10 Serious Academy Award Blunders

oscarsThis weekend, I’m going to watch the Academy Awards.  Why?  Nostalgia, I guess.  Frankly, over the years, Oscar’s record for picking good movies is hit-and- miss, at best.  And at worst, he’s made some horrible blunders.  For example, here are 10 incredibly good films that never even got nominated — for anything — not even the crappy awards nobody cares about, like Sound or Cinematography.

Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin was at the height of his powers.  This is his best movie.  Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t like Charlie’s politics in those days.  However, political fashions change, and  these days, Chaplin is a genius again.

To Have and Have Not

I don’t need to say anything else.

The Lady From Shanghai
The only person snubbed by Oscar more often than Orson Welles was Alfred Hitchcock.  Think about that for a moment.

Kind Hearts and Coronets
Oscar didn’t even notice.  Fortunately, ordinary people love this movie and it’s been playing the dusty, funky little film theatre circuit ever since.

Paths of Glory
One of the greatest anti-war films — everPaths of Glory was released at the height of the Cold War, ten years before Vietnam made anti-war fashionable.  And if Hollywood is anything , it’s fashionable.

Touch of Evil
Here’s that Orson Welles fellow again, and this time he’s with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Akim Tamiroff and even Zsa Zsa Gabor and Marlene Dietrich.  How groundbreaking is Touch of Evil?  Any film nerd will tell you the opening scene is one of the first and finest “continuous takes” in cinematic history. (Hitchcock tried it in Rope, with limited success.)

Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese is the Rodney Dangerfield of movie making.  For 50 years he’s been making great movies, such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, and on and on and on.  However, he only has one Oscar to show for it: Best Director, The Departed  (2006)  Mean Streets is just one of the first times Martin made a movie and Hollywood looked the other way.

Miller’s Crossing
Hollywood didn’t get on the Coen Brothers’ bandwagon until the Bros were impossible to ignore.  As a gangster flick,  Miller’s Crossing is worthy of anything by Scorsese — uh — oops!  Since then, though, the brothers could put their names on the Burbank Telephone Directory and it would be Oscar bait.  (I’m looking at you, True Grit — 10 nominations? — I’m laughin’.)

Al Pacino AND Robert DeNiro.  And this in a year when Nicholas Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor.

In The Mood For Love
The most sadly sensuous movie of the 21st century.  If this thing doesn’t make you cry,  you’ve recently died.


And The Oscar Goes To……WTF!

oscarsThe Academy Awards are over for another year.  What a joke!   The one bright spot was Neil Patrick Harris and he’s still getting pummelled across Social Media.  Quite frankly, at 87, Oscar is showing his age.  It’s like going to visit your aunt at the Seniors’ Centre and discovering it’s Crafts Night.  Suddenly, you’re up to your ass in hideous homemade crap, and you’ve got to figure out something nice to say.  This year’s Academy Awards were as big a disappointment as they have been for the last decade, but  then Oscar has always been a bit dotty.  (Remember: Ben Affleck has gotten the statue — twice!)  Here are just a few of the Academy’s major malfunctions.

Richard Burton, Montgomery Clift, Leonardo Dicaprio and Edward Norton have never won an Oscar.
Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Sigourney Weaver and Annette Bening haven’t, either.
Peter O’Toole — who played Lawrence of Arabia, Henry II (twice) Mr. Chips and Maurice Russell — wasn’t good enough to get an Oscar, and neither is Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons and Fatal Attraction, notwithstanding.
Alan Rickman, Isabella Rossellini and Donald Sutherland have never even been nominated!

Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture in 2005
Sylvester Stallone’s  Rocky won over Taxi Driver in 1976
In 1955, Marty wiped the floor with East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, probably because neither of them was even nominated.
And, in what can only be called the biggest WTF moment in cinematic history, How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture in 1941.

Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar, and, so far, neither has Ridley Scott.

