The 91st Academy Awards will be held in Hollywood on February 24. The show airs at 8 p.m. on ABC-TV.
Yes, I’ll be watching this annual marathon of film-industry self-congratulation, as I do almost every year.
I’m a movie addict.
Always have been, from childhood on. B-movies. Masterpieces. Hokey blockbusters. Old black-and-white movies. Silent movies. Foreign movies with subtitles. Art-house movies. Westerns. War movies. Comedies. Film noirs. Police procedurals.
I read about movies, too. I even talk about movies when I can persuade anybody to listen (dear God, bless my long-suffering wife and her glazed eyes).
That being my predilection, I watch the Oscars despite myself. This year there are eight nominees for Best Picture. I’ve seen six of them.
I haven’t had an opportunity yet to see “The Favourite.” I skipped “Black Panther” intentionally because I seem to be the only person left in America who has no interest in comic-book superhero films — it’s among the few genres I don’t enjoy.
Among the six Oscar contenders I have seen, if I had a vote, my best picture ballot would go to “Roma,” a gritty slice-of-life about a housekeeper in 1970s Mexico. It may sound like a bore, but it’s riveting. I caught it weeks ago on Netflix and can’t get it off my mind.
If “Roma” doesn’t receive the Oscar, “A Star Is Born” should.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s take is the finest of the four renditions of “Star,” including the legendary 1954 remake directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. To me, the 1954 version is overrated; the original, released in 1937, directed by William Wellman and starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, is better. The 1976 version is a gag-fest.
But I digress, as usual.
In anticipation of this year’s Academy Awards, I’ve been browsing back through the best picture winners and nominees from the previous 90 years.
What jumps out is how often the academy has gotten it wrong. It’s frequently handed the Oscar to some middling work that fancies itself an epic, or that speaks to a trendy social issue of the day, or that tugs superficially on the heartstrings, while passing over nominees that since have become universally regarded as classics.
The best film doesn’t always win. Neither does the best director, best actor, best actress or best screenwriter.
Here’s a sample of best-film miscues:
▪ Best picture for 1941: “How Green Was My Valley.” Do you even recognize the title? Is it among your favorite old movies? No, I didn’t think so. These classics were passed by: “The Maltese Falcon,” “Sergeant York,” “Suspicion” — and “Citizen Kane,” which film historians have frequently proclaimed the greatest motion picture ever made.
▪ In 1948, Laurence Olivier’s unwatchable “Hamlet” got the nod. Didn’t win: “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” Makes me wonder if the voters were smoking something stronger than their unfiltered Lucky Strikes.
▪ In 1952, “The Greatest Show on Earth” won. Lost: “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man.”
▪ In 1962, “Lawrence of Arabia” — which I’ve never been able to sit all the way through, despite multiple attempts — took the statue. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be a watershed cinematic achievement. But pretention isn’t genius. Lost: “The Longest Day” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
▪ “Rocky” won in 1976. I loved the first installment of the Sylvester Stallone’s boxing franchise. Still, look what it was up against: “All the President’s Men,” “Network” and “Taxi Driver.” Any justice there?
▪ The next year, “Annie Hall” beat “Star Wars.” Oops.
▪ In 1979, “Kramer vs. Kramer” won. “Apocalypse Now” didn’t.
▪ A year after that, “Ordinary People” was named best picture. “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Elephant Man” and “Raging Bull” — the finest sports movie ever — lost.
▪ In 1990, “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas.” Sheesh.
I could go on. Right up to our present decade.
On the other hand, there have been numerous times when the academy got it right.
“From Here to Eternity” (1953), “On the Waterfront” (1954) and “Marty” (1955), for instance, marked a three-year run when the voters were spot on—although “Shane” (1953) would have been as defensible a choice as “From Here to Eternity.”
There have been other years when there were so many stellar movies only the Lord knows how voters chose just one.
In 1940, “Rebecca,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, won. “Foreign Correspondent” (another Hitchcock entry), “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Great Dictator” and “The Philadelphia Story” were among the nominees. What a boon year for moviegoers. The academy could have given five best-picture Oscars.
1950 also comes to mind: “Born Yesterday,” “Father of the Bride” and “Sunset Boulevard” were contenders. “All About Eve” received the award. No losers there.
And there have been years when all the nominated films stank. I guess the academy had to simply hold its collective nose and present an Oscar to the corpse that reeked least.
This is what makes the interminable Academy Awards telecasts worth enduring, though.
From year to year, as the winners of the major categories are announced — best picture, best director, the acting prizes, best adapted and original screenplays — I alternately hiss, cheer or stare at the television in disbelief.
You never know what’s going to happen.