Every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars.
Every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars.The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Persona, Breathless, Hoop Dreams, King Kong, Caddyshack — the Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, artsy foreign films, and documentaries that aren’t about World War II. This year, we’ll be taking a closer look at films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.
The Film: Fast Five, the fifth film in the unexpectedly long-lived Fast & Furious franchise, starring basically every actor who has ever been in a Fast film. Also featuring a franchise-first appearance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is quickly becoming for action sequels what cherry flavoring is for soda variants.
Why It Wasn’t Nominated: Fast Five garnered franchise-best reviews when it opened last summer and it earned a spot on Time critic Richard Corliss’ top-ten-of-2011 list (although Corliss’ insistence that Fast Five is “the first great film of the post-human era” sounds like a nihilistic backhanded compliment.) Still, nobody would have ever expected that the movie would be competing for any of the top prizes. The rare action movies that actually get nominated for Best Picture usually require some sort of cultural signifier of high-quality, like complex plotting (Inception), or contemporary resonance (The Hurt Locker), or subtitles (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Fast Five is about a gang of joyriding thieves who demolish Rio de Janeiro to make some money. Complex plotting? Nah. Contemporary resonance? Nope. Subtitles? Well, yes, but the occasional subtitles zoom across the screen, PowerPoint style. So it’s fair to say that Fast Five was not made for a demographic that cried at War Horse.
Curiously, though, Fast Five was completely left out of all the technical awards – which feels like a serious snub, considering that Fast Five’s car chases actually make a certain amount of coherent visual sense, unlike the car chases in the thrice-nominated Transformers: Dark of the Moonstruck, which made my ears, eyes, and nose bleed. The most striking omission, if you’re a buff of deep-cut Oscars, is the absence of Fast Five from the Visual Effects category. There was a time when the Academy famously disliked nominating films that relied on digital effects – TRON director Steven Lisberger has said that Academy thought his film “cheated” by using computers.
Flash-forward thirty years, and every nominated film depends on digital effects: The performance-capture chimps in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the glittery Paris of Hugo, the magic-fireworks warfare of Harry Potter and the Etc Etc, the robots who fight other robots in Real Steel, and the robots who fight other robots in Transformers: Dark Moon Rising. Fast Five, conversely, relied heavily on practical effects. (Just read stunt coordinator Jack Gill’s description of filming the bank vault scene.) Maybe Fast Five should’ve had Andy Serkis play a car.
Why History Will Remember It More Fondly Than Extremely Loud & Incredible Close: Thanks to superheroes and Harry Potter, the current Hollywood vogue demands that action movies be dark emotional journeys about troubled orphans saving the world from a digital creature and/or the Russians. In that sense, even though Fast Five is the fourth sequel in a franchise that used to be pitched to teeny-boppers, it feels more like a throwback to decidedly more classical vintages of action movies. The presence of Vin Diesel and the Rock makes Fast Five feel like a beefcake ’80s romp; the Ocean’s Eleven-esque plot feels like a throwback to ensemble heist pictures; the sheer amount of cars being destroyed gives The Road Warrior a run for its money.
Director Justin Lin is undeniably the stealth hero of the Fast & Furious franchise. He rescued the series from the brink by overdelivering on Tokyo Drift, turning what could have been our generation’s version of The Bad News Bears Go to Japan into a surprisingly effective little gem, sort of like our generation’s Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. I wasn’t a big fan of Fast & Furious, which peaked early with the opening car chase. With Fast Five, Lin had a much bigger budget to play around with – and it shows.
Listen, Fast Five is a ridiculous movie – one of the earliest scenes involves Paul Walker and Vin Diesel driving off a cliff, jumping out of their falling car, and emerging from the water without a scratch on them. But really, almost every big movie Hollywood makes now is ridiculous. (The most critically acclaimed blockbuster of the last four years is a movie about the richest man in the world who wears an armored costume with big ears.) The Oscars tend to recognize movies that have some sort of social utility – movies that are about things. But as we all know, Oscar Wilde said, “All art is quite useless.” Clearly he was talking about Fast Five.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich