Will the Marvel Cinematic Universe win its first Oscar?


With Black Panther receiving seven Oscar nominations, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is hopeful to finally take home an Academy Award. Will this be Marvel Studios’ year and, if so, what award does it deserve the most?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary and its 20th cinematic release with Ant-Man and the Wasp. Prior to 2018, the studio’s 17 movies had garnered a total of ten Oscar nominations. Eight movies have been up for Visual Effects – the entire Iron Man trilogy, both Guardians of the Galaxy’s, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Doctor Strange. Iron Man was also nominated for Sound Editing, while Guardians of the Galaxy ran in the Makeup department.

Even though Marvel Studios has been consistently putting out some of the best superhero movies in recent years, those ten nominations did not result in a single win. The DCEU has bragging rights over the MCU; if DC cares to boast about Suicide Squad’s win for Best Makeup (which also happens to be the DCEU’s sole nomination).

Seriously though, comic book movies have been more respected by the Academy than some fans would think. Superman was handed a special achievement award for its groundbreaking special effects in the late 1970s and Batman won best Art Direction ten years later.

If DC wasn’t already outpacing Marvel, just as Iron Man got the MCU party started, Christopher Nolan released his own game-changer with The Dark Knight; it pulled in eight Oscar nominations, winning two. One can even posit that Black Panther has Dark Knight to thank for its Best Picture nod, since the Oscars upped the number of nominees the year after Dark Knight failed to secure a spot. To this day, Sony’s Spider-Man 2 has claimed the only victory (in Visual Effects) for a Marvel comics adaptation, four years before the MCU’s commencement.

Now with the 2018 Oscar announcements, Black Panther grabs seven nods all on its own and Avengers: Infinity War’s Visual Effects nomination makes eight for the year. Are the odds finally in Marvel Studios’ favor? On Oscar night, it will come down to the competition and what movies voters decide are most deserving in respective categories.

Best Picture race

The prize that is on everyone’s mind is Best Picture. Unfortunately, history proves that it is extremely difficult for a movie to win Best Picture without landing other key nominations. The Black Panther actors received no love from the Academy and the same goes for important technical filmmaking categories like Editing and Cinematography. The latter is disappointing since the camerawork is a highlight of Black Panther and Director of Photography, Rachel Morrison, became the first woman ever nominated for that category last year when she captured the deep south grittiness of Mudbound.

After Logan recently became the first superhero movie nominated for Best Screenplay, Black Panther was passed over for Spike Lee’s heavy-handed BlacKkKlansman and Eric Roth’s melodramatic A Star is Born. Most informatively, in terms of its Best Picture odds, Ryan Coogler is not in the Best Director race and Argo is the only film in the last 30 years to win Best Picture without competing for Best Director.

With those kinds of statistics against it, a Black Panther win would be stunning. Yet when the nominees were called, Black Panther did not appear to be out of its league. This isn’t just some superhero movie fluke – the film is better than most of the other nominees. Bohemian Rhapsody is a conventional musical biopic that is just a tad above mediocrity, while Vice is too pleased with itself to make viewers care to connect with it in a meaningful way.

Another nominee that focuses on race and black culture is BlacKkKlansman, and in a year where so many movies shined a light on severe racial injustice, BlacKkKlansman lacks the contemporary immediacy and emotional gravity of films like If Beale Street Could Talk and The Hate U Give. Spike Lee’s joint is a period piece that is still timely due to the current political climate, however, because it takes place in the 1970s, Lee forces some of the dialogue to point out the topic’s relevance. Black Panther conveys similar themes more effortlessly.

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The Marvel movie should also get more votes than A Star is Born, which is a broadly well-told remake, however without its music and Bradley Cooper’s performance, the plot’s weak points would weigh the film down. The Favourite should be a contender simply because Yorgos Lanthimos has an inventive eccentricity that is almost unmatched in contemporary filmmaking. And Green Book could also give Black Panther a run for its money, which may be slightly surprising —  on the surface it can seem a little too by-the-numbers, yet Peter Farrelly plays all the right notes to make it more than just an updated version of Driving Miss Daisy.

