19 July 2008
I got this question the other day about a recent film: "Is it Oscar worthy?" I get asked this often and it bugs the heck out of me. Actually, there are two ways to interpret this question:
1. Is this the type of film that the Academy will choose to honor whether it deserves the recognition or not? Fair question. Sometimes you can predict that a film such as Atonement will garner undeserved nominations while a terrific film like Zodiac will be ignored. Oscar nominations and winners can be predictable and baffling–or even both. Guessing what's going to be nominated then what will win can be a good parlor game.
2. The other way to look at the "is it Oscar worthy?" question is that the person asking the question considers the Oscar the gold standard for judging films. There are a lot of people like this (they are also known as causal film fans).
Here is a detailed and unimpeachable response to those who believe that the Oscars are the “be-all and end-all” of film evaluation.
Question: How many “Best Director” Oscars did the following group of directors garner between them? Alfred Hitchock (pictured above), Howard Hawks, Charlie Chaplin, King Vidor, Stanley Kubrick, William Wellman, Arthur Penn, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kramer, Sideny Lumet, Ernst Lubitsch, Robert Altman, Orson Wells and Alan J. Pakula.
Answer: Zero. Zilch. Nada. None.
Here's another one. These gentlemen have never won a competitive best actor award: Cary Grant, Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, Albert Finney, Leslie Howard, Edward G. Robinson, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, John Barrymore and Kirk Douglas.
And the following ladies have been similarly neglected: Glenn Close, Irene Dunne, Deborah Kerr, Thelma Ritter, Jean Simmons, Myrna Loy, Ida Lupino, Janet Leigh and Jean Arthur.
It gets worse, folks. In 1933, Cavalcade won best picture over fellow nominees: Trouble in Paradise, King Kong, Duck Soup, Queen Christina and Dinner at Eight.
In 1936, The Great Ziegfeld won the statuette over Modern Times, Fury, My Man Godfrey, Show Boat, Swing Time.
In 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Roaring Twenties, Stagecoach and Ninochtka lost to an overblown soap opera called Gone With the Wind
In 1940, The Grapes of Wrath, Foreign Correspondent, The Letter, The Great Dictator and The Philadelphia Story lost to Rebecca, a worthy picture but...
in 1941, How Green Was My Valley won the best picture Oscar over Citizen Kane.
In 1949, The Third Man was not nominated for best picture.
In 1951, An American in Paris beat out A Streetcar Named Desire, The Day the Earth Stood Still, African Queen, Strangers on a Train and A Place in the Sun. No joke.
In 1956, Around the World in 80 Days won best picture. The Searchers didn't. Seriously.
Two years later Gigi won the Oscar beating out something called Vertigo.
In 1967, In the Heat of the Night beat out both The Graduate and Bonnie & Clyde.
In 1971, The French Connection won. A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show and McCabe and Mrs. Miller didn't.
Five years later the Academy awarded Rocky over Network, All the President's Men and Taxi Driver. (I'm not making this stuff up.)
Four years after that it was Kramer vs. Kramer over Manhattan and Apocalypse Now.
Not to be outdone, the 1980 ceremony saw the big prize go to Ordinary People, not Raging Bull.
One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry about this one. In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy beat out Do the Right Thing and Glory (there's all you need to know about Hollywood and African Americans).
In 1998, Shakespeare in Love was the winner, not Saving Private Ryan. Of course that was the year after Titanic's Oscar sweep.
And just a few years ago Crash got best picture. That alone is bad enough but is compounded by the fact that it won over Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, Good Luck.
Question: Is it Oscar worthy?
Answer: Who cares?