Academy often misses Hollywood's greatest films, actors
By Leonard Maltin
(Reuters) - People may think that in the director category, Ben Affleck got robbed by the Academy this year, but consider this: Alfred Hitchcock never won a competitive Oscar. Actor Peter O'Toole was nominated eight times but never took home the award. If that doesn't prove the Academy doesn't vote with posterity in mind, I don't know what could.
Members play the cards they are dealt, year by year, which leads to some questionable decisions when hindsight enters the picture. "Citizen Kane" may be widely regarded as the greatest film of all time, but that's not what the Academy thought in 1941. That year the Best Picture award went to John Ford's "How Green Was My Valley." The film that supplanted "Kane" in this year's Sight & Sound survey of international critics, Hitchcock's "Vertigo," wasn't even nominated in 1958; "Gigi" earned the top prize that year.
It's less likely that this year's crop of nominees will include such glaring oversights; there were barely any award-worthy films released until the end of 2012. Yet there is already at least one anomaly: Several critics' groups honored "Holy Motors," the bold, dreamlike French feature by Leos Carax, which didn't make Oscar's final cut. ("The Intouchables" was chosen to represent France in the Foreign Language Film category.)
One can debate the victories and losses year by year, and often they are simply a matter of opinion. I was not a particular fan of "A Beautiful Mind" or "Chicago," which earned trophies at the beginning of the last decade, and I've met many people who don't care for "Crash," the Best Picture winner of 2005. That was the year that most pundits predicted a win for "Brokeback Mountain," and in a rare instance of candor (and questionable sportsmanship), author Annie Proulx accused the Academy of not having the guts to honor a film about gay cowboys — even though the film did earn three major awards.
"We should have known conservative heffalump Academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture," she wrote in the Guardian. "Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good."
Neither we nor Ms. Proulx will ever know how close "Brokeback" came to winning the brass ring because the Academy never reveals details of its voting process. That year there were five Best Picture nominees, which means that any one of them could have won with just 21 percent of the tallies. Mere dozens of ballots among the then-6,000 counted could have changed the course of Oscar history. This year there are nine films in contention, so it's even more difficult to claim a consensus.
Looking back, one always has to weigh the possibilities and probabilities of any given year. It's easy to say, "How could they have ignored O'Toole's incredible performance in 'Lawrence of Arabia'?" until one checks the competition and sees that the Best Actor award went to Gregory Peck for his signature role as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," a film as beloved today as "Lawrence" after more than half a century.
Then there is the cumulative effect of having been nominated over and over again. No one's experience with Oscar offered more ironies than Paul Newman. Having been nominated seven times without a win (from 1958's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to 1982's "The Verdict"), the Academy decided to present him an honorary award in 1986. When he was nominated the following year for "The Color of Money," he finally took home his first competitive Oscar. Yet I doubt anyone would single out his work in that film as his finest hour. (He lost twice again, for "Nobody's Fool" and "Road to Perdition.") Continued...