The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Part 2: Five WTF? Academy Award Best Picture Winners (more rejected writing!)

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…continued from yesterday…

3.  Kramer vs. Kramer

You’re aware that divorce is a serious problem in this country, right?  You realize that every marriage in the last 40 years, except for about a half dozen, has ended in divorce, right?  And you realize that the process of divorce routinely ravages children beyond repair, robbing them of all sense of love they feel and rending them into psychopathic sociopaths who have the good fortune to get twice the number of Christmas presents each year, right?  Of course you know that, because divorce had become so prevalent by the late 70s (and still is) that it is a mundane fact of life in families nationwide.  But none of that stopped the Academy from gushing over this film.  The basics are that Dustin Hoffman is caught in a divorce battle with Meryl Streep, who has left him and their son in order to “find herself.”  The film was perfectly timed to illustrate the changing perspectives on family and the role of women in society, making it spot-on relevant to a lot of social issues of the day.  Furthermore, the courtroom scenes rank among the best ever–the film rests at #3 on AFI’s list of best courtroom dramas.  Furtherfurthermore, Hoffman and Streep were kicking some serious ass with their acting.  Both took home trophies for their starring roles.  If that isn’t enough, the screenwriting was lauded for portraying of both sides of the story with equal effectiveness.  Well done, Academy.  You finally got it right, right?

So What’s the Problem?

Unfortunately, Vietnam is still the problem.  The competition in 1979 included a little Vietnam epic that you may have heard of:  Apocalypse Now.  And when we say “little Vietnam epic,” we mean what is probably the greatest film made about Vietnam, filmed by the man who practically owned the Academy Awards in the 1970s courtesy of his Godfather films, Francis Ford Coppola.  We mean a film that features some of the most tripped-out performances ever to come out of some of the best Hollywood talent around, including Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, and Robert Duvall.  We mean a film that featured a twisted helicopter attack on a peaceful village that was so intricate and so epic that it took a full three months to edit (the film was nominated for its editing, and it did win for its cinematography).  We mean a film that was post-modern before it was cool to be post-modern (which is actually a defining characteristic of post-modernism).  We mean a film that took excellent source material, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and not only kept it as a huge influence, but transcended it, thereby elevating the status of both the book and the film in their respective mediums.  We mean a film that had a shoot so fraught with disaster that behind-the-scenes footage was crafted into a respectable documentary of its own.  We mean a film that captured the Vietnam experience—all its insanity, savagery, and futility—better than anything that came before it, including The Deer Hunter, and most everything that has come since, especially including Operation:  Dumbo Drop.  But since the Academy bungled their handling of celluloid renditions of the Vietnam War and its aftermath about as badly as the U.S. government bungled the actual Vietnam War and its aftermath, maybe they decided it was best to focus on safer dramas that dealt with white upper-class angst and family discord.  That might explain why they favored Kramer vs. Kramer, and why three years later, they went with…

4.  Ordinary People

After phenomenal success as an actor in the late 60s and early 70s, Robert Redford decided it was time to put his face behind the camera before it became complete rawhide and was too painful to look at on a movie screen.  He found Judith Guest’s novel Ordinary People, and it proved to be the perfect vehicle.  It was a simple story to deal with, which allowed Redford to draw incredibly powerful and complex performances out of his actors.  One of those performances was delivered by Donald Sutherland as the head of the Jarrett family.  The lack of a Best Actor nomination for his work is still considered one of the all-time greatest snubs in Academy Awards history.  Elsewhere, Mary Tyler Moore was nominated for Best Actress as the unfaithful queen bitch Beth Jarrett, only to be outdone by Timothy Hutton, who won Best Supporting Actor for playing her emotionally damaged son Conrad.  And what kind of heartless bastard wouldn’t be emotionally damaged after seeing his brother die right in front of him in a boating accident, especially if it was his older, stronger, handsomer (and presumably more well-hung) All-American brother who epitomized everything that as right with the affluent north shore suburbs of Chicago?  That’s the premise of the story, which picks up shortly after Conrad’s time in the nut house.  The family falls apart, and never quite gets its shit together again.   It’s a heart-rending portrayal of dark side of domestic life in the contemporary United States, ripe with commentary about the shallowness of suburban bliss and the importance of sustaining facades of success and happiness in a materialistic world.  It was a quiet, expertly-crafted film that was widely received as one of the elite films of 1980.

So What’s the Problem?

