The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Part 1: Five WTF? Academy Award Best Picture Winners (more rejected writing!)

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I’ve written in these pages before about being rejected by Cracked.com.  I can’t quite seem to adapt to their ironic voice, or craft a list they seem worthy of publication.  No worries, though.  The practice of trying to do all that has been worth the effort and somehow made me a better writer, so I don’t mind so much.  Around about this time last year, I was working on another article for them.  Whereas they responded to the first article I pitched, they never even got back to me about this one.  No winks.  No raised eyebrows.  Not even a “thanks, but no thanks.”  Like I said, though:  No Worries.  I happen to have a blog, and sometimes I like to post rejected writing on it just for funsies.  So here’s another rejected piece.  I’ll continue it tomorrow.  ~  Jeff

5 WTF? Academy Award Best Picture Winners

Way back about 85 years ago, Louis B. Mayer, president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, wanted to create an organization that would manage labor issues for the movie industry and give the whole institution a good name, because the straight-dealing, moral, righteous people who had made movies for just a few decades had somehow gotten a bad name.  Mayer gathered his peeps, one of whom was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.   Fairbanks became president of what was at first called the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, before everybody said “Fuck other countries!” and dropped the “International” from the name.  Dougy immediately set to creating a series of “awards of merit for distinct achievement” in filmmaking.  We’ve come to know these awards as the Oscars, and it’s widely accepted that winning one is one of the highest honors in all of filmmaking.  It all sounds great until you consider the Academy has honored a number of films as Best Picture winners that had a bit too much “stink” for a “distinct achievement,” and that would have been better categorized as “also rans.”  It’s not uncommon to find these boners in the world of the Oscars.  You can start by flashing back to…

1.  Oliver!

And the winner in 1968 was… a musical take on the classic Charles Dickens story Oliver Twist, about a street orphan in 1830 England who must suffer a hard-scrabble existence.  It wasn’t too big a surprise that a musical was selected as Best Picture—up to that point, there was a rich history of musicals winning the award, dating pretty far back in Academy history.  Before Oliver!, both My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music won in back-to-back years (1964 and 1965, respectively).  Three years later, and Academy members either still had musical fever, or the Academy was being run by tidy, flamboyant, well-dressed men who think nothing of belting out show tunes as they walk down the street.  Thusly, Oliver! was declared the winner.  And who could blame the Academy?  After all, Oliver! was not only a big-time British musical with all the typical trappings of a big-time Hollywood musical, but it accomplished it all with a slew of mostly unknown actors.  The source material was one of the most acclaimed books by one of England’s most-acclaimed writers, and the score was chock full of unforgettable songs.  It was a lead pipe cinch.

So What’s the Problem?

Oh, nothing, really… unless you happen to be Stanley Kubrick, and you’ve co-written a screenplay with Arthur C. Clark, one of the greatest science fiction minds of all time, and it happens to be his story you’re adapting, and you capture your vision of the next millennium so vividly that most people associated with the art and craft of filmmaking who have seen the film over the last 44 years have remarked at how spectacular it is.  Or if you can even slightly appreciate a philosophical space epic that can be interpreted on about a thousand more levels than the story of a lice-infected street urchin begging for more porridge.  Yeah, that’s the problem—2001:  A Space Odyssey was virtually ignored by the AMPAS.  It wasn’t even a Best Picture nominee.  Never mind that it was the most epic space epic ever filmed, is considered by the American Film Institute as the greatest science fiction film ever made (not to mention currently being their 15th best film ever), used an untold amount of innovative filming techniques, and was the top world-wide box-office draw of the year.  Still not convinced?  Then take a look at the influence of the film—it helped shape the films of future Academy Award winning directors such as Danny Boyle and Ridley Scott.  It also boasts canonical influence, leaving its fingerprints on everything from Star Wars to Close Encounters to E.T. to Sunshine to Moon.  All this might explain why the National Film Preservation Board deemed 2001 to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and put it on the National Film Registry in 1991.  And if you’re feeling bad for Kubrick, well just go right ahead.  Despite being one of the greatest film directors ever, none of his films ever won Best Picture.  Right now, Kubrick is probably laying in his grave thinking “Suck it, Academy.”  He’s probably thinking “Suck it, Musicals,” too since his Cold War masterpiece Dr. Strangelove was beaten out by My Fair Lady in 1964.  At least that musical is considered an all-time Hollywood classic and not a forgettable musical that never appears on lists of great films or even on AFI’s list of the 25 greatest movie musicals.

