THE 2012 ACADEMY AWARDS
Hollywood’s season of self-congratulation has finally drawn to a close, though given the fact that many of this year’s most honored films (The Artist, Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris) all debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last May, perhaps we are only to be treated to a two month hiatus from “awards talk”. Nevertheless, before the industry completely shuts the book on the award season that was, we here at YOUR Chillpak Hollywood Hour feel it is important to try to place this week’s Academy Awards ceremony in some sort of historic Oscar perspective.
The wrong Margaret? Or The Iron Lady of Oscar?
Although many critics expressed dismay that Meryl Streep took home the statuette for Best Actress when Anna Paquin was most deserving for her (un-nominated) performance as the title character in Margaret (see our Movie Lover’s Companion #1), there can be no denying that Meryl Streep has truly become the “Iron Lady” of Oscar. Her 17 nominations to date is a record, and to put that achievement in context, consider that there have been 84 Oscar ceremonies. Ms. Streep has been a participant in more than 20% of them. And since her first nomination (Supporting Actress for 1978′s The Deer Hunter), Meryl Streep has participated as a nominee in more than HALF the Academy Award ceremonies!
Whatever we mean by “greatness” when we refer to an actor, Meryl Streep is it. She is the Katharine Hepburn of modern cinema, and she is second only to Ms. Hepburn in Oscars won (four to three). In fact, Ms. Hepburn “defeated” Meryl Streep to win her final Oscar (for 1981′s On Golden Pond), the year Ms. Streep was nominated for The French Lieutenant’s Woman (also joining them as nominees that year were Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Marsha Mason). Whatever we might think about the year that was, or what other actresses might have been more deserving, it’s hard to shake the feeling that after 17 nominations, Meryl Streep was long overdue to win another. Certainly the Weinstein Company (who released The Iron Lady) counted on Academy voters feeling that way, as their advertising campaign stressed the 29 years it had been since Ms. Streep last won (for 1982′s Sophie’s Choice). The only performer who ever waited longer between Oscars was … You guessed it, Katharine Hepburn, who waited 34 years between her first and second statuettes.
So, no, we at YOUR Chillpak Hollywood Hour would never begrudge Ms. Streep her third Oscar, though, we might point out that she was, perhaps, more deserving in previous years than she was for The Iron Lady, which, as its dearth of major Oscar nominations, and preponderance of negative reviews among Rotten Tomatoes’ “Top Critics” would attest, was not a particularly good film. 1983′s Silkwood was nominated for five Oscars (though somehow it failed to be nominated for Best Picture, despite Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing nominations), but that year, Ms. Streep lost to first-time winner Shirley MacLaine, whose nomination for Terms of Endearment was her sixth (talk about someone who was overdue!). The very next year, Ms. Streep was nominated for Out of Africa, yet despite being the lead in that year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, she was passed over for Best Actress, which went to Geraldine Page for The Trip to Bountiful (Ms. Page’s first win after eight nominations – are we seeing a pattern?). Understandably, many people were disappointed this year that Viola Davis did not win (including, reportedly, Viola Davis herself) for a performance that was the heart and soul of The Help, a film that moved a wide and diverse audience. Looking at Oscar history, though, it’s hard not to think that the only performer who posed a serious challenge to Meryl Streep this year would have been Glenn Close, whose nomination for Albert Nobbs was her sixth without a win.
On the other hand, we would have much have preferred Meryl Streep to win her third Oscar for one of her exemplary comedic turns. Of course, it has always been difficult to secure nominations for comedy, let alone win, and though The Devil Wears Prada may have boasted one of Meryl Streep’s all-time finest performances, it’s tough to argue that the (wait for it) long overdue Helen Mirren was not a worthy victor for The Queen (the other nominees that year included Kate Winslet, Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz – who are all now Oscar winners themselves). What about two years ago, though, when despite a terrific turn as Julia Child, in the extremely successful and modestly acclaimed Julie and Julia, she lost out to … Sandra Bullock?!
And lest you think that all of Meryl Streep’s great performances have been at least nominated, consider her work in such high profile films as The River Wild, Defending Your Life, Death Becomes Her, Lemony Snicket, A Prairie Home Companion, and even Mamma Mia! Were any of these performances any less deserving than those for which she was nominated in such forgettable pieces as 1998′s One True Thing and 1999′s Music of the Heart? All too often, when great, Oscar-winning actors do action films, their performances get overlooked by the Academy, as if the acting challenges posed by action films aren’t as sophisticated as those presented by films like The Iron Lady. Yet, I find the achievements made by Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run and Meryl Streep in The River Wild to be exceptional, for they bring something recognizably, compellingly human to a genre that almost always lacks anything that seems real.
