This week I’m writing about the Academy Awards.
I’ve chosen that topic because, as you know if you read this column often, I like going against the grain – I like to buck the system and write about those things other people aren’t even mentioning. And I feel very confident that I’ll be the only person in the media writing or talking about the Academy Awards this week. You probably weren’t even aware the awards’ ceremony is coming up on Sunday night, March 4.
Now, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman – my favorite writer of all time by a long shot – pointed out something about the Oscars years ago in his brilliant book Adventures in the Screen Trade. He was talking about the Best Picture awards for 1939, a year which saw the release of Gunga Din, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men and Goodbye Mr. Chips.
All top-notch films that deserved to win.
And which one did?
The envelope please …
OK, now, how about a drum roll …
The answer is that none of them won because 1939 was the year that Wuthering Heights came out.
“Which,” Goldman points out, “also didn’t win because ’39 was also the year of The Wizard of Oz.”
“Which,” he adds, “also didn’t win because Gone with the Wind did.”
As Goldman illustrates quite well in that example, in some years a slew of amazing movies comes out and that’s one reason a lot of deserving movies never win an Oscar. Those movies are just unfortunate because they came out in the wrong year.
Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade was published in 1983, about 35 years ago. Too many great movies in the same year may have been a problem back then, but now, in this century, the opposite seems to be the case: Each year, there aren’t enough good movies to find one that deserves the Oscar. It’s simply amazing to think what happened in 1939 when you look at what’s going on in moviemaking these days.
I mean, look at the movie that won Best Picture last year. Moonlight. Now, it’s no surprise that that movie won an Academy Award because it was tailor made to push all the right buttons of the Hollywood types who vote on the award. A bullied, gay, minority youth with an abusive crack-addicted mother becomes the hazing victim of his classmates and is unjustly arrested by police when he retaliates. You had the Academy voters at “bullied, gay minority.” My only complaint is that the filmmakers didn’t give that guy in the movie some rare disease with an unpronounceable name. I think we can all agree that that movie had Oscar written all over it before they took the lens cover off the camera on the first day of shooting.
Moonlight was made explicitly for the Academy voters and I swear that, when they accidently announced La La Land as the winner last year, I knew it was a mistake because I knew for a fact that Hollywood was going to pick Moonlight. A moment later they said they’d made a mistake and I was like “Oh, OK, that explains it.”
But, again, one problem keeps rearing its head: Moonlight simply wasn’t a very good movie. I rented it last year with some friends and everyone watched it to the end, but I don’t think anyone enjoyed it at all. But it won Best Movie.
And look at this year’s nominations for Best Picture. To take one, there’s The Shape of Water, which is a story about a love affair between a person and a fish and the evil government scientists who want to hold the fish prisoner to study it.
Uh, hello? I liked it better the first time I saw it in 1984 when it was called Splash. (And, no, you can’t fool me by making the man a fish rather than making the woman a fish.)
Another movie nominated this year is something about billboards, which I didn’t see but doesn’t sound very interesting. I see enough billboards while driving in my car that I don’t want to see movies about them.
And then there’s The Post – a movie about a newspaper office full of attractive, articulate, passionate people standing up for their principles. Have the people who made this movie never set foot in a newsroom before?
And, while those movies got nominated for 2017, the Academy completely snubbed Happy Death Day, the best movie of the year, which got no nominations for anything.
Just think about where we are now and where we were 40 years ago. My how the mighty have fallen. Look at these movies that won Best Picture in the decade of the1970s …
1970 – Patton
1971 – The French Connection
1972 – The Godfather
1973 – The Sting
1974 – The Godfather Part II
1975 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976 – Rocky
1977 – Annie Hall
1978 – The Deer Hunter
1979 – Kramer vs. Kramer
I mean, just look at that list! The Godfather, The French Connection, The Godfather Part II, which many critics think is even better than the first. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with evil Nurse Ratched and the mute Indian who speaks. Are you kidding me? Patton. The Sting. Deer Hunter. Each and every one a complete and utter masterpiece. I could take virtually every one of those movies and reconstruct it in my mind virtually scene by scene.
But things fall apart, right?
Cut to a few years later, the ’80s. Do you remember what won Best Picture for 1981? No? Well, I’ll tell you. It was Chariots of Fire, one of the most dull, boring movies in the history of mankind. (Oh, no – he won’t run on Sunday! He won’t run on Sunday? You’re making a movie about that? Who cares if he won’t run on Sunday? I sure don’t care. That’s not a movie plot. If he can’t run in the race because he was killed by fire-breathing aliens, now maybe that’s a plot.)
Then, a couple of years later, the Best Picture winner was Out of Africa. More snooty English people doing absolutely nothing for three and a half hours.
So, the ’80s was really where you started to see this huge downward slide. And in the ’90s the bottom fell out when, unbelievably, in 1996, when one of the worst movies of all time won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The incredibly awful The English Patient. When I saw that movie, I like the first four hours OK but, then, I thought the middle three hours were very slow, and I simply couldn’t stand the last five hours.
After that won Best Picture in 1996 it was Katie bar the door. Look at this decade and think about the list from the 1970s that I just showed you. Here are the movies that have won in recent years.
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Argo
2013 – 12 Years a Slave
2014 – Birdman
2015 – Spotlight
2016 – Moonlight
The King’s Speech? Oh, he’s nervous about making a speech? That’s your whole movie? Listen, if you’re the king, who cares if you screw up a speech? People have to clap and they can’t say anything bad about you. After all, you’re the king.
The Artist? For one thing, the whole movie was in black and white and there was no talking. Frankly, it looked to me like it was made in 1911 rather than 2011.
Birdman the Best Picture of 2014? I made it through the first 10 minutes of that one. All I can remember about it is that it stars the guy from Beetlejuice.
Anyway, this year’s winner promises to be no better no matter which of the nominees wins.
I guess what I’m saying is that Hollywood either needs to start making good movies again or stop handing out awards. One or the other.
Since there’s kind of a dearth of great movies, my own choice for Best Picture goes to something that isn’t even a movie.
What’s my pick for best movie of the year?
Like I said, I know it’s not a movie, but it does have “Movie” in the name and if the Academy can hand its award out to black and white movies with no dialogue, then I can hand out my Best Picture award to a little red card that fits in your wallet and lets you see movies for free.
All I can say is this: If you ever go see movies and you haven’t gotten a MoviePass yet, then you are out of your mind and, quite frankly I’m not even sure there’s any hope for you. It might be best to lock you up right now.
MoviePass was, by far, the best thing to happen to movies in 2017 – even though it will never win and Academy Award because it doesn’t star a downtrodden gay immigrant who’s been struck with Abderhalden Kaufmann Lignac Syndrome.
MoviePass makes every single movie you see much better because every time you leave the theater, no matter how bad the movie was, you just nod and say to yourself, “Well worth the price of admission.”