Despite having had parents who spent their Saturdays seeing double-features at the velvet curtained theaters of their youth, I did not go to movies much as a child. During World War II it was at the cinema where news reels provided information about world events, coupled with cartoons, movies with large musical numbers and intermissions which allowed time to purchase more refreshments. The first movie I saw in a theater was Bambi. Despite the fact it was released in 1942, I did not see (part of) it until about 1965. On a rainy weekend at the cabin my parents took my brothers and I to Frederic Wisconsin. I recall the darkness, the texture of the red seats which I wanted to push up and then put back down and I recall how exciting it was when my father took me by the hand and walked me up the slanted aisle where I mistakenly assumed I would be getting more popcorn. I did not see another movie in a theater until 1968 when our family went to see Yours Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball. My attention span had grown and I remained seated throughout the show.
I enjoy watching the Academy Awards each year but my early movie viewing in theaters has tended to foreshadow my movie preferences. It seems that Oscar does not always correspond with my favorites or even those that I have seen. Bambi was nominated for three Academy Awards, all for music and sound. I can be agreeable, the sound award went to Yankee Doodle Dandy that year, a Sunday afternoon favorite of mine and the Best Song went to White Christmas from the movie Holiday Inn. Though Lucille Ball did take home a Golden Globe for Yours Mine and Ours she was never nominated for an Academy Award and most often was recognized during her career with Emmy’s.
By the time I was old enough to go to the movies with my friends we attended mostly comedy films, horror movies or movies in the 1970’s with John Travolta; Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Urban Cowboy. Entertaining but not necessarily award winners.
During college I did not see many movies at all and by the time I was married we rented our movies at a video store and watched them at home. Once kids came along there was a period of time we saw no movies at all and then there was an era where we saw only animated movies, repeatedly, in a way that made me appreciate that The Wizard of Oz was something that I had to wait a full year between viewings of while I was growing up.
With my kids grown, I have rediscovered the joy of watching movies in a theater and as a result, this is my second year of seeing several of the Academy Award nominees prior to the award show. I have particularly enjoyed that both the films of 2013 and 2014 provided several features based on real people and real events. When attending a morning viewing a few weeks back I had noticed several school buses and was met with a concession area filled with middle-schoolers. Scanning the movies I nodded knowingly to the ticket-person “Selma?” referring to the students and was disappointed when he shook his head and answered “Paddington Bear“. I was hoping for at least a movie based on a book they had perhaps read in class or the more obvious educational choice of a well done production of an important historical event. Don’t get me wrong, I love Paddington Bear but am missing the educational value that warrants taking time away from school to see a movie based on it.
In a quick perusal of the Oscars history I learned that originally the big award was for “Outstanding Picture” for a few years before it was changed to “Outstanding Production”, followed by the title “Outstanding Motion Picture” and later yet “Best Motion Picture”, finally in 1962 the current term “Best Picture” was settled upon. The first year there were only three nominees in that category. 1939 was an amazing year with Gone with the Wind taking the major award against The Wizard of Oz. The next movie to attract as many ticket sales as Gone with the Wind was The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946. A movie portraying the struggles of returning veterans that features an amazing performance by a double-amputee who won multiple awards for his performance. If this is a movie you have not seen, I would recommend it for the historical significance alone.
Another year that I find significant is 1967. In the Heat of the Night took home Best Picture that year against what I consider to be the most stellar list of nominees in my lifetime to date; Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Whose Coming to Dinner and Doctor Doolittle were all nominated.
There was an era in the nineteen-seventies that I find almost difficult to take seriously when during three consecutive years we have as nominees; The Exorcist, Towering Inferno and Jaws. A scarey era to go to the movies, the beach or tall buildings.
I am not always a fan of the nominations and frequently have either not seen the winner or am disappointed when I do. The winner in 1980 was Ordinary People which I found incredibly boring and was more enthusiastic about Elephant Man. In 1994 I think there was no choice but to give it to Schindler’s List which despite being incredibly painful to watch was so well done. This coincided with what my husband and I still refer to over twenty years later as the worst ever nomination of our marriage. “And the loser is…” The Piano. Clearly we are not part of The Academy because it took home Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress which we might have given to the coat in Schindler’s List which evoked more emotion from us. We have this theory that when members of the Academy don’t understand a movie they vote for it, so as not to appear lacking in their knowledge of the film arts. We confirmed that a few short years later when The English Patient took the Best Picture. It is perhaps the most detested winner of our marriage and thinking of it reminds me of eating Pecan Sandies as a child without a beverage. A lot of blowing sand and awkwardness is all I recall nearly twenty years later.
Last year my great disappointment was that Gatsby did not get more attention. It was a beautiful movie and visually a better match to my imagination when I read the book in high school than previous cinematic efforts. Thankfully it won for costuming which brings me to the annual debate with my husband each year when he proclaims “they didn’t design that” and then acknowledges the era the film was set in. In his mind only a fantasy or futuristic film should be able to win but I disagree and think that a film requires the vision of the costume designer even when it is set in a distinct era, including the present. Since I typically see more of the movies than my husband, it is one of our few areas of conflict. He gives his predictions based on political message and commentary he has heard and finds it somewhat amusing when I yell at the TV set in the same way that I do watching pro football when I think the refs have made a bad call.
Two recent areas of agreement though are that Leo should have won last year for Wolf of Wall Street and that The Lego Movie got robbed this year. Granted, there are special rules for how animated nominations are conducted. Unlike actors nominating fellow actors and editors nominating editors, the animated characters do not nominate each other. The Wolf of Wall Street scene at the country club where the Quaaludes kicked in was Oscar worthy on its own. The Lego characters held their own in a well written and totally fresh film that a family of four adults thoroughly enjoyed, which can not be said about all animated films.
As we head into the homestretch as the Academy Awards approach in two weeks I have seen half of the Best Picture nominees, four out of five films with the Best Actor nominees and three out of five of the best Actress nominee motion pictures. I know there has been some controversy regarding the lack of diversity in the nominees but in a year where a film like Selma is in the Best Picture category I would think that Dr. King himself would want nominees selected by the content of their performance and not the color of their skin. I think sometimes it is hard for people to separate their strong beliefs in a person or an ideal from the art of acting and cinematography. I don’t believe Ben-Hur beat The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959 because it had a more compelling story. People have portrayed presidents, kings, queens and Jesus Christ without getting an Oscar nod. Gandhi however, different story, swept in ’83!
Despite being based on true stories, the pulse of this year’s nominees is different than 2014 when American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club and Wolf of Wall Street were big and loud films with outrageous behavior. Most this year have the more personal feel that Philomena had or the more delicate tapestry of a story that was offered by last year’s August Osage County for which Julia Roberts received a supporting actress nomination and where I was first intrigued by the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on the movies I’ve seen this year, if anyone is missing from the nominations I think it might be Amy Adams for Big Eyes (yet another based on a true story film).
I’m making no predictions on who will win in two weeks and the results will have little impact on my preferences. Some years the competition is thicker than others. A decade ago I saw none of the nominated films, prior to the awards or after;
My favorite movie that year was Miracle, the only award it won was an EPSY. I love the Academy Awards but some years Oscar and I just agree to disagree.