The Academy Voters Have Long Lacked LogicIs the "best picture" always the best picture? Not if history is any guide. And some observers will argue that a similar lack of logic is apparent in the shortage of minority representation in the major Oscar nominations.
The Academy Awards have been ridiculed this year for lack of diversity in the nominations (though not ridiculed half as badly as they’re going to be when Chris Rock hits the stage Sunday night). Before addressing that issue, let’s consider that a film festival made up of the greatest films never to win an Oscar would represent at least as impressive a list as those that did win.
We’re not just talking about Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” (1941) losing to director John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley.” (The latter was a pretty good film; I’m not knocking it. Welles probably would have voted for it himself because he loved Ford, but never mind.)
And while we’re on the subject, let’s note that two other great films by Welles lost to far inferior movies. Actually, it’s hard to say “Touch of Evil” (1958) lost to “Gigi” since it wasn’t even nominated and wouldn’t have been nominated that year even if they had expanded the number of nominees to 100. No one noticed “Touch of Evil” that year, and no one notices “Gigi” now, though it is a nice movie.
The film that Welles regarded as his greatest achievement, his Falstaff movie, “Chimes at Midnight” (1965), wasn’t nominated the same year; “The Sound of Music” won. Hard to believe that two great Welles films were overshadowed by musicals.
Or that “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) lost to “In the Heat of the Night” (also a well-made and very watchable film).
In our choices here for best picture, we’re talking about films that grabbed young viewers and turned them on to the possibilities of film and/or films by masters that changed the way we look at movies.
You don’t have to go back to 1941 and “Citizen Kane.” In 1994, “Pulp Fiction” sent shivers down the spines of moviegoers and is still being quoted and referred to today, and, of course, it wasn’t even nominated. Do you remember which film won that year? “Forrest Gump.” Sometimes the Oscars are like a box of chocolates.
How about Christopher Nolan’s 2010 feature “Inception”—a movie so daring that it pissed off a lot of critics and still became a hit. What won that year? Does anyone who saw “The King’s Speech” have a vivid memory of it? Actually, “Inception” was in good company that year. The Coen brothers’ best movie, “True Grit,” didn’t win; neither did “Winter’s Bone,” “Toy Story 3,” “127 Hours,” or “The Social Network”—any one of which was more daring, more interesting and more memorable than “The King’s Speech.”
Sunday night, don’t be surprised if “Spotlight” wins best picture and academy voters appease admirers of “The Revenant” by giving the best director statuette to Alejandro Iñarritu. Neither choice would be wrong since “Spotlight” is a very good film and Iñarritu’s achievement as director, whatever one thought of the shortcomings in the script, is greater than “Spotlight” director Tom McCarthy’s, who simply did a good job of arranging his set pieces and terrific actors in a fine working order.
What depresses me is that McCarthy, who has done better work in small films like “The Station Agent” (2003), “The Visitor” (2007) and “Win” (2011) (which gave Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale a platform to leap to stardom) gets an Oscar nod only when dealing with letter-perfect, unchallengingly liberal material. (Actually, McCarthy’s script, co-written with Josh Singer, is more daring than his direction of it.) Essentially, “Spotlight” is 2015’s “In the Heat of the Night.”
For that matter, the direction of “Inside Out” by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen was more daring than either “Spotlight” or “The Revenant.”
Wait—we may as well unpack. Robert Altman, at his peak, displayed more genius than any other American film director of the last 50 years. In 1970, “M*A*S*H” shook up American movies from top to bottom and lost to the plodding and predictable Patton. (Believe it or not, “Love Story” was also nominated.)
In 1971, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” which shook up the idea of how westerns could be made, wasn’t nominated. The winner that year was the well-made but unsurprising “The French Connection.” And in 1975, the apocalyptic “Nashville,” which shook us up, lost to Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which isn’t as bad a choice for best picture as the other two. (By the way, Altman never won a “competitive” Oscar, but in 2006 he was recognized by the academy with an honorary award.)
We’re not going to defend the academy’s asinine all-white nominations for the past two years, not to mention many more before then, but it would be an oversight not to acknowledge that two years ago Lupita Nyong’o won best supporting actress for “12 Years a Slave,” in 2011 the same award went to Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) and in 2009 to Mo’Nique (“Precious”). In 2002, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won both the best actor and actress awards for films released the previous year.
We should also mention that Steve McQueen won best director for his 2013 film, “12 Years a Slave.” Iñarritu won last year (for “Birdman”) and is odds-on favorite to take the gold statue home Sunday night.
But let’s not mince words. The academy insists that it is going to address the problem of diversity by expanding its membership by 2020. This is absurd; why not start now so we we’re not talking about this again next year?Wait, before you go…
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