In Which I Ramble on for Far too Long about the Oscars

Let’s try this again.

This is, I believe, draft number four of my entry concerning last night’s Academy Awards ceremony. No, the first three weren’t lost or deleted by accident; I simply changed my focus several times now. I started out writing a simple post about how I did with my predictions (first draft). That mutated when I got sidetracked by thinking about the last time the Academy nominated ten films for Best Picture (second draft). That turned into a convoluted mess, which I attempted to clean up and turn into a comprehensible narrative (third draft), but by the time I was half-way through doing that it was late and I was tired, so I decided to give up and attempt again today when I would be more coherent (fourth draft). As if you really needed to know all that.

So, how did you do with your Oscar picks? I tallied up only eleven correct predictions out of the twenty-four competitive categories, but I figure that isn’t too bad considering the fact that I haven’t seen even one of the films that was nominated for awards last night. Of course, even if you’ve seen them all, it’s hard to predict exactly which way Academy members will lean when filling out their ballots, so it’s probably not really much of a handicap not to have seen the films.

I correctly predicted all four acting winners and Kathryn Bigelow for directing, but those five were pretty easy since they had more-or-less run the table in pre-Oscar award ceremonies. Pixar is always a safe bet to win animated feature, so picking Up there was no-brainer, just as one didn’t actually have to see Avatar to know that the award for visual effects was a given. As for the other four I got right, I kind of cribbed those from Roger Ebert’s picks.

As for the categories I failed to predict correctly, picking winners among the shorts is tantamount to throwing darts at a dartboard, and I stumbled on documentary feature because I didn’t think they’d give the award to that guy from Short Circuit. I clearly underestimated the momentum of the Oscar buzz that The Hurt Locker had accrued in recent weeks when I picked against it for original screenplay, the sound categories, and, of course, Best Picture. I had Nick Hornby winning for adapted screenplay only because I thought the Academy would reward a critically-praised film that wasn’t going to win the other awards for which it was nominated, but I certainly can’t complain about the award going to my fellow Tischie Geoffrey Fletcher, one of two Tisch alums to win on the night (the other was Juan Campanella for foreign language-film winner El Secreto de Sus Ojos). And I couldn’t agree more with Roger Ebert concerning the cinematography award when he tweeted: “WTF? Cinematography for “Avatar” and all that CGI and green screen? Not for Basterds or White Ribbon?” Then again, cinematographers are the ones responsible for it even being nominated in the category, so they have nobody to blame but themselves for it winning.

Here are some of my other thoughts about the telecast (and bear in mind that I missed large chunks while I was at work or commuting home):

What was with the opening starring Doogie Howser? I’m not against song-and-dance routines, but it just seemed weird and misplaced. Did the producers mistake the reaction to last year’s opening starring host Hugh Jackman and nominee Anne Hathaway for a request to see the show open with another musical number starring a guy whose best-known film role was a cameo in a stoner movie?

I missed it, but I hear Farrah Fawcett was missing from the In Memoriam portion — what’s with that?

The extended build-up to handing out the awards for Best Actor and Actress is getting a little tedious. How about if we get back to the nuts-and-bolts, and then it won’t be such a big deal giving the winners more time to give their acceptance speeches, which is really what we want to hear more than praise from some co-star from years back.

Is Ben Stiller done making movies and now relegated to adding comic relief to the presentation of lackluster awards?

I appreciate the producers trying to keep the show moving and get the last award handed out before the clock strikes midnight on the East Coast, but the rushed manner in which the Best Picture winner was announced made the moment completely anti-climactic and almost seemed insulting to the Hurt Locker team. The only excuse I can think of for doing it the way they did was so that Ms. Bigelow wouldn’t make it too far backstage after accepting her directing award to make it back out on stage in a timely manner.

Was there any rehearsal whatsoever this year? Were all the jokes and dialogue scripted Sunday morning? I honestly can’t remember so many gaffes in the middle of the ceremony before.

And, finally, if you really want to save time and keep the show moving along, let’s go back to only five nominees for Best Picture. I realize that adding five more nominees allowed films from the likes of Peter Jackson and the Coens to garner nominations that they probably wouldn’t have gotten had there been only five total, but if we all knew they weren’t going to win anyway, then what’s the point?

Okay, so the second half of this extended blog entry started with a conversation at work during the ceremony. It was noted on several occasions during the telecast that it had been sixty-six years since the last time there were ten Best Picture nominees. Off the top of your head, can you name the nine runners-up? I mean, pop quiz: can you name the four runners-up for Best Picture from last year’s Oscars? Whether they’re worthy nominees or not, what value is there in naming lots of nominees? How long does the glow from being nominated really last?

