Friday, February 13, 2009

When did you lose faith in the Oscars?

For me it was 1990.

That's the year Dances with Wolves beat out Goodfellas. Not only that, first-time Director Kevin Costner beat out Martin Scorsese, quite possibly the greatest director of all time in one of his greatest achievements of all time.

I look back on other upsets over the years and I can overlook them. Or at least I can learn to live with them.

But Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas? Somebody help me out here. I want one of Piper's thousands of readers to defend Dances with Wolves and tell me how it was superior to Goodfellas. I am standing by. Literally I am waiting for a reply.

And you know what, not one of you is going to stand up for that one. These movies are in different stratospheres. And the Oscars can never undo it. Unless they say they made a mistake. Now that would make for good drama.

What do you think? When did you lose faith?


Allen L. said...

I Loves me some Scorcese but I find that he is not very all inclusive. In fact, he's fairly difficult for some people. My wife, for example, could really take or leave his work and when I watch with her I can see why it doesn't work for her. I'm not saying that MS is gender friendly for one or the other, but his work suffers from a severe lack of emotionality on the feminine side and when he tries (Alice, New York, Age of Innocence) he fails more than succeeds.
Dances was more accessible to a wider range of people at the time. I totally understood that.
Has either film lasted the test of time? Sort of. Goodfellas more so because of the set pieces that appeal in a very Sopranos way. But it isn't a very resonant piece. At least not to me. It's more clever than it is inspiring.
Dances is more sweeping. More of an epic. If we take it as gospel that Costner directed this by himself (And I have first hand proof that that is the case) then it's an extroadinary first time out, wouldn't you say? It's also truly bold in many ways: Foreign language parts. 3 hour length. Yet it was a modest hit.
I'm not trying to defend DwW over Goodfellas, but Dances SEEMS like an Oscar pic in the same way that Titanic, Out of Africa, Last Emperor do.
19 years is a long time to be angry, though. I would be (and am) more upset over the loss of such great films like Apocalypse in 79 to Kramer vs Kramer.
Or how bout the fact that a comedy hasn't been deemed Oscar Worthy since Annie Hall?
Well, there. I replied. Have at me.

MovieMan0283 said...

Can't argue with Goodfellas as the correct winner that year.

But I find it ironic you chose 1990 as your year of disillusionment, since that was the very year I BEGAN following the Oscars (I was 7, so I couldn't have gone back much further than that). Even as a kid I knew they goofed a lot, plus I was in the habit of reading adult publications (no, not those kinds) and gleaning the disrespect Academy noms usually.

Still, I enjoyed it immensely every year, taping the shows and occasionally laughing with friends at the actors' reaction in slow-motion as they realized they weren't going to win (I'll never forget sweet old Gloria Stuart scowling with scorn at Kim Basinger's victory before catching herself and forcing a smile.)

But the past decade, as I've grown further and further away from contemporary cinema, I've found the Oscars less and less satisfying, even from a camp guilty pleasure point of view. The self-satisfaction is too noxious, the taste too banal. Perhaps it was always this way and I was just too young to notice. At any rate, I may - due to extenuating circumstances - miss the broadcast this year for the first time in 18 years and it's unfortunate that I really don't care.

brian said...

Allen L,

Well, you put it out there. I grant you that.

Dances was more accessible to a wider audience? That doesn't hold much water for me. I'm talking about which one was a better movie. But you are right, accessibility is probably why Dances got more votes.

As for Kramer vs. Kramer, I agree it's not in the league of Apocalypse Now but Kramer vs. Kramer is still a great movie.

I think it's a shame that comedies never win. I believe there should be a comedy category. Otherwise, voters will never pick a comedy because comedy isn't as "important" as drama.


Anonymous said...

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Jason Bellamy said...

I second the notion that "GoodFellas" has a limited audience. And let's remember from the jump: the Oscars are a marketing exercise to get people stirred up about Hollywood.

Correct or not, the Academy doesn't have a history of awarding films that drop f-bombs as often as the rest of us breathe. Meanwhile, it does have an established fondness of epics. So there you go.

As for Best Director: That was back in the age when Director and Picture always went to the same film, clearly with Picture influencing Director, and not the other way around. So I can understand the Costner-over-Scorsese frustration, but it's almost a moot point within this context. (Also: The Academy likes to award the new kids on the block and the old guard who are on their way out or have won before. By this point, Scorsese was established, so he wasn't new, and yet he hadn't won, so they couldn't award him again. I'm not saying this is right ... it's just Academy tradition.)

