Oscars exhibit poor taste

By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 16, 1996

Tuesday, February 13th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominations for the 68th Annual Academy Awards, to air on ABC March 25th. To the average American, the Academy Awards ceremony is the culmination of Hollywood hype and critical prestige. It's a chance to sit at home while doing the laundry and stare dreamily at the television as multi-million stars parade by, surrounded by flashing cameras and gleaming limousines.

The Academy voters know the ceremony is a glitzy dreamland, and their selection of films doesn't always laud the most critically-acclaimed or artistically challenging films released the previous year. A movie with a Best Picture nomination that is re-released after the nominations typically averages another $10 million at the box office. And knowing that the awards ceremony is one of the most highly-watched broadcasts on American television worldwide, Hollywood uses the moment to sell itself like one long, promotional extravaganza. See the stars! Hear the songs! Go see those movies again!

Perhaps that is why so many famous filmmakers spend decades working in Hollywood, producing scores of fine films, and never once see an Oscar. Filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and Martin Scorsese have never won a directing Oscar. In most cases, the Academy voters want to use their silver screen gala to promote critically acclaimed, but safe and popular movies audiences can thank Hollywood for making, often overlooking smaller, more artistically challenging films.

This has never been clearer than in this year's Best Picture lineup. The five films the Academy selected as the best movies of the year are "Apollo 13," "Babe," "Braveheart," "The Postman" ("Il Postino"), and "Sense and Sensibility." At first glance, this may not seem like such a bad list in a year with few remarkable films. But is a movie about a talking pig really better than the shattering "Leaving Las Vegas," "Dead Man Walking," or the joyful, philosophical "Smoke"? Even the Academy's penchant for lauding extravagant family entertainments like Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" failed to provide a Best Picture nomination for "Toy Story," arguably as entertaining and creative as any of the previous animated films were. And the inclusion of "The Postman" as their token art film is unexpected considering the last foreign film to be in the Best Picture category was Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" in 1973. "The Postman" is also the first film since "Network" (1976) to earn a Best Actor nomination for an actor who's already passed away.

Both "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Dead Man Walking" received nominations in the Best Actor, Actress, and Director categories, however, despite their exclusion from Best Picture. The Academy voters are divided into respective categories: directors vote for directing nominees, actors vote for acting nominees, etc. But the Best Picture nominees are compiled from everyone's input, and the results often do not match what industry professionals cite as the best examples in their respective crafts.

In the best Actress category, Meryl Streep earned her 10th nomination for "The Bridges Of Madison County" and the Academy once again overlooked Jennifer Jason Leigh ("Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle") with her wonderful performance in "Georgia." The Academy works like a snowball, hoping to build a following for actors or actresses they can turn into contemporary Oliviers rather than selecting more eclectic choices.

Any awards ceremony is sure to attract its share of complaints, but the Academy Awards continues to display its lack of taste, favoring movies it hopes to re-release, using its visibility to entice viewers back to the box office instead of rewarding better films for their contribution to lasting cinema.