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Academy's royal snub
If it weren't for Margaret Herrick, we wouldn't be calling them the Oscars. In 1931, the executive secretary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) saw the little statuette and famously remarked how the little golden guy reminded her so much of her "Uncle Oscar", a nickname for a cousin, Oscar Pierce. Over the years, the nick has flourished;the Oscars have evolved into the most prestigious, publicised and sought-after accolades of the movie world. But when it comes to consensus, Uncle Oscar seems to be a grouchy old man. In his 83 years, rarely, if ever, has he concurred with critical opinion. He tends to laud feel-good movies rather than those with true artistic brilliance (remember Hurt Locker winning over Avatar last year?) When the 120-odd nominations were announced this year, the internet was abuzz with outrage at one shocking omission: Christopher Nolan.
By all accounts, he is the director of the decade gone by. Perhaps, the Academy could be forgiven for ignoring his directorial genius in Batman Begins, but ignoring it in Dark Knight at the 2009 Oscars was a shame. Even host Hugh Jackman, during his tribute, sang, "How come comic book movies never get nominated? How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?" If that snub was travesty, this AMPAS' decision this year not to nominate him for Inception is sacrilege. Critics and audiences around the world testify that the movie displays serious film-making virtuosity rarely seen before. But there's no love lost for Nolan. He lost the nomination to True Grit's Ethen and Joel Coen, who, unlike Nolan, were not nominated by the Director's Guild. Hans Zimmer, who composed the music for Inception, says Nolan was robbed of the honour. "My instinct tells me that because it was a commercial success, suddenly they took the idea of artfulness away from him", he said.
The curious case of Christopher Nolan bears some similarities with that of Steven Spielberg. Much before he eventually won three Oscars, he wasn't quite a favourite among the jury. In 1975, his seminal work Jaws, the year's greatest hit, received a nod, but there was nothing for him. It was only in 1994, with the groundbreaking Schindler's List, that he finally got his hands on the elusive little fellow. Nolan is 40 now, and his Oscar nominations count add up to zero;Spielberg, by 40, had at least a few;his 1985 hit, The Color Purple, had 11 nominations, but strangely none for best director.
If Nolan doesn't find favour with the Academy soon, he will join a long list of great directors that have been snubbed by Uncle Oscar. Top of the list is Martin Scorcese, arguably the greatest director of our time. Nominated five times, he won his first Best Director Oscar only in 2007, after all his finest work was ignored. Alfred Hitchcock, on the other hand, whose distinctive directorial style of evoking fear and suspense in audiences is unmatched to this day, won five nominations, but never an Oscar. Neither did Stanley Kubrick, whose epic 2001: A Space Odyssey still confounds viewers after over 40 years, or the extraordinary Buster Keaton, whose perpetual deadpan expression in his trademark silent movies gave him the moniker "the Great stone face". Critic Roger Ebert called Keaton "perhaps the greatest director-actor in the history of movies", but the AMPAS jury wasn't impressed.
Neither were they impressed with George Lucas, creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. During the 2007 Oscars, when he, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg presented their friend Scorcese his first Oscar for direction, Coppola and Spielberg spoke about the thrill of winning an Oscar, light-heartedly poking fun at Lucas, who has never won a competitive Oscar. Another director in the same category is Norman Jewison, the brain behind musicals Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar;he too, hasn't won a competitive Oscar yet (both Spielberg and Jewison have won Thalberg awards. They're named after the former head of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer studios, are based on works spanning an entire career, and are not competitive). Closer home, Satyajit Ray, perhaps India's greatest director, too never won an Oscar for best direction, but Mel Gibson has - ostensibly, he's a better director.
It's not only with directors that the AMPAS plays truant. Actor Peter O'Toole exemplifies the unpredictable nature of the Oscars. He has been nominated eight times for Best Actor, starting from 1963 (for his role in Lawrence of Arabia) to 2007 (Venus), where he finally won it. Previously, he had lost it to some career-defining performances that included those by Gregory Peck (1962, To Kill a Mockingbird), Rex Harrison (1964, My Fair Lady), Marlon Brando (1972, The Godfather) and Ben Kingsley (1982, Gandhi). While Fred Astaire, one of the greatest actors of all time, never won an Oscar, Art Carney won the 'Best Actor' award in 1974 for going on the road with a cat. In doing so, he beat Al Pacino in Godfather II and Dustin Hoffman in Lenny. Go figure.
An institution that goofs up more than it gets it right cannot accurately claim to be indicative of good Hollywood cinema. This is an institution that gave Slumdog Millionaire an Oscar the year Dark Knight didn't get a nomination;an institution that ignored Charlie Chaplin's best works (notably Great Dictator) for reasons best known to them, an institution that gave Forrest Gump the Oscar in the year of Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, an institution that never lauded Marilyn Monroe, who, apart from being a sex symbol, was a brilliant actress especially in films like Laurence Olivier's The Prince And The Showgirl and Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot;and above all, an institution that, in 1941, gave an Oscar to How Green Was My Valley while ignoring Citizen Kane, which is often considered the greatest film ever made (director Orson Welles was just 25); and one that gave the 1933 Oscar to Cavalcade, when the year's seminal film, King Kong wasn't even nominated.
That the AMPAS is a highly political organisation with intense lobbying rather than true merit deciding the final winners is a foregone conclusion. Add to that, the increasing length of the ceremony with the same rhetoric every year (thank you speeches, "I couldn't have done it without..." botox, etc) reduces its appeal even further. Till the AMPAS gets its act together, the Oscars will continue to be a win-or-lose gambling game that sparks more debate and discussion all other entertainment awards combined.
DUDE, WHERE'S MY OSCAR?
A look at some of Uncle Oscar's biggest misses over the years:
KING KONG (1933) | Best picture |
The snub that started the rot. The original King Kong, about a gorilla on an island who had a thing for the blonde Ann Darrow, got nothing at the Oscars. The subsequent Kong Kongs didn't quite match up to this one.
INGRID BERGMAN (1943) |
Best actress | Humphrey Bogart's lost love Ilsa Luna in Casablanca may have gotten her immortality, but not the Oscar. The Best Actress award went to Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette.
CITIZEN KANE (1941) | Best film |
The greatest film ever made should have won at least four Oscars, but it instead took home just one measly Oscar, that too for Best Screenplay! Best Picture went to How Green Is My Valley
JUDY GARLAND (1939) |
Best actress | The competition was close, but most believed 17-year-old Garland's performance in The Wizard of Oz eclipsed Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind. Garland wasn't even nominated.
STANLEY KUBRICK (1968) |
Best director | Kubrick would be on anyone's list of top-5 directors, but his epic 2001: A Space Odysseyhad to make do with an insignificant Oscar for Best Visual Effects'. Carol Reed won the Best Director award for Oliver!
FIGHT CLUB (1999) | Best actor, Best picture |
One of the most talkedabout films of all time, Fight Clublost the Best Picture Oscar to American Beauty. Norton, too, lost to Kevin Spacey in the same film, which is hardly his best role.
PULP FICTION (1995) | Best picture |
It will take millennia how to figure out how Forrest Gumpwon Best Picture when the competition comprised Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. The Consolation? Best Original Screenplay
TOPOL (1972) | Best actor |
Playing a poor peasant in pre-revolution Russia, Topol almost single-handedly led the 3-hour-long Fiddler On The Roof in arguably the most prominent role ever played in a musical. He lost the award to Gene Hackman in The French Connection
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