Getting inside the deranged mind of Oscar

BY ALEX WOLSKY
Daily Arts Editor
Published February 19, 2004

The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper's standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily's editorial.

 

Oscar is a precarious bedfellow. Over the past 76 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has bestowed critical praise on some of the most deserving films in history. Yet, while the Academy shakes politely with its right hand, it delivers a painstaking blow to the gut with its left. Some were petty theft; some, though technically not illegal, should’ve been grounds for the death penalty. These are the worst snubs, or “When Oscar Attacks.”

CUT TO: James Cagney in “Public Enemy” pummeling a grapefruit into Mae Clark’s face.

Snub #1: It’s “Citizen Kane,” stupid!

One of the most infamous snubs in Oscar history came in 1941, when Orson Welles’s magnum opus “Citizen Kane” was denied Best Picture accolades by John Ford’s film adaptation of “How Green was My Valley.” Over 60 years after the fact, “Valley” has disappeared into the annals of history, while “Kane” stands as an epic piece of cinematic lore. In fact, many of Oscar’s most painful snubs have come in the Best Picture category. While not up to the magnitude of “Kane,” there have been notable screw-ups by the Academy. Shield your eyes.

In 1964, “My Fair Lady,” the Audrey Hepburn-fueled musical, beat out “Mary Poppins,” “Zorba the Greek,” and “Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” for the Oscar. In ’51, both Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando won Oscars for their individual performances in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” But, when it came to Best Picture, “Streetcar” wound up losing to “An American in Paris.”

In fact, many of the best films ever made were overlooked when it came to Oscar night. Numerous films in the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time never won a statuette. “Singin’ in the Rain” (AFI #10) lost to “The Greatest Show on Earth” (unranked); “Some Like it Hot” (AFI #14) lost to “Ben Hur” (not ranked); “2001: A Space Odyssey” (AFI #22) lost to “Oliver!” (unranked); and finally, “Psycho” (AFI #18) lost to “The Apartment” (unranked). And, speaking of Hitchcock …

CUT TO: Cary Grant in “North by Northwest” running manically through a field, dodging an oncoming airplane.

Snub #2: Cover your tracks, Oscar.

Oscar’s most notable snubs have come in the forum for Best Director. In fact, the list of overlooked directors is nearly a mile long, but there are some gross mistakes that must be exposed.

Three of the most influential directors in modern film history were never recognized for their work. Neither Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver”), Robert Altman (“Gosford Park”) nor Stanley Kubrick (“Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange”) ever won an Oscar for Best Director.

In possibly the greatest directorial error in Oscar’s history, however, Alfred Hitchcock, a director whose technique redefined how an entire genre functioned, was never awarded for his skill behind the camera. In fact, he was nominated five times and four of his films rank among the AFI’s list. But never fear, the Academy has a way of correcting itself via the Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was bestowed upon Hitchcock, to which his only response was a brief “thank you” (read: middle finger) before walking off the stage. Talk about cold shoulder!

CUT TO: Ben Affleck in “Good Will Hunting,” standing with mouth agape on Matt Damon’s abandoned porch.

Snub #3: Oh, no he di’int!

Both Best Actor and Best Actress have had their share of troubles over the years, as well. Gloria Swanson’s epic depiction of the ultimate diva (“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille”) in “Sunset Boulevard” has become one of the most exceptional performances ever committed to celluloid; however, Judy Holliday was polishing gold for her performance in “Born Yesterday” that year instead.

The most blatant example of a Best Actor snub was dealt to the Godfather himself, Al Pacino. In ’73, Al Pacino received critical praise for his performance in “Serpico,” yet Oscar went home with Jack Lemmon that year for his performance in, “Save the Tiger.” Seeking retribution, critics again predicted victory for Pacino in ’74 with his chilling performance in “The Godfather Part II.” However, he lost to Art Carney’s portrayal of an elderly man’s cross-country travels with his cat in “Harry and Tonto.” But the Academy made it up to the Don by awarding him a statue for his performance in the lackluster “Scent of a Woman.”

Some other notable misfires include Humphrey Bogart getting snubbed for his performance in “Casablanca” in ’43 to Paul Lukas in “Watch on the Rhine.” Actor Denzel Washington has felt the brunt of the Academy’s wrath, as well. After losing for both “Malcolm X” and “The Hurricane,” Washington was finally awarded Best Actor for his role in the less-deserving “Training Day.”

CUT TO: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nailing a guy to the wall with his knife in “Predator.”

Snub #4: Where’s McCain-Feingold when you need it?

While most of the aforementioned snubs are solely based on opinion, sometimes Oscar can be shadier than one would expect. In ’98, amidst a highly competitive year for Best Picture, Miramax bent the rules in its favor by sporting a $10 million blitzkrieg campaign for its film “Shakespeare in Love.”

Every year people decry Oscar’s blind eye to last-minute, cash-fueled campaigns for the Academy’s love, and every year it’s ignored. Just as in politics, money prevents a natural voting process. But what controls do studios and distributors have over the way people perceive their advertising? There’s virtually no way anybody can distinguish typical promotion for a film and inflating a campaign for Oscar success. “Shakespeare in Love” wound up beating out critics darling, “Saving Private Ryan” in ’98, much to the chagrin of Oscar viewers.

CUT TO: Cher in “Moonstruck” slapping Nicolas Cage and saying, “Snap out of it!”

But what does history tell us about this year’s ceremony? To put it simply: Nothing. However, don’t be surprised if Peter Jackson isn’t polishing Oscar for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” at the after-party. And, when Sofia Coppola’s beautiful love-letter to Tokyo, “Lost in Translation” gets shot down for Best Picture by Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” don’t say you weren’t warned. Oscar is, after all, above and beyond all history and speculation, a grouch. Just ask Alfred Hitchcock.