As we have come to expect from Meryl Streep, her acceptance speech this year was charming, touching and gracious. What would be extraordinarily classy is if after she wins her fourth Best Actress Oscar, she removes herself from award consideration thereafter, to ensure that Ms. Hepburn’s name will never be removed from the history books. I know that those of us who love sport wish that Barry Lamar Bonds had retired upon tying “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron’s all time home run record. Not that Ms. Streep has used performing enhancing drugs to achieve her results. Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford maybe, but never Meryl Streep!
Vampire, Assassin, Punker, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy …
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Meryl Streep in terms of Academy consideration, though not in terms of talent nor respect from his peers, is Gary Oldman, whose nomination for the riveting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was his first ever. This fact proved hard to believe, as even Natalie Portman acknowledged in her presentation of the Best Actor award. There seemed to be such an acceptance of Mr. Oldman’s rightful place among the forefront of those acclaimed as “great” actors, that almost everyone seemed to ignore the reality of Mr. Oldman’s filmography. Of the 45 feature films boasting the performing talents of Gary Oldman, four were in the “Harry Potter” franchise, two were “Batman” films, four were animated films, eight went straight to DVD and two were never released in the U.S.. Some of these were very good films, even great, but for one reason or another, all of them were either truly ineligible for Academy consideration, or ineligible for all practical purposes.
That leaves 25 films for which Gary Oldman might have been nominated. Of these, we can safely eliminate his performances in The Fifth Element, Romeo is Bleeding, Air Force One, Leon: The Professional and Hannibal, for despite the many pleasures those films offer, and despite the brilliance of Mr. Oldman’s turns in each, the rogues gallery of characters he depicted therein were most certainly NOT the stuff of Oscar. Mr. Oldman also appeared in many forgettable genre pics (for example, The Book of Eli or The Unborn or Lost in Space, anyone? No? I didn’t think so). Eliminate those from consideration, as well as those roles too small to qualify for anything other than “cameo of the year” (if there was such a category), and you are really left with eleven films that might have garnered Gary Oldman Academy Award attention. And didn’t. What follows are the films, and possible reasons why Mr. Oldman wasn’t nominated …
Sid and Nancy, 1986 – A great film, a star-making performance and a drug-addicted, punk rock icon – NOT a lot of appeal there for the older-skewing Academy membership.
Prick Up Your Ears, 1987 – Stephen Frears’ great independent film received award consideration around the world, but not from the Academy who might not have found the life and violent death of homosexual playwright Joe Orton, who loved the dangers of bath-houses and sexual liaisons in public restrooms, to be a particularly accessible tale.
Chattahoochee, 1989 – Director Mick Jackson’s film about a Korean War vet is an admirable, yet bleak misfire.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, 1990 – Director Tom Stoppard adapted his brilliant play to the screen in this criminally overlooked, delicious film. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth play the title characters, but which one is which? Not even they know. It’s a great gag. On the other hand, if they don’t know, how were the Academy voters supposed to know? Even if the film received more attention in the U.S., Oldman and Roth’s inseparable tandem brilliance would have made individual accolades impossible.
State of Grace, 1990 – Another effective, overlooked film and though the powerful leads are Sean Penn and Ed Harris, Oldman might have garnered a Supporting Actor nod if only the film had not been such a crushing box office failure.
JFK, 1991 – Here is where all the stars were meant to align where the Academy Awards were concerned. Oscar-winning director at the top of his game, working on a big canvas, rich in themes the Academy often embraces. It was a perfect recipe for a brilliant and respected character actor to earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a colorful, scene-stealing turn. And it happened. For Tommy Lee Jones. His “Clay Shaw”, overshadowed Gary Oldman’s “Lee Harvey Oswald”.
Dracula, 1992 – Another Oscar-winning director, another big canvas with dazzling technical virtues and the sort of larger-than-life, colorful villain you love that was Anthony Hopkins recipe for success in The Silence of the Lambs. Alas, the Academy has always taken serial killers more seriously than vampires, and there was no way the lead actor in a genre film could be taken as seriously as Robert Downey, Jr. in Chaplin, Denzel Washington in Malcolm X, Stephen Rea in The Crying Game, Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, or eventual winner Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.
Immortal Beloved, 1994 – How did this NOT earn Gary Oldman his first nomination? Respected, brilliant actor playing tortured, brilliant (and disabled!) iconic figure? Come on!!! That year, Tom Hanks won the Oscar for Forrest Gump. The other nominees were Morgan Freeman for The Shawshank Redemption, Nigel Hawthorne for The Madness of King George, Paul Newman for Nobody’s Fool and John Travolta for Pulp Fiction.