Sylvester Stallone is a good starting point.  A mere four years earlier, Stallone’s underdog boxing saga Rocky took home some serious Academy hardware, including Best Picture.  It was the first sports-themed movies to rank so high in the minds of the Academy.  So what’s an Academy supposed to do when another sports-themed film comes along a so soon afterwards, and it too is about boxing?  Is an Academy supposed to recognize it, too, and run the risk of saying, “Hey, we’re all about the jock straps here in Hollywood!”?  Well, apparently, what an Academy is supposed to do in this situation is to tip its hat to Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull by nominating it for Best Picture, but otherwise ignore it.  What’s the harm, right?  Sheesh…  they just said Rocky was the shit…  now they have to say another boxing film is, too?  Well, hindsight is purportedly 20/20, and we’ll guess that if the Academy had it to do all over again, they’d perhaps give the Best Picture Oscar to another film in 1976, and then unload all their hardware on Scorsese’s biopic masterpiece in 1980.  That would save them decades of embarrassment from not recognizing what has gone on to be considered one of the 4 greatest films ever made (American Film Institute), was placed on the National Film Registry a mere 10 years after it was released (which is the absolute fastest a film can make the registry), and is widely recognized as the greatest film of the 1980s.  But maybe film critics, respected film directors, film-goers, and most everybody else having anything to do with film thinks Scorsese is way better than he really is.  Maybe the Academy knows some things about Scorsese’s films that make them totally suck.  Or maybe they have a vendetta against the man.  That might explain why, ten years later, they went with…

5.  Dances With Wolves

Remember back in the late 70s, when Hollywood thought it was alright to recognize films that portrayed certain non-white populations as little more than savages (read:  The Deer Hunter)?  Well, it took a few years, a few more socio-political trends, and a man with a huge conscience and enough financial backing to finally say, “Enough of this bullshit!”  As such, Kevin Costner wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a film that finally portrayed a marginalized population with dignity and beauty.  It happened to be an epic western, and Hollywood loves epics, and has a hard-on for well-made Westerns (8 had been nominated for Best Picture up until 1990).  In this one, Costner’s character John Dunbar emerges from the horror of the Civil War, and lights out to the savage frontier.  He encounters Indians, and eventually realizes that they’re livin’ large.  They are relatively peaceful, beautiful people who live in perfect symbiosis with the land.  He becomes one of them, bangs their prettiest squaw, and leads the rest of the tribe through tough times—most of which have to do with the white man trying to kill them or otherwise fuck with their land.  Costner used a cadre of Indian actors, and even had the balls to use the Lakota language throughout the film, figuring we should all have us some subtitles with our popcorn.  Costner was lauded for portraying Native Americans in a sensitive, thoughtful, sympathetic manner that had never really been done before.  Costner won Best Director, and his film won Best Picture.  All in all, it wasn’t a bad night for a first-time director.

So What’s the Problem?

Remember that part about the novelty behind portraying Native Americans as sensitive, thoughtful, and sympathetic?  Bullshit.  It had been done before.  Dorothy M. Johnson called it “A Man Called Horse” when she wrote it in 1968, and Eliot Silverstein kept the name when he put the story to film in 1970.  The idea of a soldier immersing himself in a foreign culture, going native, and leading the population into battle against tyrannical invaders wasn’t even new.  Ever heard of T.E. Lawrence?  David Lean sure had, which inspired him to make Lawrence of Arabia (Best Picture winner of 1962, AFI’s #7 greatest film ever, and their #1 greatest epic).  Some people referred to Dances with Wolves as Lawrence of the Plains because of the similarities between the two stories.  Others have remarked that Dances With Wolves is a decent film (and we agree), but that it won mostly because it was sooooo politically correct, and political correctness was a social topic du jour at that time (and is still a considerable social movement).  It marked an early major victory of the Politically Correct movement in film awards.  Costner had the good fortune to make the right film at the right time, much the way Michael Cimino had done with The Deer Hunter.  What else is wrong is that there was another Martin Scorsese film out in 1990, a Mafia epic called Good Fellas.  But wait, hadn’t the Academy already done their due diligence in recognizing Mafia epics way back when they were tripping all over themselves to shove every Oscar possible into the hands of the production team behind The Godfather films (deservedly so, we might add)?  It shouldn’t matter.  Scorsese had a genuinely excellent film on his hands, one that has gone on to be named the 92nd best all-time by the American Film Institute, and #2 on their list of greatest gangster films (behind The Godfather).  Not only that, but it dominated critic circles all over the country in 1990, falling at #1 for the year in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.  It seems that the only people who didn’t like it enough were those voting in the Academy.  Given all this, and the previous hose job the Academy delivered to Scorsese in 1980, Marty was probably calling Stanley Kubrick long distance to discuss ways they could tell the Academy to eat a dick.


Written by seeker70

February 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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