Oscar 2010: Noble, Heroic, Well-Made Film Vs. the Brilliant, Relevant, Ambiguous

There was no suprise, when the well-made, easy to watch “The King’s Speech” won over the brilliant, provocative and ambiguous “The Social Network,” (the best picture of the year, acccording to the vast majority of critics.

As an Observer of trends of the Oscar Awards for three decades (first for my book, “All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Acadeemy awards,” published in 1986 and still in print in revised editions),  I had predicted the “King’s Speech” win months before the Oscar voters actually filled in their ballots.

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If you ant to know more about the Oscars, please read my book:

I was not the only one; most Oscar gurus across the country did well in their prediction of Best Picture.  How did we know, you may ask? Well, this year’s Best Picture choice just followed well-established trends of yeteryear.

With its more conservative membership, which is about a generation older than Hollywood’s movers and shakers, and two generations older than most American moviegoers, the Academy of Motion picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has always favored earnest, noble, and inspirational fare that propagated political correctness even before the concept existed.

 

The Message’s the Thing: All Quiet on the Western Front

There’s talk that the motion picture we honor tonight may win a Nobel Prize”—Louis B. Mayer about All Quiet on the Western Front

Historical and socio-political factors have always influenced the types of films and performances winning the Oscars.  In other words, the social context, zeitgeist, and message are far more influential than the artistic quality in determining the ultimate Best Picture winners.

From the first year, ideological considerations were taken into account.Carl Laemmle, head of Universal spent over one million dollars to film Erich Maria Remarque’s antiwar novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.  A group of German schoolboys who enlist in the army at the outbreak of WWI and become disillusioned as they face the reality of combat.  The American Legion and other organizations were concerned about the sympathetic portrayal of Germans, but the movie became both a critical and commercial success.

It was a prestige production:Lewis Milestone directed and  Broadway’s noted playwrights, Maxwell Anderson and George Abbott, wrote the screenplay.  All Quiet on the Western Front was nominated for four awards and won Best Picture.  When Louis B. Mayer handed the Best Picture to All Quiet, he solemnly said: “There’s talk that the motion picture we honor tonight may win a Nobel Prize.”

Indeed, the League of Nations could make no better or nobler ambassador for peace than All Quiet or Warners’ pictures of the eras.  Prime among them was Disraeli, for which George Arliss, billed as “the first gentleman of the talking screen,” and promoted by the studio as an important history lesson.  Same could be said for the 1937 Oscar winner, The Story of Emile Zola, which, as noted also evidenced   morality, respectability, and good taste, all the requirements–and qualities–that Will Hays, head of the industry’s self-censorship board, talked about in his lecture at the 1929 ceremonies.

 

The tendency to choose earnest movies that deal with “important” or “noble” issues over audacious movies that are more artistically innovative or politically charged is easily documented.  The Academy’s preference is always for safe, mainstream, non-controversial film fare that’s imbued with widely acceptable message:

Noble Theme Over Artistic Quality

In 1937, Life of Emil Zola over The Awful Truth or Lost Horizon

In 1941, How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane

In 1942, Mrs. Miniver over The Magnificent Ambersons

In 1944, Going My Way over Double Indemnity

In 1951, An American in Paris over A Place in the Sun

In 1952, The Greatest Show on Earth over High Noon

In 1956, Around the World in 80 Days over Giant

In 1964, My Fair Lady over Dr. Strangelove

In 1966, A Man for All Seasons over Alfie or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In 1967, In the Heat of the Night over Bonnie and Clyde

In 1971, French Connection over A Clockwork Orange

In 1976, Rocky over Network and All the President’s Men

In 1980, Ordinary People over Raging Bull

In 1981, Chariots of Fire over Reds

In 1982, Gandhi over Tootsie and E.T.

In 1983, Terms of Endearment over The Right Stuff

In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy over My Left Foot

In 1990, Dances With Wolves over GoodFellas

In 1994, Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction

In 1997, Titanic over L.A. Confidential

In 1998, Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan

In 1999, American Beauty over The Insider

In 2000, Gladiator over Traffic

In 2001, A Beautiful Mind over The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring

In 2005, Crash over Brokeback Mountain

In 2010, King’s Speech Over Social Network

In 2018, Green Book over Roma

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