19 July 2008

Oscar Shmoscar

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?


R. D. Finch said...

I love to follow the Oscars and sometimes use them as a guide to what to watch. But I don't take them nearly as seriously as I used to. The most unreliable award of all, as far as a guarantor of quality goes, seems to be the one for Best Picture. The Academy voters seem to get this one wrong more often than in any other category. I once compared my own picks of the nominees (not even considering the pictures that weren't nominated, and some of the nominees are truly laughable--"The Alamo" (1960), "Dr. Dolittle (1967), "The Towering Inferno" (1974)?) and found I agreed with the voters' choice about 10-20% of the time.

Just for the record, all those 1940 movies were nominated (in those days ten pictures were nominated for Best Picture), as were all those 1939 movies except "The Roaring Twenties." But plenty of other worthy pictures weren't, as you rightly pointed out.

1956 was a year for especially egregious oversights. Not only was "The Searchers" not nominated, despite John Ford's obvious popularity in Hollywood, but my own personal favorite of that year, "Lust for Life," wasn't either. "Lust," like "The Searchers," wasn't even nominated for its stunning cinematography, although "The Eddy Duchin Story" was! And its star, Kirk Douglas, lost the Best Actor award to Yul Brynner.

V said...

Great article.

Chief said...

Hard to tell what was the worst Best Picture Winner ever, but Chariots of Fire has to be right up there..

Chief said...

Fantastic commentary on one of my favorite films of all time.

Unfortunately, I can't share your decision about current events. Nevertheless I love your movie comments .. and so does my dughter!

PLark said...

I've been reading your blog recently and I have to say you have some great insight into movies. I entirely agree with what you say. I've tried on many occasions to explain the fraud that is the oscars. Alas to no avail do casual film watchers get what I'm saying. They tend to jsut look baffled and say "But it's the oscars..." If I told you jump off a bridge would you listen to me? Then why would you listen to the Oscars any differently. I do watch it every year, for the spectacle alone is enough to get a laugh out of. But it's even more laughable how they fail to nominate many movies and then with the nomiantions that they've selected, fail to select the best one.Great work. Keep it up.