I will throw this out there though: I'm not crazy about "GoodFellas." I much prefer "Casino." Go ahead and shoot me, but I'm just not drawn to the former. Which isn't to say that "Dances" is a masterpiece.

But speaking of "Dances" ... That might be one of the more significant wins in the past 30 years. It's long and has subtitles -- two things that had become taboo in mainstream cinema during the "get-em-in, get-em-out" multiplex-minded 1980s. Think Americans are mostly uncultured about film today? They are. But "Dances" opened a hell of a lot of doors that eventually helped even better films find a wider audience. That's always a good thing.

As for the original question ...

I'll never get over 1994, when "Forrest Gump" won over (pick 'em): "Pulp Fiction," "Quiz Show" and "The Shawshank Redemption." Gag. But, again, the Oscars are what they are. They were never perfect. If we ever had "faith" in them, that's on us. The notion that Hollywood used to get it "right" all the time is an illusion.

OK. Done rambling. Thought-provoking post. Thanks!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

For me it was 1999 and 2000 awards seasons.

I got back into film seriously around that time and was so miffed that Russell Crowe lost for the The Insider to Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. It came very clear that of course people would want to connect more to a witty, snappy guy who quits his job vs a corporate whistle blower.

But, what sealed the deal for me was when Crowe won in 2000 for Gladiator. That is when I realized the awards didn't necessarily reflect that nomination or even that years work.

Christian Toto said...

It's been a slow trickle of losing faith. "Crash" winning for Best Picture. Benigni for Best Actor.

"An Inconvenient Truth" winning for Best Doc ... over a great doc like "Deliver Us From Evil."

Had "Once" not won for Best Song last year, I would have thrown in the towel.

Inquiring Camera Girl said...

When Leonardo Di Caprio was passed over this year for his performance in "Revolutionary Road."

What's even the point of the Oscars anymore?

Ray said...

More often than not, the Oscar winners have come from strong-arm tactics, political correctness, and popularity contests rather than the best achievements in each category.

Your pick of DANCES WITH WOLVES is a good example; it's a fine enough film, but it's not better than GOODFELLAS. But the people in the Academy, swayed by Costner's golden ascension and the political correctness of the story, chose it rather than Scorcese's masterpiece.

Frankly, Scorcese shouldn't have won several years later for THE DEPARTED, and that film shouldn't have won Best Picture, either. Again, the Academy was swayed by emotion rather than the best choices.

For me, I think the Weinstein tactics of the nineties really turned my stomach enough to dismiss the Oscars. I mean, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE?? Seriously?? This year, the Weinstein's have shoehorned THE READER into the Best Picture category, despite the fact that THE WRESTLER is far superior to it. Hell, I'd even take THE DARK KNIGHT with all of its flaws over THE READER.

It's a rare year when the movies provide great choices and the choices are well-made ... last year's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN/THERE WILL BE BLOOD battle was almost invigorating by comparison to most years.

Fox said...

That's a good question.

I think the first time I realized the Academy Awards weren't as special as I thought they were was when Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespere in Love.

Stacia said...

Oh, it was the early 90s, but I couldn't say if it was "Dances With Wolves" or not. It was a continuum, with me being really disgusted over "DWW" and "Braveheart", then absolutely losing my shit over "Forrest Gump". C'mon, people, "Pulp Fiction". "QUIZ SHOW". The scene with Finnes at the table eating cake with his dad (Paul Scofield) is one of the best scenes ever captured on film.

I really can't understand "GoodFellas" not being accessible to some, especially the gender argument. Maybe I just got to the point where I identify with any character regardless of gender, simply because I have to or else 99% of cinema would be lost to me. "GoodFellas" uses a pretty common background (the mob) and many levels of metaphor and understanding are quite accessible, in my opinion. Just the feeling of nostalgia it brings should be easy for anyone to get, and quite attractive to most viewers.

I'll never forget seeing the trailer to "GoodFellas" before... I dunno, "Robocop 2" probably. The trailer was like a black comedy about familial relationships, with the instrumental finale of "Layla" playing as the announcer, swear to God, said "In a world where..." Amazing. I was sold at that moment, and the film did not disappoint.

PIPER said...

Great post Brian,

My first run in with the Oscars had to be in 1989 when Jodi Foster won for The Accused over Glen Close in Dangerous Liaisons. I was angry for several days. That's when it sunk in that the awards were more about making some kind of point or being politically correct over awarding the best of the best. Like Ray pointed out.

But like Brian, Goodfellas stings the most. Scorsese has made several fantastic movies, but Goodfellas is his most perfect. His most Oscar like film.

