Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oscar's 11 Most Embarrassing Moments (1976-2005)

The Academy Awards get handed out on Sunday night. Color me unimpressed.

There was a time when I looked forward to this with an unbelievable amount of passion. In high school, I made my mother write down the nominations and read them to me over the phone (those were the days before that thar Internet). In college, I had second thoughts about a trip to Costa Rica because I wouldn't be able to see the ceremony. One year, I was stuck watching the show in the gayest of all gay bars, because that was the only public place showing it in Key West (I would say thank God Brokeback Mountain wasn't released in 1997, except that Madonna and Good Will Hunting's Ace and Gary were nominated, which was just as bad).

Obviously, I'm not saying this to impress any of you.

Anyway, the last two years, the nomination announcements have caught me off guard. Last month, for example, I just happened to surf by The Drudge Report to see the banner headline about Brokeback Mountain leading the pack. I had no idea it was happening that morning.

Part of my increasing boredom with the Oscars comes with a certain maturity, I guess - not in the "I'm mature" sense (obviously), but more with the "I'm getting older, and hearing Billy Crystal do yet another goddamn cutesy song doesn't interest me any more" vibe. However, I think the bigger problem is I've finally realized the Oscars actually SUCK. In analyzing their history, I realize they have an unbelievable track record of not getting anything right.

The best performances of the last ten years have been Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr., and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Of the three, only Depp got nominated, and he lost to a overbaked performance by Sean Penn.

The best movies of the last ten years have been Boogie Nights, Fight Club, Mulholland Dr., Sling Blade and Wonder Boys. Zero Best Picture nominations among them.

Comparing the Academy's Best Picture choices to my own (at least the ones from my lifetime), I was surprised to see how rarely we agreed. Now I can't claim to have seen every nominee, especially from the late '70s and early '80s - and admittedly my choices from the '80s reflect a kid's sensibility (Back to the Future, in particular, but I still can't find a better movie from 1985) - but I feel pretty confident that, well, I'm right and they're wrong.

Since 1976, 29 Best Picture Oscars have been awarded. In my opinion, only seven of them have gone to what was truly the best film of that year.

I can hear you snickering at some of my choices. Die Hard as Best Picture? Show me a better movie from 1988 then, tough guy. The five nominees that year were The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Rain Man and Working Girl (the best of the bunch). Can you really tell me any of those were better than Die Hard? Heck, I would put a few other '88 releases - Bull Durham, Coming to America, A Fish Called Wanda and Midnight Run, for example - ahead of those. Very seriously, mind you.

That's the problem - the Academy doesn't have any balls. Comedies and action movies get the short shrift, even when they rise above their genre and give us something more. James Cameron's Aliens should have been nominated for Best Picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark was better than Chariots of Fire, and this year Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire should have at least been given a modicum of consideration.

With that in mind, I've compiled Oscar's 11 most embarrassing moments - well, the ones from my lifetime, anyway (I thought of 11, so why knock it down to ten for the sake of a nice round number?). I can't speak with any expertise about why Around the World in 80 Days didn't deserve the top prize, or why exactly Citizen Kane was ignored. This is from 1976 on, for better or worse.

11) 1996 - Kenneth Branagh was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Hamlet - a version that prided itself on being a faithful, word-for-word, nothing-left-out 4-hour version. I understand there's more to a screenplay than dialogue, but come on... The hilarious scripts for Emma or The Birdcage should have slipped in there.

10) 1985 - Jon Stewart is hosting the Oscars this year, and seems to be a great choice. Chris Rock sucked, but at least the selection was inspired. David Letterman wasn't as bad as you think you remember. Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, and of course Billy Crystal - all three old pros who handled themselves with ease most years. Of course, 1985 was a year dominated by ultra-serious dramas like Out of Africa, The Color Purple and Witness, so the Academy apparently decided the proceedings should be laugh-free as well. The hosts? A three-headed monster of Alan Alda, Jane Fonda and Robin Williams in his Club Paradise days. Seriously. (A year later, Oscar stepped it up a notch - albeit a small one - with a still-kinda-funny Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and, uh, Paul Hogan? Really?).

9) 1979 - According to the Academy, Kramer vs. Kramer was the best film of 1979. That's not an embarrassing choice in itself - the film certainly struck a cultural nerve at the time - but fellow nominee Apocalypse Now only lost because voters didn't want to recognize another war film only a year after The Deer Hunter took the top prize. Even worse, the Academy's legendary aversion to fantasy and sci-fi left Ridley Scott's Alien off the nominee list, in favor of All That Jazz, Breaking Away and Norma Rae (all miles out of today's public consciousness).

