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Hugo Nominations – Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

with 12 comments

At the risk of repeating myself, I am in favour if giving awards to things that do exist (for example, novels and short stories) and against giving awards for things that don’t exist (for example, novelettes and semiprozines). The best dramatic presentation categories, however, are even worse than nonexistant. Here we have a made-up term for a collection of non-comparable things that have perfectly good names, arbitarily divided by length. To all intents and purposes, Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form is the Best Film category. A film has won every year since the award was created except for 2012 and 52 out of 55 nominees were films. The award definition might talk grandly of “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music” but this is obviously bollocks. why not simply reflect the reality by calling it what it is?

The lone non-film winner was the first season of Game Of Thrones because ludicrously episodes of a television series can be nominated in Short Form and the series itself can be nominated in Long Form. The picture with Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form itself is less stark but still overwhelming: a TV episode has won every year except for 2004 and 2009 and 47 out of 55 nominees were TV episodes. Even these two exceptions did not provide good evidence for keeping the criteria open; both ‘Gollum’s Acceptance Speech’ and ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’ were essentially bonus prizes to well-established and rewarded fandoms.

This year, one of my film nominations is eligible for both Long Form and Short Form because it is 96 minutes long which falls within the 90 minutes, plus or minus 10%, boundary. Obviously I’m not going to nominate it in Short Form but I shouldn’t really have the option. However, since the category is currently open to all ‘dramatic presentations’, I am including one non-film nominee (and will include one non-television nominee for Short Form). But hopefully in the future I won’t have that option either.

1) Upstream Color – I remember very clearly the unexpected mindfuck of watching Shane Carruth’s Primer at the Sci-Fi London film festival, stumbling out into Soho dazed. Terrifyingly, that was a decade ago and it is only now that Carruth has followed up his debut feature. It would be a cliche to say it was worth the wait – a cliche Carruth would probably balk at given his abortive attempts to make other films – but it is a remarkable film, made even more so by extent of the maker’s endevour (Carruth wrote, directed, shot, scored and edited the film as well as playing the lead) It has the beauty of Terrance Malick’s late films with an added intellectual and imaginative heft. It is, in other words, the sort of film that has no chance of getting on the shortlist of the Hugos. Go and watch it immediately and then read Abigail Nussbaum’s four thoughts (a good example of why she should be nominated for Best Fan Writer).

2) Tomb Raider – I first heard of this as ‘the game where Lara gets raped’ which is a pretty good example of the internet’s tendency to work itself up into a froth on the basis of imperfect information. In fact, the latest installment of the series, written by Rhianna Pratchett, is pretty much the opposite. Here is Liz Bourke’s review but the best and most concise description comes from Renay: “escape from Patriarchy Island”. It is also a wonderfully balanced, intuitive and immersive game (exactly the opposite of Bioshock Infinite which a few wrongheads have suggested nominating).

3) Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2Monster’s Inc is not just a great film but also an extremely original science fiction film. So it was a huge disappointment that the sequel was simply a mildly amusing campus comedy. In contrast, Meatballs 2 is gonzo SF that takes its insane premise – the ability to make it rain food – and runs wild with it. A perfect example of the freedom that exists within children’s animation to produce films that would be considered avant garde in adult Hollywood. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are also responsible for The Lego Movie so I’ve got to see that soon. [Edit: Apologies to Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn who actually directed this film - Lord and Miller did the first one.]

4) A Field In England – In short order, Ben Wheatley has established himself as the most exciting director in Britain. His signature is to play with genres and here we have a collision of English civil war, passion play, John Dee occultism and psychedelic trip. It is all satisfyingly odd, if unmistakably a side project. This year he is adapting JG Ballard’s High Rise, which is very exciting, and directing a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, which is deeply conflicting.

5) Byzantium – Do we really need another vampire film? Probably not. But if we have to have them, I’d like more like this. Neil Jordan builds his film around two wonderful performances from Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as young mother and teenage daughter, locked in that relationship for eternity. Sadly, it is two thirds character study to one third vampire schlock but it is hard not to cheer at the hearty ‘fuck you, vampire patriarchy’ of otherwise silly plot.

I would have liked to post my Short Form nominations at the same time as these but I haven’t found the time for my telly watching yet. Since the point of publicly posting my nominations is to encourage others with voting rights to seek them out, I thought I better just crack on with these ones. Do check them out, if they sound interesting.