Having not had the opportunity yet to see the nine runners-up from the ceremony sixty-six years ago, I was interested in their pedigree. Were they all worthy of being nominated, or was it really a matter of only one or two real competitors that prompted the Academy to revert to only five nominees for the next six-and-a-half decades? One mustn’t forget that, while Casablanca was hardly a forgotten movie, it’s real bonafides weren’t really considered too deeply until the American Film Institute named it the second-greatest American feature film of all time. Here’s a geeky look at the other nine films that were nominated for Best Picture that year.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, based upon Ernest Hemingway’s fantastic Spanish Civil War-novel of the same name, garnered acting nominations for co-stars Gary Cooper (recent winner for Sergeant York) and Ingrid Bergman (co-star of Casablanca, who would go on to win the first of her three Oscars the following year for Gaslight). Nominated for nine awards, the film won one — Katina Paxinou for Supporting Actress.

Heaven Can Wait, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, was nominated for three awards. It stars Gene Tierney and future-Oscar-winner Don Ameche (Cocoon), in addition to Charles Coburn, who won Best Supporting Actor that night for his role in Best Picture-nominee The More the Merrier.

In Which We Serve was written by, starred in, and co-directed (along with future-multiple-Oscar-winner David Lean, making his directorial debut) by the legendary Noel Coward.

The Human Comedy, directed by Clarence Brown, was nominated for five awards, winning the Best Story Oscar for writer William Saroyan. It starred Mickey Rooney (nominated for Best Actor), and also featured Frank Morgan, Donna Reed, and Van Johnson.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer threw everything they had behind Madame Curie, which was nominated for seven awards, but won none. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and featured an all-star cast (many of whom had worked with Alfred Hitchcock over the years) that included then-reigning Best Actress-winner (for the title role in the previous year’s Best Picture-winner Mrs. Miniver) Greer Garson, her Mrs. Miniver co-stars Walter Pidgeon, Henry Travers, Reginald Owen, and Dame May Whitty (also appeared in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and Suspicion); Albert Bassermann (Oscar-nominated for his role in my second-favorite Hitchcock film Foreign Correspondent); Robert Walker (known to fans of Hitch as Bruno in Strangers on a Train); C. Aubrey Smith (he was in Hitchcock’s Rebecca along with a host of other well-known films); and, of course, Van Johnson and Margaret O’Brien. Oh, and it was narrated by James Hilton (Oscar-winner for writing Mrs. Miniver), who also penned the novels upon which the films Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Random Harvest were based. Both of those films co-starred Greer Garson as well; and Robert Donat (who starred in Hitch’s The 39 Steps) picked up the Oscar for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, beating the heavily-favored Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Plus, Hilton co-wrote the dialogue for Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent with the hilarious Robert Benchley (seriously, if you’ve never seen Foreign Correspondent you need to rush out and rent it right now).

The More the Merrier, directed by George Stevens (A Place in the Sun, Giant, Shane), picked up six nominations, and won one — the aforementioned Best Supporting Actor for Charles Coburn. It co-starred Jean Arthur (nominated for Best Actress) and Joel McCrea (star of, you guessed it, Foreign Correspondent — why haven’t you seen this movie yet?! It was nominated for six Oscars, but is always overshadowed by Hitchcock’s other film from that year, Best Picture-winner Rebecca).

The Ox-Bow Incident, directed by William Wellman, was nominated for just this one award. It didn’t win, of course, but it was the National Board of Review’s pick for Best Film that year, and it has since been added to the National Film Registry as well. Oh, and it starred future-Oscar-winner Henry Fonda, along with Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn.

The Song of Bernadette was nominated for a whopping twelve Oscars and won four of them, including Best Actress for Jennifer Jones (who just passed away back in December) and Best Score for Alfred Newman (one of his nine career Oscar wins).

And then there was Watch on the Rhine, written by Dashiell Hammett, based on the play by Lillian Hellman, and starring Paul Lukas (who won the Best Actor award) and — with all due respect to Meryl Streep and Katharine Hepburn — perhaps the greatest film actress of all time — Bette Davis. It was nominated for four Oscars, winning just the one, but was named Best Film that year by the New York Film Critics Circle.


Going into the ceremony, Casablanca wasn’t the clear favorite to win Best Picture, and, as you can see, the other nominees had legitimate pedigrees, but they’re largely forgotten anyway because they didn’t win. So, does that justify nominating ten films, or, for brevity’s sake, should the Academy go back to only five again next year? The debate will go on and on, and everyone has their opinion.

I’m done. Enjoy the rest of your Monday, everyone.


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kris published on March 8, 2010 2:24 PM.

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