The 2017 Academy Awards are the 89th Academy Awards. The first Oscars were held in the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929: the same year Dick Clark, Anne Frank, and Arnold Palmer were born, for some perspective.
In 88 previous years of the Academy Awards, a movie with aliens as a main plot device has never won Best Picture. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won Best Picture in 2003, but orcs are not extra-terrestrials. E.T. was nominated for Best Picture in 1982, but Gandhi nabbed the golden statue that year.
Arrival has Arrived.
It's time for an alien movie to win Best Picture. Alien movies represent some of the best stories in cinematic history: from early adopters of the genre like The Day the Earth Stood Still to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien to contemporary classics like Independence Day, Mars Attacks, District 9, and Prometheus. I'll be honest, though: as emotionally provocative as Jack Nicholson's performance in Mars Attacks was, an alien movie hasn't really deserved to win Best Picture. Finally, in 2017, an alien movie is worthy of this distinguished cinematic honor.
Arrival is most definitely alien movie. A lot of people are going to argue that it's not, or that it's really about language and community and our posture towards time and living. Fair: I too think Arrival is a deep, provoking flick. It's more than just ray guns and gooey slime. But Arrival features the most traditional alien plot conflict ever: strange beings in unidentified flying objects have come to earth, and humans don't know whether they're friendly or foes. What's noteworthy about the film is that it isn't a philosophy lecture with some extra terrestrial stuff thrown in (Interstellar) or just all UFOs and nuclear weapons (Independence Day, et. al). Arrival is complete symbiosis; the alien genre and a thoughtful message (about time, communication, and loss) co-opt each other and use the best parts of one another to become something more meaningful - and culturally impactful - than they could be on their own.
I have three criteria when I judge a Best Picture.
- Is it technically excellent and well-acted?
- Does it speak, somehow, to our current cultural moment?
- Does it push me to consider humanity or a fragment of something about being a human in a new and thoughtful way?
Arrival should win Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards because it knocks all three of these categories out of the park and into a Starburst galaxy. Peoples' biggest complaint about the Academy Awards is that it's out of touch and usually awards movies that aren't films the public would widely enjoy (shoutout to The Artist, Birdman, and Shakespeare in Love.)
Arrival is the rare film that bridges palatable and entertaining with profound and provocative. It's a film for people and about stuff people need to think about.
Thanks be to our new Movie King, Denis Villeneuve.