If Deadpool Is Nominated for Best Picture, Can We Still Enjoy Movies?

By  · Published on January 11th, 2017

And other acts of performative film criticism.

Don’t look now, but the Merc with a Mouth is suddenly everyone’s favorite Oscar dark horse candidate. Deadpool earned a few gentle chuckles when the Golden Globes nominated it for two major awards – one for best musical/comedy and one for best actor in a musical/comedy – but it was the recent nomination of Deadpool by the Producer’s Guild of America that convinced people that Ryan Reynolds’s R-rated superhero film might sneak its way onto the Academy Awards ballot. Even just a few days ago, we were confident that Deadpool would not be the film to break open award season for superhero films. Now? We’re not quite so sure.

So let’s play with this notion for a little bit. For my money, Deadpool would undeniably be one of the oddest Best Picture nominees in Academy Award history, but not the disaster for art and culture that some people have warned us about in the past few days. In fact, I’d make the case that Deadpool is a far more sincere film than some of the movies we’ve seen be nominated for Best Picture in the past. Juvenile, yes. A little cheap around the edges, undoubtedly. But Deadpool is also wildly funny at times and features both a dynamo performance by Ryan Reynolds and an underdog narrative that voters tend to like when casting their ballots. Give me that film’s brand of adolescent humor over a shallow biopic reverse-engineered for Academy success.

From an agitator’s perspective, there’s also a part of me that really wants to see Deadpool run the table at the upcoming Academy Awards. After years of listening to Marvel and DC fans complain that their films were worthy of Best Picture consideration, there’s a delicious degree of schadenfreude in seeing 20th Century Fox – a studio derided by fans on either sides for their lackluster superhero movies – hit it big during award season. If you are someone who wished voters would start taking comic book movies seriously, then you have only yourself and the two remaining fingers on your monkey paw to blame for Deadpool generating serious Oscar buzz.

But why does the thought of Deadpool being a Best Picture nominee cause so much frustration for so many people? While the Academy Awards may offer themselves as the pinnacle of award season, plenty of articles have been written about the lack of diverse filmmakers represented at the Oscars, or the frustration of limiting countries to a single nominee for Best Foreign Film, or the complex behind-the-scenes political campaigns that studios undergo to make sure their films are on the Oscar shortlist every year. It seems the only time we take a break from mocking the Oscar nominees is when we want to complain about them. Read back through a few days of social media and you might see a small (but vocal) selection of film critics explaining why Damien Chazelle’s La La Land will be the worst thing to happen to the Oscars since The Artist.

Every sports fan worth his or her salt knows that an award ballot is only as strong as its weakest nomination, but this often turns the whole exercise into an attack on what people perceive to be the weakest nominee. Does Deadpool deserve to be nominated for a major award more than films like The Handmaiden or Silence? Not at all, but that’s hardly the point. It’s a little hypocritical to decry the Academy Awards for turning art into a dog and pony show and then blast the industry when they nominate a film that you didn’t like; it’s disheartening to watch people’s mild disinterest in Deadpool actively hardening into outright hatred as it creeps its way into the heart of award season. Just because the wrong type of audience enjoyed Deadpool doesn’t mean that it’s a bad movie; just because it might be nominated for an Academy Award doesn’t mean it’s a good one, either. We know all this, we just seem to forget from time to time.

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There’s an upside in all of this, too: if the Academy actually does give Deadpool a Best Picture nomination, this would be further proof that its voters are willing to think outside the box if a film really catches their eye. A lot of genre fans – especially those who love action and horror films – have long made peace with the idea that their favorite films won’t come anywhere near Oscar consideration. Certainly, there are a few exceptions; both George Miller and Peter Jackson bent these rules considerably with Mad Max and Return of the King, but these remains the outliers, movies whose rare blend of critical and commercial success made them hard to ignore. An Oscar nomination for Deadpool sets a strong precedent, even if you weren’t a fan of the film.

So I say bring on the Deadpool nomination. It may lead to a lot of performative hand-wringing in some corners of the internet, but it’s something different and another chance to gently needle a system that only seems unbroken when your selections are out in front. You may say that in ten years nobody will care that Deadpool was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but isn’t that the case for any film that didn’t win? We spend far too much time awkwardly straddling the line between arguing that award season doesn’t matter and that award season got it wrong; let’s just try and sit back and celebrate some good films this year for a change. Who knows, maybe we’ll even end up liking it?

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)