Written by Martin

27 February 2014 at 10:14

Posted in awards, films, sf

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12 Responses

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  1. Ooooh… I hadn’t thought of A Field in England!

    I can see the wisdom of having this category be open to non-film stuff like plays (I saw a very very good Vonnegut play a few years ago) but how likely is it that a play will be seen by enough Hugo voters to get on the short list? The Miller/Cumberbatch Frankenstein was hugely successful and it didn’t make it.

    Similarly, I don’t think Hugo voters are invested enough in film to pay attention to genre short films. That type of stuff seldom registers outside of dedicated film festivals. Even worse, last year’s Chronicle was a fantastic low-budget genre film that was around 75 minutes long but it didn’t get nominated as people either didn’t see it or didn’t think to check the running time.

    Jonathan McCalmont

    27 February 2014 at 10:29

  2. […] way to stretch the actual definition that far so I’ve not included any this time. Discussing Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form, I said that it should really be Best Film. If that ever came to pass then I’d nominate […]

  3. I concur regarding Bioshock Infinite. I’ve not played Tomb Raider, sadly, though when it came up on Arcadian Rhythm’s 2013 round-up the response to “Should it appear on our best-of list?” the answer was a simple “no”. I would like to play it if only for Rhianna Pratchett’s writing.

    Thanks for the reminder to see Upstream Colour – Primer remains one of my favourite films. I’ll have to ‘forget’ to tell my girlfriend it’s by the same director. ;)

    Re. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 – the first film really annoyed me. It’s been a few years now but I’m pretty sure it was because its nerdy, alienated male lead done got da gurl despite being self-absorbed because Plot and Man Deserve Woman. Is the second film less… that?

    Shaun CG

    28 February 2014 at 11:20

  4. Bioshock Infinite is an interesting one as I’ve seen really extreme reactions to it: Some people saying it’s one of the best-written games of the year and some people saying that it’s terrible precisely because of the writing.

    Jonathan McCalmont

    28 February 2014 at 13:13

  5. It’s certainly ambitious, and there are some interesting ideas embedded in it, but I’d describe my lasting impression of it as an incoherent mess. :)

    Shaun CG

    28 February 2014 at 13:15

  6. To be honest, what I had most about Bioshock Infinite is the terrible gameplay. I was snatching chunks here and there so never got pulled into the story (but I was also snatching chunks of TR and it was impossible not to get sucked in). I can see why TR wouldn’t make the best of the year list for a games mag: there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about it (apart from the story), it is just pretty much perfectly executed.

    Shaun: I’m pretty sure it was because its nerdy, alienated male lead done got da gurl despite being self-absorbed because Plot and Man Deserve Woman.

    I can see a bit of that in the first film but I thought it nicely addressed at least some of the issues. In the second film it becomes clearer that the leads are actually the same age as the audience: they are tweens rather than twentysomethings. So that pretty much neutralises any romance at all, including the standard Hollywood asymmetrical one.

    Martin

    28 February 2014 at 13:47

  7. Slight correction: Phil Lord and Chris Miller did the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs but not the sequel, which IMDB informs me was directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. I haven’t seen the sequel because all the reviews I read suggested it had lost sight of what made the first one special, but I’ll check it out when it appears on a streaming service. The Lego Movie is recommended.

    I remain baffled by the notion that Tomb Raider is anything other than a perfectly competent but pretty unremarkable game. Lara is written well, which I guess is what people love about it, but there’s a constant dissonance between her portrayal and the fact that she has to hack hundreds of dudes to death with a climbing axe. And the story is dreadful.

    Dan Milburn

    28 February 2014 at 17:10

  8. Phil Lord and Chris Miller did the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs but not the sequel, which IMDB informs me was directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn.

    Oops, yes. Since I’ve linked to an encyclopedia entry written by me that says the same thing, I really should have known better.

    Martin

    28 February 2014 at 18:39

  9. […] Semi. Pro. Zine. Just typing it causes me pain. Of all the made up categories, this is the most made up. This places is me in a bit of a quandary because Strange Horizons (which […]

  10. […] up with, I need to discuss the category itself. I already talked about this a bit with respect to Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form but there is an additional problem here. In practice, BDP:SF maps as directly to Best Television […]

  11. […] Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form […]


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