The biggest obstacle to Black Panther’s victory is Roma, primarily because of its breathtaking aesthetic qualities. Roma is a wonder to behold as it unfolds before your eyes as if you were watching real life, rather than something written, planned, and acted. Alfonso Cuaron operates on a higher level than all other Best Picture directors, and with his first film in five years, the Oscar winner could crush the dreams of the MCU’s devoted fan base.

Black Panther’s other nominations

So if not Best Picture, could one of Black Panther’s music or sound categories make it an Academy Award winner? Ludwig Goransson’s culturally felicitous original score would be in play if not for If Beale Street Could Talk, where the melodies harmonize with the deeply moving character beats. And as flashy as Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” is as Black Panther’s Original Song, Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” is chill-inducing when performed in A Star is Born and it always helps when a song is vital to the story.

Black Panther probably has a better shot at Sound Editing or Sound Mixing. One may have to be an expert in cinematic sound design to determine the nominees because the editing and mixing in Avengers: Infinity War or even Solo sounds on par with Black Panther. But out of the nominees, one can sense that First Man is just waiting to snatch up a pair of Oscars with these categories. A Quiet Place is another nominated movie where the sound editing is essential.

Costume Design may not be in the cards for Black Panther, with “costume dramas” like The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots in the mix. On the other hand, Mad Max: Fury Road beat The Danish Girl several years ago, so we can’t altogether rule out the wonderful outfits on display in Black Panther.

Last, but not least, we have Production Design. Shockingly, Hannah Beachler is the first African American nominee in this category. And this is the category that Black Panther deserves more than the competition. The African sets are undeniably spectacular, so unless Roma cleans house in a multitude of areas, Beachler’s captivating creations could be the shining achievement that wins Black Panther the Oscar.

Infinity War’s Visual Effects

To paraphrase Steve and Natasha’s exchange in the Avengers: Endgame trailer — this is going to work, because I don’t know what I’m going to do if it doesn’t. Avengers: Infinity War should absolutely be rewarded on Oscar night. Visual effects get better year over year and no one has taken advantage of that more effectively than the Russo Brothers. They work with the artists to ensure dozens of characters’ abilities are appropriately and precisely presented on screen, whether it is with brute physical force, powerful blasts, or telekinetic wizardry.

Both Joss Whedon and the Russo’s MCU films incorporate special effects so seamlessly, it is rather surprising that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War are not prior nominees in this category. They were overlooked for movies with more practical effects, which shouldn’t always be a definitive factor since Civil War makes Deepwater Horizon look like a movie that was made in the 1990’s.

Doctor Strange previously had the best chance to win the award for the studio because the visuals were applied with an immense vivid imagination. The Jungle Book stole the statue by combining old and new methods to permit computer animated animals to move and speak convincingly in a live-action environment. Now, Infinity War can redeem Doctor Strange’s loss since some of what made that movie magical is integrated into the Avengers movie. Infinity War also utilizes and expands on many of the jaw-dropping techniques used in the Iron Man, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy series.

Ready Player One poses the biggest threat with its impeccable blending of modern video game visuals and futuristic real-world imagery. And although the in-camera effects of the recent Star Wars films have been highly praised, none have yet to win the award, and Solo is not the movie to take a stand for the franchise.

Christopher Robin is a fun addition to the nominee list for nicely incorporating puppets and CGI into on-location exteriors. The final nominee is First Man – its effects work well enough for the movie, yet they are nowhere near as captivating as recent space movies like Afonso Cuaron’s Gravity or Ridley Scott’s The Martian. The visual effects in Infinity War are the most impressive of the year.

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So, will the Marvel Cinematic Universe win its first Oscar? Signs point to yes, but it just may be Avengers: Infinity War instead of Black Panther that claims a golden statuette. Multiple wins could also be within Marvel Studios’ grasp. We will all know soon enough when the Academy Awards are presented on Sunday, Feb. 24.