However, for my money, the thing that Oscar and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science will never live down is screwing Alfred Hitchcock over for 40 years.  Yeah, they gave him the Irving G Thalberg Memorial  in 1968 — but big deal — it isn’t actually an Oscar.  Hitchcock knew it, too.  His entire acceptance speech was “Thank you…very much indeed.” and then he walked out.  Well played, Alfred.  Well played!

History According to Hollywood

oscar4Even though the 24-hour news cycle for the Oscars is over, a lot of movie critics still linger in the air like yesterday’s corned beef and cabbage.  They’re all busy grousing about Argo, the most brazen work of fictional non-fiction since James Frey fooled Oprah Winfrey – twice — on international TV.  Argo won Best Picture and scribblers from Tehran to Toronto are suddenly shocked and appalled at Hollywood’s libelous treatment of history.  Now, they’re wearing out Google trying to prove stuff like Robin Hood didn’t look the least bit like Kevin Costner (or, for that matter, Errol Flynn.)  Even the mighty Spielberg has been taken to task over “inaccuracies” in his “tell me how much you loved my movie,” Lincoln.  So far, the critics have discovered that America didn’t single-handedly win the war (any of them) Mel Gibson didn’t either and Krakatoa is not actually east of Java.  They’re spouting this stuff as if they’ve found the forbidden Bush files on the alien landing east (or was it west?) of Crawford, Texas.  Unfortunately, in all their fact-checking, they’re actually ignoring the single most important fact.  It doesn’t matter.  Movies are make-believe.

I realize that most people get their grip-of-steel grasp on history through the movies; after all, it’s not like anybody’s picked up a book in the last few decades.  However, I think it’s unreasonable to demand — or even expect — anything more than a modicum of historical accuracy from people whose single avowed purpose on this planet is to entertain us.  History is not boring (even though most high school teachers dedicate themselves to making it so.)  However, there really isn’t much entertainment value in the bubonic plague, for example, or the siege of Sevastopol or a thousand and one other historical events.  Unless you’re a connoisseur, these are not exactly page-turners.  Besides, I defy even the most accomplished historian to comprehensively explain these events to a room full of strangers, sitting in the dark, in less time than it takes to cook a rump roast.  And movie makers are not accomplished historians.

The problem is, history, already written, isn’t tidy.  It doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end.  Like unruly hair, it has clumps that won’t lie down right, parts that aren’t straight, strands that refuse the comb — and it’s forever getting blown around by the current political wind.  For example, in 1943, Lillian Hellman was convinced by the American government to write a pro-Russian propaganda screenplay for the movie North Star.  Then, in the 50s, she was hauled before the congressional witch hunting HUAC to explain her sympathetic portrayal of the Soviet Union.  Go figure!

The other thing we need to remember is that filmmakers, even the documentary kind, do not set out to tell a story; they set out to tell their story.  There’s a difference.  If you look hard enough, you can find at least three distinct interpretations of any historical event.  The folks who make movies can use only one at a time.  That’s not to say that they necessarily have to distort the facts to accommodate the tale they choose to tell, but, in every case, they have to distribute them unevenly.   That’s the nature of filmmaking.

Visual entertainment has become such an integral part of our lives that we think it’s real.  And we get pissed off when we discoveroscar5 it isn’t and think we’ve been wantonly fooled.  We haven’t been.  Ben Affleck and George Clooney set out to make a “caper” movie.  They succeeded.  This isn’t the first time historical accuracy has taken a back seat to entertainment.  (If you want some serious grins, check out Billy Shakespeare’s Richard III.)  The folks in Hollywood might make a big show about how films are supposed to provoke thought and inform us, but in the end, it’s the same dog and pony show it’s always been — since les frères Lumiere first set up shop in Paris.  The critics can whine all they want about historically accuracy, but when you’ve got an Oscar in your hand, you aren’t going to listen.  The only cinematic mistake Ben and George made was choosing an event that was still part of our living memory.  Had they reached back a hundred years or more, the “ain’t it awful” crowd wouldn’t have had the information at their fingertips, and nobody would have said a word.