You may not know it, but apparently the Academy Awards are coming up. Personally, I forgot all about them because…well, they’re pretty much best forgotten at this point. Modern Hollywood giving itself awards for artistry and technical skill is like the Soviet Government announcing canonizations for Sainthood; it means nothing and everyone except maybe the participants knows that it means nothing. In any case, it’s on this Sunday, so be sure to keep your TVs off that night.
Of course, the idea of the Oscars, of Hollywood passing out awards in recognition of itself, was never really all that credible if we’re honest. We’re not talking about measuring objective standards of film quality here (though to be clear, I do think there are such things, but I doubt they’re a major part of the selection process); it’s basically a hodge-podge of many people of dubious qualification voting for what they think was the best of a selection of films. Which is to say, a dog-show is more genuinely informative on its subject matter than the Oscars ever were, even when a significant portion of the voters had at least some taste.
There are two separate and related appeals to award shows. The first is simply having our own opinions and judgments vindicated. Personally, I’m trying to step away from that particular need, because it rarely leads to much benefit and involves a lot of wasted time while reinforcing personal insecurities. That said, I don’t think it’s a necessarily bad appeal, taken in moderation.
But since most of the films that go up for the top awards these days are films practically no one watched, let alone considered their top films of the year, there’s really no appeal left, unless you enjoy seeing rich sociopaths preaching sermons while receiving adulation from people as vapid as themselves.
The second and more wholesome appeal is that everyone likes seeing genuine quality acknowledged. That which is extraordinary should receive a more than ordinary response. In the old days, for instance, an exceptionally beautiful woman would have poems written in her honor. Today she might make money posing for photographs (and no, I’m not referring to those kinds of photos: that’s a whole other story) or something along those lines. We’ll leave off which is preferable, the point being that we want excellence in whatever field to be acknowledge.
And so it seems fitting that when someone deliver something above and beyond the norm of film making, such as when someone gives a performance like, say, John Wayne’s in The Searchers or Robert Shaw’s in Jaws or Boris Karloff’s in The Bride of Frankenstein that they should receive something extra, some kind of official recognition that this was a standout (none of those were even nominated, by the way), that they should receive something extra, some kind of official recognition that this was a standout.
In short, I still like the idea of the Academy Awards, just that they were never really what they purported to be, and now no one even bothers to pretend otherwise.
That said, sometimes they got things right. Just off the top of my head, here are some people I think richly deserved their wins:
-Fredric March (Best Actor) for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
-Thomas Mitchell (Best Supporting Actor) for Stagecoach
-Julie Andrews (Best Actress) for Mary Poppins
–The Apartment (Best Picture)
-Paul Scofield (Best Actor) for A Man For All Seasons (Best Picture)
-Edmund Gwenn (Best Supporting Actor) for Miracle on 34th Street
-Clark Gable (Best Actor), Claudette Colbert (Best Actress), Frank Capra (Best Director), Robert Riskin (Best Writing), for It Happened One Night (Best Picture)
Note: All the above are Amazon affiliate links. A purchase made through this link nets me a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Second Note: This didn’t start out as just a chance to name-drop a lot of first-class films, but yes, that is pretty much what it’s become. If you haven’t seen one or any of the above, I can almost guarantee they’ll be worth your time.
Third Note: I haven’t seen How Green Was My Valley (Best Picture), but it’s supposed to be pretty good. Certainly I can’t think of any other films that year that deserved to win…
2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Oscars”
I used to like looking at the pretty people in their costumes. Then they started speaking up on twitter and oh no!….they’re idiots….
As far as the Oscars go for rewarding works of merit….well, you’d have to produce a work of merit first, wouldn’t you?
And as far as movies that deserved to win, you will never convince me that The Greatest Show On Earth didn’t fully deserve its win…. 😉
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What, no last-paragraph link for “The Devil and Daniel Webster”? Is outrage! (Seriously, 1941 was one doozy of a year in cinema.)
For my part, during the 15 years when I used to make an annual ritual out of the Oscars, I hardly even cared about which films won. (With certain exceptions, of course; I think I may have actually whooped when “The Incredibles” won Sound Editing.) For me, it was about the show as such: the style, the statistics (“baseball for non-sports fans”, I used to call it), the occasional brilliant presentation (“It has been said that to write is to live forever.” “The man who wrote that is dead”), and just the general sense of a great occasion in a world that, at least in the abstract, I so deeply loved and admired. There was even a sort of pleasure in being bombarded with isolated clips from films I’d never heard of a couple hours before; it was similar to the pleasure of being in a crowded mall or city square and realizing just how many people there were even in this small corner of the world whose lives and stories I would never know. I’d still be doing it now, if they hadn’t plunged so deeply into tribalistic paranoia and the celebration of sexual perversion that there was no longer any glossing over it.
Oh, and as regards your list: am I a traitor for suggesting that I wouldn’t actually have voted for Scofield in 1966? Not that it wasn’t great, but that Michael Caine’s performance in “Alfie” was one of those things you just don’t vote against.
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