8) 1983 - Going into the ceremony, The Right Stuff was considered a frontrunner for Best Picture, and for good reason: itwas clearly the best film to be released that year. Sam Shepard's near-perfect portrayal of Chuck Yeager had been recognized with a Supporting Actor nomination, as well. And then, ... Terms of Endearment steamrolled. Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, ... and Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson, who was playing yet another variation of Jack Nicholson. Terms was a fine film, to be sure, but it wasn't in the same universe as The Right Stuff.

7) 1987 - Another annoying thing about 1983's Terms of Endearment romp was that only four years later, Terms writer-director James L. Brooks delivered an even better film with Broadcast News - and the Academy pretty much ignored it, presumably because they don't like to overly reward the same person twice. If The Right Stuff had won as it should have, Broadcast News could have legitimately won instead of The Last Emperor, the most undeserving Best Picture until A Beautiful Mind.

6) 1977, 1981, 1982 - Steven Spielberg was deserving of four early Oscars for Best Picture, and received a total of zero until Schindler's List in 1993. In 1975, Jaws was a better picture than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, though that is not nearly as appalling as what followed. I can handle Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) losing to Annie Hall in 1977 (even though I would have voted for the former); what really chaps is that Encounters wasn't even nominated, in favor of self-important melodramas like Julia and The Turning Point. Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated in 1981, but it managed to lose to the clearly inferior Chariots of Fire. The most egregious snub, however, happened in 1982 when E.T. the Extra Terrestrial fell prey to liberal Hollywood's canonization of the sleep-inducing Gandhi.

5) 1980 - Martin Scorsese must despise actors-turned-directors (he did stop working with De Niro soon after the latter directed A Bronx Tale, you know. Leo better not get any grand aspirations.). He deserved Best Director in 2004 for The Aviator, but lost to Clint Eastwood. He deserved to win in 1990 for Goodfellas, but lost to Kevin Costner. And most outrageously, he deserved the statue way back in 1980 for Raging Bull, but lost to Robert Redford for Ordinary People. Ordinary fucking People! Raging Bull - the best film of the '80s in most critic's minds (not mine, but whatever) - not only lost Best Director, but Best Picture to Redford's syrupy melodrama. Let me put it this way: Ben Affleck has more Oscars than Scorsese.

4) 1997 - Roberto Benigni. Let me lay it plain: I fucking hated Life is Beautiful. Every preening, self-indulgent, syrupy, bullshit moment of it. So when Hollywood - which sucks, swallows, spits back up, and swallows again anything having to do with the Holocaust - gave Benigni Best Actor, I about lost it. Edward Norton gave the performance of any career that year in American History X - a film that wasn't nearly as good as he was in it - and was left in the seats having to look at that no-talent douchebag jumping all over the place.

3) 1989 - I still remember Spike Lee slumped over in his chair, hand on cheek, waiting to see which award his undeniable classic Do the Right Thing would take home. Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, or Best,... wait a minute, that's all it got nominated for. In a year in which Driving Miss Daisy - DRIVING MISS DAISY, oh the irony - won Best Picture, Thing was nominated for just as many Oscars as Shirley Valentine and Black Rain. This, combined with the later snubs of Hoop Dreams, Eve's Bayou and Malcolm X, lead one to believe Hollywood ain't as liberally colorblind as they pat themselves on the back for (see also: Crash).

2) 1992 - The big story was Al Pacino - this great, heralded actor had NEVER won an Oscar. Admittedly, that was a crime. However, the Academy chose Scent of a Woman - Pacino's WORST performance, bar none - as the perfect time to bestow the award upon him. Never mind that he was going up against two of the all-time acting feats - Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and Robert Downey, Jr. in Chaplin. This was Pacino! Yelling! Screaming! And, best of all, he was playing disabled! This marked the dumbing down of Pacino, the moment he transformed from a chameleon-like actor into a one-note HOO-AHH! scenery chewer. Granted, it works in some films (Heat, The Devil's Advocate), but in most it just grates the nerves of anybody who actually remembers The Godfather or Serpico. Irony of all ironies: Pacino was also nominated for Supporting Actor that year (Glengarry Glen Ross), and he actually deserved that statue but lost.

1) 1994 - This year might have given us the two best films of the '90s - Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Both were nominated for Best Picture, and the Academy deserves a little credit for even bestowing that upon Shawshank, which was then considered a flop off most folk's radar screens. However, those weren't the only great flicks to hit screens that year - Quiz Show, Ed Wood and Hoop Dreams were also '94 flicks. When the Oscar envelope was opened, only two words were said, however: Forrest Gump. Have you seen Forrest Gump lately? I liked it when it came out, but you know what? It's a pretty average, stretching to less-than-average movie. And what do you think people will be talking about more a hundred years from now - the adventures of Forrest, the liberation of Andy Dufresne, or the travails of Vincent Vega and crew? Here's a hint: it won't be the first one.

