimed science fiction films The Dark Knight and Wall-E. On a more cynical level, the move allowed the Academy an opportunity to throw token nominations at popular films, which would likely draw in more viewers than a slate of lesser-known, critically respected fare.
Both of those analyses appear to be reflected in the PGA slate. If I can put my film geek hat on for a second, I would guess that, if the PGA had not increased the number of its nominees, the five choices would probably have been The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious, Avatar, and either Invictus or An Education. That would have left Star Trek and District 9 out in the cold, not to mention the genre-friendly films Up and Inglourious Basterds. (It also would have left out their combined $1.5 billion box office figure, which admittedly is still only barely comparable to what Avatar will end up making, but still. Point is, that's a lot of moviegoers who might be a little more interested in the PGA Awards than they otherwise might be.)
So what, if anything, does all this mean? Although producers are a part of the Oscar voting bloc, this by no means guarantees Star Trek or District 9 will be similarly honored by the Academy. (Indeed, the correlation between PGA and Oscar nominations in recent years has been shaky at best.) And no, this doesn't get Sam Rockwell any closer to a Best Actor nod for Moon, and this awards prestige doesn't necessarily mean studios will be incentivized to make higher quality science fiction films in the future.
Even so, for a genre that has spent so much time in the critical wilderness, it probably is an honor just to be nominated, particularly when it happens three times over. And anyway, anything that raises the critical profile of science fiction, however slightly, can't be an entirely bad thing.