Well, another Oscar season has come and gone, along with the usual surprises, upsets and disappointments. Boy, who could have predicted Deadpool would become the very first write-in candidate to win Best Picture? Pretty crazy!
Actually, I started writing this on the Friday before the Oscars, at which time I had no idea what won or even if this year would bring the usual surprises, upsets and disappointments. As it turned out, this was a particularly unusual year. But in the days leading up to the event, a remarkably boring year would have meant that La La Land won every single award it was up for. But even the fact that nobody really thought that was likely…and that nobody could have predicted what actually happened…means that very few Oscar scenarios can truly be described as boring.
For those of us who aren’t likely to be receiving one any time soon, it can often seem like the only thing the Academy Awards are good for is complaining. No matter how many “substandard” movies take home the big prize, we still cling to the belief that the Best Picture winner should in fact represent the very pinnacle of cinematic achievement. Our own personal tastes coincidentally match the Academy’s just enough to make us believe in the inherent fairness of the system, despite the fact that a case for a superior alternative can be made for virtually every year the Oscars have been given. The argument is the same every year. Only the titles change.
This recurring theme was part of the impetus behind the creation of An Honor To Be Nominated. I introduced the column several years ago over at The Morton Report and it’s floated around the interwebs since, cropping up at The Digital Bits, OnePerfect Shot and, of course, right here. The original concept was pretty simple: taking a look back at the movies that did not win Best Picture and seeing how they withstood the test of time.
Regardless of what site was publishing it, Honor never really set the world on fire. Obviously, some columns were more popular than others. Pretty much anything about Star Wars is gonna attract some eyeballs. But by its very nature, the column was going to have to look at some movies whose cultural moment had passed. I wasn’t exactly shocked that my analysis of The Blind Side didn’t prove to be click-bait. But considering how hugely popular the movie was at the time, I thought it was interesting to see how little lasting impact it had.
While I truly loved the concept for Honor, I found myself running into a hurdle greater than public indifference that sapped a little of my enthusiasm for the project. Namely, most of the movies that have vied for Best Picture are pretty good. I realize this doesn’t sound like it should be a problem. But what I mean by this is that some of these movies are true masterpieces. A handful are pretty terrible. But the majority of these films are simply above average. Their ratings on Rotten Tomatoes tend to land in the high-80-to-low-90 percentiles. That commitment to competence and professionalism doesn’t exactly inspire passion.
But if I cast the net wider to include ALL the nominated films in every category, an interesting thing happens. The pool now includes cult movies, blockbusters, bloated would-be epics that Oscar didn’t quite take the bait for, and odd outliers that had no business being there but crashed the party anyway. For all the pomp, circumstance and importance placed upon them, you’d think that an Academy Award nomination would at the very least guarantee a measure of immortality. It really doesn’t.
When you think of the films of 1977, you probably think Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Annie Hall, all of which were nominated for and indeed won Oscars. But when’s the last time you spared a moment for I Never Promised You A Rose Garden? Or The Other Side Of Midnight? Or The Slipper And The Rose? All of them were up for trophies too, believe it or not, and Oscar history is littered with countless such forgotten also-rans. Hell, in the early years of the awards, some categories had so many contenders you’d think an Academy Award nomination was the equivalent of a participation ribbon.
Taking a broader look at the other categories reveals all kinds of interesting quirks and trends. For instance, people always seem surprised when a foreign language film is nominated in any category other than Best Foreign Language Film. But they’ve actually done reasonably well at the Oscars over the years, especially if your name happened to be Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman or Akira Kurosawa. It’s interesting to note that some but not all of the Harry Potter, James Bond and Star Trek movies have competed for Oscars. And while the Academy is unquestionably lax in diversity across the board, representation of women at least becomes a lot more interesting when you take the focus off of the Best Director category and look at writers, designers and editors. In some cases, better. But in others, a lot worse. For example, did you know that Best Cinematography is the only category (apart from Actor and Supporting Actor, obviously) that has never had a female nominee? Now you do.
From now on, An Honor To Be Nominated will be reconsidering all the movies nominated in any category. The title is remaining the same. Sure, a handful of movies have been nominated for just one or two awards and won everything they could. But most movies come up as a bridesmaid in at least one category. Even Ben-Hur and Titanic lost a couple of awards. (Trivia note: the biggest sweep so far was enjoyed by The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, which went 11 for 11.)
In rethinking the parameters of this column, I’ve settled on a few ground rules. One, I’ll be ignoring short films, except for those very rare instances where shorts managed to compete alongside features. Those are few and far between, however. Second, the movies had to be nominated and compete for their awards, so no special recognition and honorary awards like those given to Fantasia or early makeup winners like Planet Of The Apes. While most of these honorary appointees ended up competing in other categories anyway, a few slip through the cracks.
Finally, I’ll be making a best effort at tracking down some of these movies but, as anybody who has been following the JET’s Most Wanted project knows, even Oscar nominees aren’t guaranteed an afterlife. So there are some nominees and winners (particularly documentaries, foreign films and early contenders) that simply aren’t available. Rest assured that I’ll continue to spotlight these orphans as Most Wanted picks.
The new (and hopefully improved) An Honor To Be Nominated debuts on Thursday, March 3, and will appear biweekly every Thursday. The Academy doesn’t really have a special day of the week that they announce their nominations on but they’ve most often fallen on a Thursday lately, so I’m going with that. I know this announcement doesn’t rate as high as Red Vines and Junior Mints parachuting down from the sky but I hope you’ll enjoy this new direction and that we can rediscover some interesting movies together.