A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I love bitchin’ about the Oscar nominations. It’s like the Super Bowl; an annual event that everybody takes way too seriously. Folks, it’s going to happen again next year! Besides, movie people are so full of hot air they tend to bounce when you boot them. To say they’re smug is like saying Segovia played the guitar. They could give lessons. And that’s not even the problem. The problem is for every ego-inflated actor, director or clipboard holder, there are forty-three other people drinking overpriced plonk, munching thinly disguised Velveeta on toast and discussing it all as if it were real. It’s entertainment, people! Make believe! The difference between Woody in Toy Story and Chuck in Cast Away is minimal. Yet, year after year, movie people polish up their arrogance and head on down to the Kodak Theatre to tell each other how wonderful they are. But they’ve got nothing to be arrogant about. The Academy Awards have been running since 1929, and in that time, they have made so many monumental mistakes it’s a wonder everybody south of Ventura Highway isn’t wandering around with a brown bag over their heads.
Movies are subjective. I understand that. I love tons of movies that most people wouldn’t bother to click the remote for. Everybody’s list of Top Ten Films of All Time is different and open to discussion. However, in cinematic entertainment there are standards of excellence and regardless of where your tastes lie, be it high drama or low comedy, certain movies are generally accepted to be microphone and camera above the rest. These are the ones that are supposed to be honoured by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences every year. However, the Academy (in its infinite ego) has chosen to ignore some of the greatest films and film makers of all time. That’s why I like to kick them around so much and why — here in 2012 — they have the credibility of Richard Nixon with a dog story.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say Richard Burton, Montgomery Clift and Peter O’Toole are all pretty good actors. Yet none of them has ever won an Academy Award. You can make a case that Paul Scofield might have been better in A Man for all Seasons than Burton was in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou over Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold? Pih-leeze! Meanwhile, Peter O’Toole played Henry II twice, first in Becket and then in The Lion in Winter and that was after he was Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, for God’s sake! All in all, he’s been nominated eight times and never laid his mitts on Oscar once. But then again, neither has Montgomery Clift, despite From Here to Eternity and The Young Lions nor James Dean, Robert Mitchum or Steve MeQueen. These are not judgement calls, by the way; they’re careers that have lasted for decades and included such films as Giant, Cape Fear and The Sand Pebbles. Oscar has a way of picking and choosing who gets to grab a statue and who doesn’t.
It’s the same for Best Picture. In 1979, Kramer vs Kramer, was Numero Uno whereas Apocalypse Now got Oscars for cinematography and sound. In ’76, Rocky beat out Taxi Driver. In 1955 — in what can only be called temporary insanity — Marty won for Best Picture, while East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause each got a pat on the ass. But for complete and utter WTF, you have to go to 1941 when How Green Was My Valley was given the Academy Award for Best Picture over The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane? I can understand The Maltese Falcon; Oscar never really liked Bogart that much anyway, but Citizen Kane? Orson Welles did win an Oscar that year, but not for Best Picture, Actor or Director; he won for Best Original Screenplay but had to share it with Herman J. Mankiewicz. Wasn’t that a kick in the teeth? What many consider the best film ever made … sorry, my sarcasm indicator has gone off the dial.
However, Welles isn’t the only director who’s been rear-ended at the Oscars. There’s Ridley Scott who directed Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator; Stanley Kubrick who directed Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey; and, of course, another guy named Alfred Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock never rated an Oscar? He is arguably, over his entire career, the most influential director of the 20th century. Even if he isn’t, remember this is the guy who directed Rear Window, Vertigo, Notorious, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds and the list goes on and on – and on. What kind of an idiot outfit doesn’t include Alfred Hitchcock when they’re handing out hardware? Every other film organization on this planet gave him so many awards he could have filled a mansion in Bel Air, but somehow he wasn’t good enough to get an Oscar? Not once in over fifty years of film making? If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ever had any credibility, they lost it long before Hitchcock quit making movies.
These are not nerdy arguments about how many actors can dance on the head of a pin or why this camera angle is better than that one. These are huge errors in judgement that have occurred often enough to be habitual. The Oscars have always been subjective, but these days they’re downright suggestible. And that brings us back to 2012 and this year’s nominations. If you’ve got an extra twenty bucks, put it on The Artist to win Best Picture. It’s a good film. However, the real reason it’s going to win is Scorsese and Spielberg have already won Best Picture and Woody Allen won’t bother to drop by for the ceremony. Most importantly, though, The Artist looks artsy and the Academy’s super-heated ego is going to bubble all over it.