Jason makes an interesting choice with Casino, which has certainly aged very well, but I still prefer Goodfellas.

There have been some arguments made as to why Dances won which I would like to address.

I think Allen said it was more accessible. This may be true, but that's not why we should pick a movie to be Best Picture.

And I would argue that of the two, Dances has not aged well at all. Who talks about this film anymore? Anyone? Allen says that Goodfellas stands the time because of the set pieces. I say it's because it's a great story that's well acted and well directed. One wonders if Costner had gone on with a wonderful directing career if we would feel differently about this movie and this win.

Jason said "Correct or not, the Academy doesn't have a history of awarding films that drop f-bombs as often as the rest of us breathe."

But Pesci won Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas and he was the source of most of the F-bombs, so I'm not really buying that.

Plus Silence Of The Lambs won the next year which is not a widely acceptable film, but it is a well-made film.

There's also this question of Epic-ness. And I guess I don't understand why Goodfellas isn't Epic. It tells an Epic story. Sure it doesn't have the literally "sweeping" shots over large plains, but that doesn't mean it isn't Epic.

But in the end, the Oscars are an award show. And Brian and I know good and well that with all award shows there will always be head-scratchers. And like Ray pointed out, the combination of No Country and Blood last year was pretty amazing. I think more history will show that 2007 was a pretty amazing year for films.

lucas mcnelly said...

Dances with Wolves is longer, and as you know, longer movies are better than shorter ones.

Jason Bellamy said...

Piper: A few thoughts back at ya ...

I think Allen said it was more accessible. This may be true, but that's not why we should pick a movie to be Best Picture.

True! But, alas, we don't pick the Best Picture. The Academy, which is trying to market Hollywood more than recognize greatness, does. So on those grounds, perhaps the Academy should pick accessible films. The reality is that the full name of the award should be: "Best Picture That's Been Released In The Past Four Months That We Think Audiences Might Not Have Seen Yet But Would Like If They Gave It A Chance." Something like that.

And I would argue that of the two, Dances has not aged well at all. Who talks about this film anymore? Anyone?

No one does. And it hasn't aged particularly well in part because the qualities made it such a breath of fresh air upon its release -- that made it feel "great" at the time -- have become easier to find since. So within the context of its release, it was a film worth talking about. And if it remained an exception to the rule, I suspect it would be discussed more. (Aside: It's also true, I think, that we seem to talk more about films that don't win, because we argue why they should have won, whereas the winners don't get discussed because they need no further championing.)

But Pesci won Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas and he was the source of most of the F-bombs, so I'm not really buying that.

Good point. But I should have clarified. The Academy doesn't have a long history of awarding Best Picture to f-bomb dropping films. Sure, "The Departed" won just recently, but that's in large part because The Academy couldn't ignore Scorsese anymore. Oscar gambles a little more on individual acting performances than it does on films. I'm not saying this is a good thing. I'm just observing.

I think more history will show that 2007 was a pretty amazing year for films.

Amen, brotha. I was rooting for "No Country," and not just of the five nominees, but of any film released that year. But had "There Will Be Blood" won, I would have been totally content. How often does that happen?

James Hansen said...

When did I have faith to begin with? I have always watched the Oscars and enjoy awards shows and being frustrated at hype, but I don't think I ever had "faith" to lose it. It's not even that I don't care and don't get angry when they award CRASH, DANCES WITH WOLVES, GLADIATOR, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, CHICAGO, etc. Its just another facet of the large world of cinema that we deal with. There isn't, and won't ever be, one barometer for rewarding (Hollywood) movies, so lets just take all of them together and try and enjoy it, or not enjoy it. As long as we're still responding, one way or another, its doing its job.

brian said...


Worst Best Picture

A sullied statuette to: "Dances With Wolves" (1991)

Behind the blunder: Possibly the hardest choice I've ever had to make: Which Best Picture Oscar represents the biggest category error the Academy ever made? It's a very competitive field (as you can see below in the dishonorable mentions), with a proud history. But, for my money, this choice will live in infamy forever. In a none-too-impressive field, including "Awakenings," "Ghost" and "The Godfather: Part III," this pious box office smash about the white man's burden managed to defeat a film that, almost 20 years later, has proven to be an enduring classic that defines and defies its genre. "Dances With Wolves" beats "GoodFellas"? Still unacceptable.

Dishonorable mention: "Crash," "Braveheart," "A Beautiful Mind," "Million Dollar Baby," "Chicago," "Shakespeare in Love," "Gladiator," "Titanic," "Forrest Gump," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Oliver!" (AP)