2.  The Deer Hunter

Hollywood was feeling pretty glum about itself back in 1978.  Movie executives, directors, and producers were fully aware of our country staggering in the failure of the Vietnam War.  It had been over for several years, but it would not soon be forgotten.  So how was the Academy going to give attention to this socio-political issue?  There weren’t a whole lot of Vietnam-themed movies coming out, and those that were proved to be of middling quality.  The Academy couldn’t exactly ignore the Vietnam issue, either, because the Academy loves to address socio-political issues.  Not to worry, though.  Some geniuses soon thought, “Hey, there’s an epic war film out about how Vietnam totally fucked up the lives of a group of steel-worker buddies in small-town Pennsylvania.  It has flamethrowers, helicopters, cripplings, grenades being thrown into bunkers full of women and children, suicide, Fredo from The Godfather again doing his mopey and whiny shtick, and plenty of political and social commentary about the war!  Plus everybody who watches it wants to pop anti-depressants about 30 seconds after it’s over!”  Other geniuses in the Academy replied with their all-too-typical “Harrumph!  Harrumph!” Not only did the film shed light on an important socio-political issue troubling the country, but it was also an epic—and Hollywood loves epics!  Before you knew it, The Deer Hunter was dragging home a boatload of Oscars.  Besides Best Picture, Christopher Walken won Best Supporting Actor for a harrowing portrayal of a soldier who cracked under the stresses of combat, the film racked up a few technical awards, and Michael Cimino was named Best Director.  AFI has since placed The Deer Hunter at #53 on its all-time greatest films list, and the film made the National Film Registry in 1996.

So What’s the Problem?

To answer that question, all the nominees, directors, producers, and paparazzi had to do was look out the front door of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to see people protesting the film during the Academy Awards.  According to the Los Angeles Times, police arrested 13 people.  They were a might pissed off about Cimino’s film being “racist” and a fantasy realization of the Vietnam War.  And they weren’t wrong.  The film’s signature scene depicted Vietnamese soldiers forcing POWs to play Russian Roulette.  Too bad there is no record of that happening during ‘Nam.  Not to mention that the continued use of Russian Roulette throughout the remainder of the film is impractical to character motivations and makes all the Vietnamese look like savages.  This is in addition to wide-spread thoughts that The Deer Hunter doesn’t represent consistent, high-quality film making.  It’s bloated for one, coming in at a hair over three hours.  Plus, the style is inconsistent.  Some have compared Cimino’s style to Robert Altman’s through the first part of the film, but Cimino himself has claimed that parts of the film are supposed to be surrealistic.  He has even implied on a DVD commentary track that the inaccuracies were forgivable because he was making a representation of Vietnam and not actually going for the truth.  So what’s the Academy to do?  How about looking at Coming Home, another Vietnam film that dealt with the tragedy of soldiers coming home to feelings of alienation and disillusionment, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, the government denying responsibility for things such as Agent Orange, veterans themselves protesting the war, and a country full of people who were spitting on them.  The performances were good enough to win Jon Voight and Jane Fonda Best Actor and Best Actress awards, and Bruce Dern a supporting nomination, so why not steer towards something more realistic to the socio-political issues of the times by also recognizing it as Best Picture?  It wouldn’t be the first time the Academy recognized a film that depicted the horrible after-effects of war—they recognized The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946.  However, if Coming Home didn’t fit the bill and they still wanted to recognize the impact of Vietnam on our national conscious, they only had to wait a year.  But instead, they recognized…

continued tomorrow…

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Written by seeker70

February 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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