The Academy gets it wrong

By Web Master


Guest Columnist

1976 was a landmark year for cinema, producing some of the greatest films ever made by a few of the most acclaimed directors of the time. This single year gave the cinematheques of the world films by such auteurs as Bernardo Bertolucci, Sidney Lumet, Alan J. Pakula and Martin Scorsese, responsible for films that are still lauded today as quintessential examples of the medium.

Bertolucci’s “1900” was a sociological look at sex and survival in the early 20th century. Lumet’s “Network” examined America’s increasingly isolated and apathetic way of life. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men” portrays the events leading up to the Watergate scandal and Scorsese’s character study “Taxi Driver” followed a misguided anti-hero through the most vicious streets of New York City.

They were all powerful, political films with strong messages, often beautiful cinematography and understated emotional resonance. They were films that set standards still upheld today by serious film makers and still greatly appreciated by serious film fans.

But the best picture of the 1976 as decided by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences: “Rocky,” Sylvester Stallone’s underdog sports story filled with training montages set to “Gonna Fly Now.”

Granted, “Rocky” was an extremely popular film that resonated with the general public, but it hasn’t exactly aged well and it’s rarely revered in quite the same way other works are.

In fewer words: the Academy got it wrong, and it’s far from the only time.

Consider “Gone With the Wind” beating out the beloved “Wizard of Oz” in 1939.

Or “How Green Was My Valley” taking the award over oft-considered “greatest film of all time,” “Citizen Cane” in 1941.

The musical “My Fair Lady” won in 1964 over Stanely Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” and the melodrama “Kramer vs. Kramer” took Best Picture honors in 1979 over Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

Perhaps the most important director of the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino, was overlooked twice at the Academy Awards. In 1994 his masterpiece, “Pulp Fiction,” lost to “Forrest Gump” of all things, and in 1997, “Jackie Brown” was passed on in favor of “Titanic.”

“Jackie Brown” may not have been the most important or even one of the best works of Tarantino, but the fact that “Titanic” won at all is pretty embarrassing in and of itself.

And the less said of such recent crowd-pleasing but ultimately empty works like “American Beauty” and “Crash,” two Best Picture winners surely some at the Academy are already regretting, the better.

Which brings us to the present, only a few days away from the 2008 Academy Award ceremony. This past year was a similarly exceptional year for film, bringing work from the likes of Lumet (again), thriller veteran David Cronenberg, niche-hero Wes Anderson, the versatile Joel and Ethan Cohen and the always impressive Paul Thomas Anderson.

The Cohen Brother’s “No Country for Old Men” and Thomas Anderson’s “There Will be Blood” are both nominated for Best Picture this year, but, inexplicably, so is “Juno,”an inoffensive but entirely unremarkable comedy directed by Jason Reitman, a director classified as “Wes Anderson-lite” by film critic Tate Dersh. But why isn’t Wes Anderson himself mentioned?

So why do forgettable films so often win top honors from an organization that prides itself on its film expertise?

The Academy is frequently accused of bureaucratic tendencies and criticized for rewarding directors and actors retroactively, years after their best work and at  someone else’s expense.

But maybe these tastemakers (and make no mistake, the Oscars have a big influence on ticket, rental and DVD sales) simply don’t have very good taste.

Either way, even though the Oscars really shouldn’t be important, they are. The Academy is an institution that affects the entire industry, so film fans can only hope for the best come Feb. 24, when the 80th annual Academy Awards will likely result in plenty more questionable decrees.