Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Dreaded Oscarcast

The good news is that the entertainment industry's writers' strike has been settled.

The bad news is that the Oscarcast, the biggest company picnic ever, is back on track, replete with the demoralizing red-carpet vulgarity that's become an unfortunate staple of the event.

The only fascinating thing about it is how the show manages to top itself in awfulness year after year - and that ain't easy.

To paraphrase Will Rogers' quip on the weather, everybody complains about The Oscars, but nobody ever does anything about them. Clearly the powers behind them – which is most of Hollywood – share a “why-fix-what-isn’t-broken?” mentality.

They are oblivious to the fact that as the Oscarcast grows into a bigger White Elephant each year, it is transcended by the appealing simplicity of the (supposedly lesser) Golden Globes.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must think it is some kind of progress to trade in those deadly, stultifying production numbers for an endless series of clip-dominated montages that are at once pretentious, self-congratulatory, sancitmonious and numbing.

But is this annual giveaway - and the predictably dull show celebrating it - really worth the energy required to complain about it?

Unfortunately, yes.

Besides the dubious show, the awards themselves produce a lot of unanswered questions about a voting system that embraces thousands of Academy members, few of whom exhibit any indication of having actually seen any of the films and performances for which they’re voting.

But, for me, the most annoying aspect of this annual event is its rampant snobbery. For nine or ten months out of the year, the industry produces highly disposable, critic-proof movies designed only to make money. Come October and intentions are suddenly, magically, elevated. It becomes an industry of pretentions, in need of

This misguided snobbery, which ordinarily would be hilarious, is never more evident than in the choices for the yearly Irving J. Thalberg Memorial, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian, Gordon E. Sawyer and Honorary awards.

These awards seem to bring out the self-consciousness of the Academy’s board of directors who invariably underrate, ignore and, by extention, insult some of film’s most popular professionals. Overlooked in their lifetimes, for example, were the invaluable Robert Mitchum, Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford, all of whom should have been honored with lifetime awards. And that kind of heartless neglect, which exists at the core of the film industry, is exactly what this blog is all about.

Still waiting for this kind of peer recognition are Richard Widmark, Doris Day and Jerry Lewis, all of them more than deserving and long overdue. The Academy’s refusal to honor or at least acknowledge them - to willfully overlook them - smacks of a disturbing lack of gratitude and, again, pretention. Only those artists perceived as highbrow and, therefore, "worthy" tend to be accorded honorary awards.

Peter O'Toole, anyone? Yes! Elia Kazan? Bravo! Doris Day? No way!

One final question: Historically, winning an Oscar was always important to a career, or at least that's the hype that was generated for decades. But is that still true? More and more people who win Oscars seem to fall for grace and fade out of sight. The so-called "Oscar jinx," which was once restricted to an unlucky few, seems to be spreading.

Quick! Who won last year?

(Artwork: Three views of the great but perennially slighted Richard Widmark, lest we forget)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


Anonymous said...

Seems like the L.A. Film Critics group has been dropping some big hints to the Academy in recent years, having honored both Widmark and Lewis with lifetime achievement awards. But they just don't seem to get it. It will soon be too late for Widmark, and you never know how long any of these folks have left. They only got Altman in by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin, and I seem to recall Satyajit Ray accepting his honorary Oscar literally from his deathbed.

Beef said...

Excellent post--for years, I've been waiting for the Academy to honor the great Richard Widmark, but I have a feeling that it's never going to happen. Doris Day and Jerry Lewis also strongly deserve honorary Oscars for their contributions to the industry. In past years, we've seen the Academy bestow "special Oscars" to previous winners for "lifetime achievement" (e.g., Elia Kazan, Sophia Loren, Sidney Poitier), while ignoring deserving thespians who've never won an Oscar. I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy decided to give an honorary Oscar to Jack Nicholson before they get around to acknowledging the careers of Maureen O'Hara, Jean Simmons, Eleanor Parker, Lauren Bacall, etc.

joe baltake said...

As I said, it's all about snobbery.

Anonymous said...

I was actually hoping the strike would go on until at least the 24th just to see what Hollyweird would do if they couldn't put on their show. I have a feeling that pressure was put on both sides of the strike in order for the show to go on. I guess after watching Billy Bush announce the Golden Globes, some were afraid that Joan Rivers and Pat O'Brien would announce the Oscar winners.

joe baltake said...

I had no doubt that the strike would be settled in order to accomodate the Oscars. Usual film-industry politics. Interesting how the Globes got screwed though, eh?

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joe, as always. I've heard from reliable sources that Doris Day repeatedly has turned the Academy down for what Marlene Dietrich famously called "the deathbed award."