Update: First, welcome Farkers. Second, while not backing down from my adoration for the underrated "Signs," I did completely forget "City of God" was a 2002 film. It should have been in the above list.


Doug said...

I'll totally back you up on "Die Hard" . . . not to mention "Heat," "Fight Club," and "Wonder Boys." And your number-one item, the "Forrest Gump" sweep in 1994, was spot-on. It's a good movie and all, and I've had a soft spot in my heart for it ever since I played Forrest in a presentation we did my senior year of high school, but . . . all the really groundbreaking, innovative, courageous films that came out that year and they chose arguably the least risk-taking movie of the bunch for Best Picture. I kind of like the fact that this year there's no "safe" or "easy" choice like that on the Best Picture shortlist (though I know you may disagree w/r/t "Crash").

Meimi said...

I only need to recall our trip to Movie Trading Company and seeing they couldn't even unoad $4 copies of "A Beautiful Mind," "Monster," "Gangs of New York", "Mystic River," "Million Dollar Baby," etc. etc. to reinforce your point that the Oscars only award preachy, PC CRAP!

And "Batman Begins" was the best movie of 2005, closely followed by "The 40-year-old Virgin."

Anonymous said...

Titanic has to be the biggest travesty ever to hit the Oscars. That Live action "Teen People" article won like 14 oscars. I don't care if "Bean" was the only other movie that came out that year. Travesty.

tim said...

dangerous liaisons was a better movie than die hard. not because i liked it more than die hard but because it was actually a better made flick. spielberg is an idiot and e.t. is one of the worst movies ever made. yeah, the oscars suck but who gives a shit? try this: ignore all media. there, you're welcome.

Anonymous said...

SIGNS?!?!? SIGNS?!?!

Go fuck yourself, seriously.

tim said...

goddammit. i actually have to leave two comments because you actually said,

"Jaws was a better picture than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

IDIOT. i'm dead serious, that's probably the dumbest thing i've ever read.

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading after you said Rocky should have won in 1976. You claim the Academy makes bad choices, your are just as bad. Network should have won in 1976.

Your..taste.. sucks. Luckily it's only your taste and we don't have to care what you think.

El Mariaski said...

While I agree with you that Scorsese has been snubbed a few times, calling Clint Eastwood a mere actor-turned-director doesn't do him justice. Don't forget Eastwood's been directing for well over 25 years now and has a resume that includes The Outlaw Josie Wales, Unforgiven, A Perfect World, etc. (Of course, he has plenty of bad ones too.)

You also seem to have forgotten that there are women who vote in the Academy as well. This is why Kramer vs. Kramer or Shakespeare in Love beat out far worthier flicks that are also groundbreaking in portrayels of war.

And, oh yeah, Signs? Way to lose all of your credibility in one word, dildar.

Josh said...

For my two regular readers, I should note this entry was linked to on Fark. Thus the profane comments from tough people like "Anonymous" and "Anonymous."

Doug said...

I love a good heated movie discussion as much as the next guy, but if you're so into the Oscars that even the slightest disagreement is enough for you to be hurling epithets like "dildar," "idiot," and "go fuck yourself," I got seven words for you: GET OUT OF THE HOUSE MORE. SERIOUSLY.

BTW, Anonymous #3, if you want to make the point that you don't care what someone thinks, taking the trouble to leave a comment on his/her blog is probably not the most effective way to communicate that.

DAve said...

Effective today, "dildar" replaces "buttnugget" as my favorite insult of choice.

I can't get the image of a Saturday morning cartoon hero, clad in helmet, cape, and boots, standing atop a wind-strewn precipice, holding aloft a vibrating silver mini-obelisk, head turned toward the sun, booming, "I! Am! Dillllllldarrrrr!!".

What's the Fark link?

Josh said...

Apparently they didn't like "Signs."

alex said...

"Farkers have clicked on the above link 2091 times."

Wow. You're like, famous and stuff.

Riley said...

This is amusing. You're absolutely right about WONDER BOYS, by the way. Love that movie.

LD said...

I actually agree with most of your selections. One quibble: I'd argue that the 1992 Supporting Actor Oscar shouldn't have gone to Pacino for Glengarry Glen Ross. That statue should've gone to Jack Lemmon (or even Alec Baldwin) for Glengarry Glen Ross. Either performance is indelible, part of our vernacular. The fact that neither were even nominated... well...