Murder in the First, 1995 – On paper, this true-life tale of Alcatraz might have a lot going for it awards-wise, even for Oldman as the villainous deputy warden. On the other hand, one should never expect a nomination for any film in which Christian Slater is the lead. That’s in the Academy by-laws, I think.
The Scarlet Letter, 1995 – The director of The Mission and The Killing Fields brings a period, costume drama from a piece of “prestige” literature to the big screen, with heavyweights like Gary Oldman and Robert Duvall. Unfortunately, it also starred Demi Moore. And it was dreadful. And it tanked.
The Contender, 2000 – Gary Oldman executive produced this showy “actors piece” about politics and his performance as “Shelly Runyon” might have earned a Supporting Actor nomination had he not been overshadowed in the Academy’s eyes by his nominated co-star, Jeff Bridges.
Of all these, it’s hard not to think that Immortal Beloved was Gary Oldman’s best bet to secure his first Oscar nomination and certainly I think he was more deserving for a Best Actor nod than John Travolta, who got nominated for what was actually a supporting performance in Pulp Fiction. Of course, the main reason Gary Oldman never received an Oscar nomination before this year might have been because of reluctance on his part to “do the circuit” of awards-related promotional appearances, screenings and Q & A sessions. I have no way of knowing, but it does seem unlikely that a younger Gary Oldman had the patience that the contemporary model displayed in promoting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
There’s something ironic, though not necessarily surprising, that in a career of playing rather demonstrative characters, Gary Oldman would earn his first nomination for playing the quiet and reserved George Smiley. In this day and age of spectacle, it is almost unbelievable, however, that an actor who spends most of his screen-time listening would prove so exceptionally interesting that he could achieve the accolades Mr. Oldman has received for this film. And if Gary Oldman is ever to win a Best Actor Oscar, it may just have to be in an adaptation of one of the sequels to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that novelist John Le Carre authored.
Apparently, during the commercial break after Jean DuJardin had accepted his statuette as Best Actor for The Artist, Gary Oldman went to each of the other “losing” Best Actor nominees (George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Demian Bichir) to console them. That’s exactly the type of gracious, classy behavior that earns you Academy votes in the future, as sure a sign as any that Smiley’s People is on its way!
“Out of touch”, but with whom?
Year after year, we read and hear about how the Academy is “out of touch” with audience’s tastes. Is this really true? As this was the Oscar year of Meryl Streep, we decided to look at the 34 Oscar ceremonies since her first nomination to see where the Best Picture winners stand relative to the the box office champions of their respective years. 16 times, the Best Picture winner finished in the box office top ten for the year of its release, and on another three occasions, the winner finished just outside the top ten, checking in at #11. So, approximately half the time, the Academy has selected winners that proved to have tremendous commercial appeal. In fact, ten times the Best Picture winner finished in the top five at the yearly box office and five times the Best Picture winner was also the box office champ (Kramer Vs. Kramer in ’79, Rain Man in ’88, Forrest Gump in ’94, Titanic in ’97 and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in ’03).
To say that the Academy was out of touch with moviegoers’ tastes in a particular year is to assume, of course, that moviegoers actually displayed some semblance of taste during the year in question. For example, the winner for Best Picture in 1984 was Amadeus, which only finished in 12th place at the box office. However, the only film generally regarded as any kind of classic that finished ahead of it was Ghostbusters, and for that film to have received even a Best Picture nomination (back when there were only five nominees) would have required the Academy not to be “in touch” so much as to wrap their arms lovingly around young moviegoers, popular sentiment, and box office record books. There have, of course, been Academy selections that would have been viewed more kindly by history if a more commercially popular choice had been made, like in 1981 when the box office champ, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was defeated by Chariots of Fire. Still, Chariots of Fire finished in a very successful seventh place at the box office, itself.
Since 1978, there have been only eight years where a strong case could be made that the Academy proved to be out of touch with audience’s tastes, eight years where a far more commercially successful choice was available that history would look on as a more deserving Best Picture winner …
In 1982, Gandhi won best picture and finished 12th at the box office. In retrospect, don’t you think the Academy wishes they had selected Officer and a Gentleman, Tootsie or E.T. instead? Of course, the Academy has always been a sucker for sweeping historic epics, especially when competing against a romance, a comedy and a cute alien.
In 1987, the Academy selected The Last Emperor, a sweeping historic epic from Bernardo Bertolucci, a true master of cinema. Far more successful at the box office (The Last Emperor finished 25th) were fellow nominees Fatal Attraction and Broadcast News. Also far more successful were non-nominees, Full Metal Jacket and The Untouchables, both of which have aged better than Bertolucci’s epic.
In 1995, despite being released to middling critical reaction and lukewarm box office Braveheart won Best Picture over its far more successful fellow nominee Apollo 13, (a classic in the traditional Hollywood style), and over non-nominee Se7en (a classic that broke new ground in the suspense/thriller genre).
