Yes, the Oscars are an annual bore that everybody hates.
They celebrate narcissistic filmmakers who bloviate and self-congratulate about their successes.
But here’s why it’s important that the Academy Awards take a hiatus from presenting awards.
I had the pleasure of seeing one of my all-time favorite movies on the big screen recently. The Hollywood Arclight on Sunset Boulevard screened Stanley Kubrick’s masterful Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Led by the incomparable multiple roles of Peter Sellers and the ham-fisted performance of George C. Scott as the childish General Buck Turgidson, Dr. Strangelove is a landmark piece of cinema history.
A staple of satire; no other film encapsulates the paranoia of nuclear war and then simultaneously demands the audience laugh at it, quite like Dr. Strangelove does. Of course, in order to truly appreciate its greatness, you have to put the movie into a historical context when the Bay of Pigs invasion was only several years before and tensions were peaking between the U.S. and Russia.
But something happened just before I walked into that theater with a group of my older friends. Several adolescents coming out of the theater passed us, as if to possibly indicate that they had walked into to the wrong movie. Asian and barely teenagers, they passed us upon our entry giggling like they just heard the latest gossip that would electrify an entire student body.
They came back with their refreshments, though, sitting not just several rows back and adjacent to me, a perfect line to look over my shoulder. The packed theater was diverse. “Were they accompanying their parents? Strangelove is so way beyond their years,” I thought. Then the Arclight usher came out to deliver their pre-screening speech as they always do. Lights down. No trailers. Let’s do this thing.
Seeing a classic satire like Strangelove with a diverse audience was unique, similarly to watching Get Out opening weekend. All different ethnicities and backgrounds in a packed theater will have many cackling at different parts.
It was no different here. It’s similar to reading a play, and then watching it performed, finding comedy in places that you had no idea was there. I find the entire movie hilarious, but I found there were moments that I had no idea were funnier than I thought.
And those teenage girls cackled through the whole movie. “Maybe they were just excited to be out-and-about in Hollywood,” I thought, but my perception was proven wrong when a particular moment in the movie happened.
When Colonel “Bat” Guano bursts into General Jack D. Ripper’s office finding Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, they laughed upon his appearance. His entrance is not particularly funny but that’s what indicated to me that this wasn’t their first time seeing it. They knew the hilariously iconic scenes between Guano and Mandrake before it happened. Not only did they see this black and white movie from early 1964, but also they loved it so much, that they, like me, wanted to see it on the big screen.
Strangelove was nominated for four Academy Awards that year including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Unfortunately, none of the filmmakers took home a statue.
Instead the Best Picture Oscar went to My Fair Lady. Yawn. I’m not saying My Fair Lady is a bad movie but it’s nowhere close to Dr. Strangelove, but more importantly, it certainly didn’t stand the test of time like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece.
The movie industry is loaded with reoccurring disingenuous knee-jerk reactions. Years later, how often do you think the Academy voters are correct with picking Best Picture? Sorry, but it’s not often. I would argue that they get it right 20% of the time and that’s generous.
1994 is arguably one of the greatest years for movies. Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Quiz Show were all nominated for Best Picture, but Forrest Gump took home the gold. Again, not saying Forrest Gump is a bad movie (although many would argue that it is) but not only is Pulp Fiction the best movie of that year, but The Shawshank Redemption and Quiz Show are undeniably better.
Also, it’s not just Best Picture nominees. What movie stands the test of time better than 1985’s Back to the Future? But at the 58th Academy Awards, Out of Africa won. No, just no. Other nominees that year were The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor and Witness.
Here are only six of the most egregious examples that the Academy got wrong.
2005 – Crash (winner) – What’s better: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck and Munich.
1998 – Shakespeare in Love (winner) – What’s better: Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line.
1996 – The English Patient (winner) – What’s better: Fargo.
1990 – Dances with Wolves (winner) – What’s better: Goodfellas (and this one isn’t remotely close).
1982 – Gandhi (winner) – What’s better: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
1976 – Rocky (winner) – What’s better: All the President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver.
Stanley Kubrick was one of America’s greatest directors, but explain how in the world that one of the most celebrated filmmakers ever never won one Academy Award from A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Barry Lyndon, 2001 A Space Odyssey, or Dr. Strangelove.
Why should we put so much validity into the biggest awards show on the planet when they so frequently get it wrong? This isn’t a “subjective” argument either. No, it’s a majority who acknowledge years later that other movies were better.
It’s that those movies were a better representative of the time in which they were made.
Many of these Best Picture winners are fleeting ten years later. They don’t hold up. Do you think in 1995 that a majority of people would at least nominate Back to the Future?
You bet they would and that’s the point.