Now that a certain amount of time has elapsed, I am prepared to look back on the Academy Awards calmly and rationally. At the time they took place, I was simply too giddy. You see, once again my wife and I had made our annual 25-cent wager covering the 24 categories and, thanks to my having guessed that the perfectly awful “No Country for Old Men” would be chosen Best Picture and the geeky Coen brothers would cop the Oscar for Best Direction, I managed to eke out a last-second victory.
For openers, I thought Jon Stewart did a good job of hosting the show, although I still think it’s a dumb idea to insist that a comedian be at the mike. That’s especially true of a comedian who, aside from possibly watching them, has nothing to do with the movies. I understand that the sponsors and the network hope to attract younger viewers, but the kids are far more interested in watching the Emmys, the Grammys and the People’s Choice awards. Most normal teenagers would rather be doing homework than having to spend an entire evening watching the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Tilda Swinton and Javier Bardem, collect statuary.
I mean, unless they also have bets down with my wife, what do they care whether a bunch of foreigners they never heard of win awards for performances they have no intention of ever seeing?
The main reason that the Academy feels they require a comedian is simply because Bob Hope was the host for so many years. If it had been Bing Crosby, I guess Harry Connick or Barry Manilow would have landed the gig by now. It would actually make more sense if they broke with tradition entirely and just hired a person with some natural wit and charm, and maybe even a couple of Oscars on their own mantel. Michael Caine, Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, all come to mind. And if it weren’t for the requisite wit, charm and Oscars, I’d volunteer to handle the job.
Many years ago, soon after George C. Scott had been nominated for “Patton,” a magazine sent me to Spain, where Scott was shooting a turkey called “The Last Run,” to interview him. He had garnered a lot of attention because he announced that if he won the Oscar, he’d refuse to accept it. He said it was unseemly for actors to compete for awards.
When we got together in a hotel bar on the Costa Brava, I broke the ice by telling him that his statement was a lot of hooey. For one thing, he’d already been nominated twice before and had never objected. I suggested that because he had lost both times, he was now simply covering his bases. If he lost again, he could always claim it was because he said he wouldn’t accept the Oscar. And if he won, as I and everybody else assumed he would, it would merely show that even after renouncing the competition, they had no recourse but to give him the trophy because he was just so wonderful.
Furthermore, he didn’t seem to have any problem accepting Tony awards or even showing up in New York to hand them out. The only difference, so far as I could see, is that whereas millions of people around the world knew who won or lost in the Oscar Derby, only about 83 gay people in Manhattan knew or cared about the Tonys.
And, finally, I pointed out that actors don’t really win Oscars, roles do. That’s why the same 10 or 20 actors aren’t competing year after year. That’s why so often a person who wins an Academy Award -- even people as talented as Yul Brynner, Simone Signoret, Ernest Borgnine, Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Martin Balsam, Donna Reed, Gloria Grahame, Dorothy Malone, David Niven, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Cagney -- not only never win another Oscar, they never again even get nominated.
In parting, I assured Scott he wouldn’t have to worry about getting nominated for “The Last Run.” He wasn’t. In fact, he never was again.
You also have to take into consideration that the Academy voters place such a premium on drama that Katherine Hepburn, in spite of winning four Oscars, never won one for a comedy role. Cary Grant was nominated twice, but both times it was for a drama. Fred Astaire was nominated just once, and that wasn’t for a musical comedy, but for a turkey called “Towering Inferno.” Steve Martin, for God’s sake, has never even been nominated and never will be, unless, in his dotage, he does “King Lear.”
But to get back to this year’s ceremony, I was reminded once again that they should have retired the Best Song category years ago. There was a time when great songs were commonplace in the movies, but in the words of one of the best, that was long ago and far away. On those rare occasions when a decent song comes along, it should be acknowledged with a special award. But it’s just silly to go on pretending that there are five decent songs to choose from in any given year.
To be fair, this year’s winner, “Falling Slowly” wasn’t as terrible as a recent winner, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” but, then, neither is scarlet fever. The problem is that the team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, had three of their terrific songs from “Enchanted” in the running, and, as a result, “So Close,” “Happy Working Song,” and “That’s How You Know,” clearly canceled each other out. It was fairly predictable that it would happen. After all, in 1935, Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone, of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” were all competing for Best Actor, and, so, Victor McLaglen won for “The Informer.”
In 1954, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger, were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “On the Waterfront,” which was why Edmond O’Brien won for “The Barefoot Contessa.”
It was 65 years ago, when composer Harold Arlen had the bad fortune to have “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe,” “My Shining Hour” and “That Old Black Magic,” all competing for the Oscar, Harry Warren got to take home the gold for “You’ll Never Know.” And just last year, Henry Krieger suffered a similar fate when three of his songs for “Dream Girls” were nominated, thus allowing gay activist Melissa Etheridge to snag an Oscar for her contribution to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” the very forgettable “I Need to Wake Up.”
So, while it was to be expected that Menken and Schwartz would go home empty-handed, I thought it showed a remarkable lack of class for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, when accepting the Oscar for their rather pedestrian tune, “Falling Slowly,” not to have taken a moment at the mike to acknowledge that if Menken and Schwartz had written perhaps one less song, they, Hansard and Irglova, would very likely have ended up with two fewer Oscars.