The Inception Exception: Super 8 is This Year's Blockbuster Best Picture Nominee, Right?

The response to this morning's Super 8 trailer debut has been sweeping and overwhelmingly positive. One look, and you can see why: Standard-issue marketing voodoo aside, J.J. Abrams's latest portends a rare harmony of sweetness and ambition, homage and envelope-pusher, sincerity and mastery. Believe the hype or not, at least one thing seems clear: At least one Best Picture nomination next year is spoken for, right?

We all probably could have deduced this without a trailer, obviously: Abrams's Star Trek was on the bubble for last year's "blockbuster wild-card" spot that eventually went to District 9, and friends (i.e. producers) like Steven Spielberg -- whose sci-fi fantasias of the late '70s-early '80s are paid tribute here -- definitely won't work against Abrams. (Though the Spielberg-directed Oscar-bait War Horse might.) "Wild card" may be too vague, though, for the creative and commercial success Super 8 is shaping up to be. When you scan the the list of summer 2011 releases, Super 8 has a monolith stature more reminiscent of Inception than District 9 -- a sleek, determined, massive entertainment positioned as much for its long shadow as for its blinding mid-June flashpoint.

And the Academy loves nothing if not flattery, or at least thinking ahead with one of those 10 Best Picture slots in mind. Early spring was the ideal time for Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. to start really befuddling film culture as a whole with strategic Inception clips and hype, spoiling nothing but its cerebral creds and blockbuster potential. It was the first such summer release to really plant its flag in this expanded Oscar frontier; Star Trek was in its second month of release before the Academy even made its announcement in 2009, leaving the field to late August bloomers like Inglourious Basterds and District 9. Having already been jilted with The Dark Knight -- the work that arguably necessitated the expansion in the first place -- Nolan and Warner Bros. seemed not only hungry for but entitled to a Best Picture nod in 2011. Call it the Inception Exception: The spot reserved for the most ambitious, accomplished and lucrative summer tentpole. (Especially one by a writer-director, though outside guys like Nolan, Abrams and Tarantino, that is a tough prerequisite to uphold.) It wasn't a fluke; it'll be there forever, and a handful of films every year will jockey for it.

Enter Abrams and Paramount, who, again, are as qualified to claim that exception as anybody this summer. I mean, Cowboys and Aliens? Captain America? Transformers 3? Pirates of the Caribbean 4? Harry Potter 7.5? This trailer isn't a shot across its June competitions' bows; it's a shot across its January competitions' bows -- even Spielberg's. Is there any other way to read it? It's almost enough to make me want to fire up Oscar Index again. Not that I will! Just saying: One down, nine to go.



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