1998 is known as the year Miramax “went too far”, somehow campaigning their Shakespeare in Love (#18 at the box office) to an upset victory over Best Picture favorite (and the year’s top box office champ) Saving Private Ryan.
1999 was a curious year, for although audiences then might have preferred The Sixth Sense to beat eventual Best Picture winner American Beauty, that M. Night Shyamalan parlayed The Sixth Sense‘s phenomenal box office success into such a depressing downward spiral in cinematic quality would have audiences today no doubt demanding that “Night” give back any award his film might have won. In retrospect, non-nominated The Matrix might have been the popular film most deserving of Best Picture, but again, given the money grab that were its two sequels, are any of us really disappointed it failed to be so honored? What makes 1999 so frustrating is how underwhelming American Beauty proves to be when we look back on it today.
The word “upset” was never more appropriate in an Oscar context than in 2005, when Crash was announced as the Best Picture winner. Everyone seemed really upset about this choice. Hollywood was very much rooting for the far more commercially successful (and socially relevant) Brokeback Mountain. And when the Oscar winner for Best Documentary (March of the Penguins) makes FAR more money at the box office than the Best Picture winner, you really know the Academy decided to go its own strange, and in this case, truly laughable, direction.
Although 2008′s Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, proved to be surprisingly well-embraced by audiences (finishing 16th at the box office), that was the year that led to the recent expansion of the Best Picture field from five nominees to as many as ten. Such was the disappointment that more “mainstream” films such as Gran Torino, Iron Man, and especially, The Dark Knight could fail to even merit a Best Picture nomination.
At worst, the Academy can be accused of having a “schizophrenic” relationship to audience’s tastes and I wonder how much of even this is more due to the Academy being out of touch with how films are marketed and distributed to audiences rather than being out of touch with how well films will play with audiences. After all, Academy voters have the opportunity to see every film eligible to be nominated, and many of the films they nominate don’t even receive nationwide releases until after the nominations are announced (or, as with this year’s The Artist, until after the Oscars themselves). When The Hurt Locker defeated Avatar for Best Picture, it might have seemed like the ultimate box office David vs. Goliath (The Hurt Locker‘s 116th place finish for the year against Avatar‘s status as #1 of all time). What was overlooked in the discussion, however, was the appalling way the independently-financed The Hurt Locker was marketed and released (or failed to be marketed, more to the point). Even when dark and painful, kick ass, tough as nails, Oscar nominated war films traditionally do huge box office. In addition to some of those war films that we’ve already mentioned, The Deer Hunter was #6 at the box office back in 1978, Platoon was #3 in 1986 and even Black Hawk Down was #18 in 2001. The Hurt Locker might have lacked the big stars of some of those films, or a big-name director like Stanley Kubrick, but it was the most thrilling action film of the year. How did the marketing so completely fail to reveal that fact?
Although the best performer at the box office among this year’s Best Picture nominees (The Help) only finished at #13, the 2010 nominees truly represented a box office cross section to make every moviegoer (from the multiplexes to the art houses) happy. The year’s top film, Toy Story 3, was nominated, as was the year’s 6th most successful film (Inception). On the other hand, there was also room for the extremely “indie” Winter’s Bone (#143 at the box office) and the extremely harrowing 127 Hours (#117 at the box office). The year’s winner, The King’s Speech, was certainly a “safe” choice – admirable, traditional, well-executed, crowd-pleasing … Safe. It finished at #18 at the box office for the year.
If the Academy doesn’t always go with a popular choice at the time the selection is made, they do an admirable job of selecting a film that will ultimately prove appealing to a vast audience. Most of the time, anyway. Especially when that film is given a chance to reach a wide audience …
“The most boring Oscars EVER!”
It has become an annual rite of passage that long before the year’s Oscar winners have exited the post-ceremony Governor’s Ball, that year’s show is already being hailed as “the most boring Oscar telecast ever” by television pundits, newspaper columnists, bloggers and the twitter-sphere. Yet, roughly the same amount of people tune in every year. We know the show won’t be good. Why pretend otherwise? As long as it is a golden marketing opportunity, that is what the telecast will primarily remain – a marketing presentation.
We might long for the spontaneous, the inspiring, the touching, the human that we are allowed to glimpse during certain acceptance speeches. Of course those moments can not be manufactured on demand. The best that can be done is to create an atmosphere where such moments are invited. This viewer would love to see presenters making purely unscripted comments to ALL the nominees, speaking from the heart about why that person’s work is inspiring. Such a show might go off the rails on occasion, but it would never be boring.
Of course, if the Oscars was such a show, then there might not be any need for YOUR Chillpak Hollywood Hour!