It’s no secret that this year’s Oscars brings some seriously weak tea: Even outside the awards’ blinding whiteness, the probable Best Picture and Best Actor winners both come from a film that is objectively silly. While everyone is paying attention to the Oscars, however, the less-talked about but more interesting Nebula Awards for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are showing the way to a better future, where perhaps awards shows aren’t hopelessly stuck in a self-congratulatory past.
Consider the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. The contenders are the following:
1. Ex Machina, written by Alex Garland
2. Inside Out, screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley; original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
3. Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, teleplay by Scott Reynolds and Melissa Rosenberg; story by Jamie King and Scott Reynolds
4. Mad Max: Fury Road, written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris
5. The Martian, screenplay by Drew Goddard
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt
The glorious and revolutionary thing you’ll notice about these films is that none is insipid Oscar bait. None was made to check off boxes that would automatically position them for nomination, unlike The Revenant (oh, the struggle and toil of crawling into carcasses! So brave!) or The Danish Girl (oh, the struggle and toil of a straight cisgender actor pretending to be trans! So brave!). When movies are made to check boxes, they contain a certain hollow quality. Audiences can grok when a film cheats quality and craft.
Meanwhile the Nebula contenders for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation are, to a picture, testaments to bold filmmaking. Even the most commercialism-friendly, like Star Wars, were not made to check off “you’re so brave!” boxes but made by fans for fans. The Oscar Best Picture category is a big snooze: It’s going to be The Revenant, because it’s a movie engineered to win. It’s exactly as thrilling as Lance Armstrong winning all those races (too soon?). But between Ex Machina and Mad Max, it’s impossible to tab a favorite.
The Oscars are a mess right now: They know they’re antiquated; they’re scrambling to step into the future, but they’re not fast enough. Look, instead, to the Nebula awards. The Oscars are coughing dust in their wake while they strum their flame guitar.