Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yeah, Whatever

It's the 80th annual Academy Awards, but unfortunately for the movie biz, nobody seems to give a silver-plated rat's padoo about this landmark occasion in motion picture history. Can this have anything to do with the fact that Hollywood has long ceased to have any respect for its audiences, from its anti-Christian and anti-American story lines to the openly sleazy lives of its "stars"? (Yeah, a lot of the stars of yesteryear -- notice the absence of scare quotes -- also led sleazy lives, but at least the morality clauses in their studio contracts kept many of them from flaunting their sins publicly.)

I quit keeping track of the Academy Awards years ago; today, I doubt I could pick most of the nominees out of a lineup. Since a lot of people have also lost interest, I thought this might be a good time to reminisce about Oscar's Good Old Days.

Best Picture Oscars

The first Best Picture Oscar, in 1928, actually went to two movies; and the award wasn't called Best Picture. Wings (which I once got to see at the Egyptian Theater) got it for Best Production, and Sunrise got it for "Unique and Artistic Picture," a category never again repeated. Wings, starring Buddy Rogers (onetime husband of Mary Pickford) and Clara Bow (the "It" Girl) is a comic, romantic tragedy about two World War I flying aces. An extremely young Gary Cooper appears in this movie, but he lasts about as long as an ordinary crewman on an episode of Star Trek. Wings has the distinction of being the only silent movie to win Best Picture (or its equivalent).

These are my favorite Best Picture winners:

Casablanca (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Paramount, 1942). I love the defiance of this film at a time when World War II could really have been lost, and was in fact going badly for the Allies. My favorite scene -- and one that gives me goose bumps every time I see it -- is the one where Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) makes the band strike up La Marseillaise and everybody stands and sings along, and drowns out the Nazi tune. This movie also has some of the most quotable movie lines.

Going My Way (Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Paramount, 1944). Made back when Hollywood respected Catholics. I can't watch this without a huge box of Kleenex.

All About Eve (Bette Davis, Ann Baxter, George Sanders, 20th Century Fox, 1950). This is the one where Bette Davis utters her signature line: "Fasten your seatbelts: it's going to be a bumpy night!" It beat out one of my other favorites, Sunset Boulevard (Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim, Paramount, 1950). It held the record for the most nominations (14) until 1997, when Titanic also garnered 14 nominations.

A Man for All Seasons (Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Highland Films, 1966). How could I leave out a film about my patron saint, with one of my favorite actors (Leo McKern) as a bad guy?

Best Acting Oscars

Some of my favorite winners (or I should say, winning performances):
  • Joan Crawford (as Mildred Pierce, 1945). Ann Blyth was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for playing her disgustingly snotty and evil daughter Veda.
  • Bogie (Charlie Allnut in The African Queen, 1951). Starred opposite Katharine Hepburn, who holds the record for the most Best Actress Oscars (4).
  • William Holden (J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17, 1953). This is one of the great war movies, though it has no combat scenes.
  • Charlton Heston (Judah Ben-Hur in Ben Hur, 1959) (though I liked him even better as Mo-o-o-o-s-e-e-e-s in The Ten Commandments).
  • Katharine Hepburn (Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, 1968). Katharine Hepburn actually claimed to be a descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine; given the number of children Eleanor had, this probably put her in company with a great many people.
  • Richard Dreyfuss (Elliot Garfield in The Goodbye Girl, 1977). Although this movie involves shacking up, and although the dialogue in Neil Simon movies tends to be just this side of too-clever-by-half, I really like this movie. I like the fact that Elliot loves not only Paula but also her daughter. And Richard Dreyfuss'...shall we say, unconventional portrayal of Richard III is hysterical.
  • Sissy Spacek (Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, 1980). Spacek sang all the songs; it wasn't dubbed. Beverly D'Angelo, who played Patsy Cline, also sang. Neither, of course, is the original, but I can't say it sounded terrible.
  • Cher (Loretta Castorini in Moonstruck, 1987). "A wolf without a foot!"
  • Jack Nicholson (Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets, 1997). Surprised to see one so recent? So am I! But I found very compelling the treatment of the redemptive power of love. I just loved it when Melvin tells Carol that great compliment he has for her: "You make me want to be a better man."
And of course, there are plenty of good movies and actors and actresses who haven't won Oscars, or even been nominated. I guess that includes some that were not nominated this year, which might be another reason nobody's watching the Oscars tonight.

1 comment:

  1. If not for my passing the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring every day, I'd never have heard of No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood.

    I recall the Guinness Book of World Records saying that the Oscars are named for one Oscar Pierce of Texas. In 1931, a librarian at the AMPAS said the newly delivered statuettes looked just like "her uncle Oscar."