I’ve dreamed of winning an Oscar. There, I said it. And I think if everyone in the film business were honest (HAH!), they’d all admit they’ve dreamed of winning one too. The real question is – WHY?
There is no single answer to that. Some things just are. Death. Taxes. The tastiness of really good French Fries. Those who say they haven’t craved Oscar or French fries will inevitably flunk a lie detector test. Those that pass the test are lying and have figured out a way to get around the machine. Which, in itself, could be Oscar worthy and one way to get one.
But I digress.
It’s not as if I wake up each day meticulously planning how I will bring the win about (uh, oh, perhaps I should). I actually seldom think about it. Except around Oscar time and all of those childhood dreams of being noticed, publicly recognized, cheered by a tuxedo’d/gowned audience (not to mention the billions watching on tv), acknowledged as being great by my peers, going down forever in history as being brilliantly talented by a majority of, well, some group, and becoming rich and famous enough to tell everyone else or even everyone else in that group who was ever mean to me to go jump in the lake, begin to surface.
Have I said too much? Does any of this sound familiar? At ANY point in your life? Think about it. Come on. Then think about it some more. Go deeper. And don’t lie to me. Or yourself.
Because admitting you want something in a fantasy isn’t the same as being obsessed with it or making it your life goal. I want to be 6’2” and look like a Winklevii for 15 minutes. But that’s not going to happen. It’s implausible because I’m 5’7” and human beings can’t be stretched 7 inches. (And besides, the Winklevii are 6’5). Where
you we I get into trouble is not thinking it is overwhelming fantasy or in taking it too seriously. It’s when you don’t see it for what it really is – a “nice to have in the abstract” but not a requirement that means what we think it does. This is actually the basis of fairy tales. In Oscar’s case, being recognized and voted the “BEST” that year. The BEST? By whose standards and what measure? Let’s discuss.
Was three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan a better actor than never won an Oscar Cary Grant? Is “Rocky” a better film than “All the President’s Men” and “Network?” Well, somebody (more than one) thought so on both counts. Would you rather watch “Ghandhi” again (or for the first time) or rewatch “E.T.” or “Tootsie?” – the film that won best picture that year or the two nominated? Finally, do you think it’s an oversight that for the last 25 years every critics poll didn’t vote Oscar winner “How Green Was My Valley” as the BEST film ever made but instead voted for “Citizen Kane,” the film that lost the Oscar that year?
You can objectively state that due to my height and lack of athletic ability I will never look like a Winklevii because it’s a scientific reality. But you can’t prove “How Green Was My Valley” is a better movie than “Citizen Kane.” Oh, and conversely, you can’t prove “Citizen Kane” is better than “HGWMV” (well…okay). It’s a matter of taste. And – it’s subjective.
Years ago when I was one of three movie critics at Daily Variety I was assigned to review “Nine to Five” (1982; starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, – huge boxoffice hit). I came back from the screening and one of my fellow critics, thinking my tastes in film were quite pedestrian up to that point, said “Well, you couldn’t have liked THAT!” I, being who I am and easily annoyed by condescension (except for my own), replied “Actually, I thought it was really funny and very entertaining.” Needless to say, he slammed his reporter’s notebook down and exited in a huff, thus causing the passive aggressive in me to write an even more favorable review than I would have. And holding to my guns, that it is still one of the most brilliant, historic, perfect comedies to this day if he were to ask me.
I have the vague sense that more than a few Oscar ballots are cast that way. Who will benefit from the award; who do I dislike who will be pissed off if I voted this way and that person/thing wins; what filmmaker never gets recognized and should; what indie movies are over praised and what commercial studio movies that have made too much money should be ignored. But – THE BEST? Sometimes, I suppose. But as a quantifiable barometer of anything more than a fantasy fulfilled? I don’t think so.
Some things are measurable. Steven Spielberg’s films are the highest grossing combined in the history of Hollywood because all you have to do is add the numbers, even with ticket price inflation. But he can’t rightly be called the BEST director any more than I can be called the best, well, anything. That’s about personal feeling.
It was most wisely put in “The Wizard of Oz” when at the end of the film the Wizard gives the Tin Man a great big red heart. The Tin Man’s sweet demeanor and consideration of others would cause even all of the members of the Academy to vote him as having the biggest heart of all (or certainly at MGM). The irony is the Tin Man thinks he doesn’t have one. But as the Wizard acknowledges the only thing the Tin Man doesn’t have is a testimonial, he hands him an actual replica of the heart, the physical embodiment of all he desires. It’s nice but it doesn’t cause him to cry when Dorothy leaves. It’s just a physical reminder of what’s inside. So this Sunday, when you pull up a chair at your friend’s house to view the Oscars, know you’re watching the best fantasy in the world played out on a star-studded night. And remember what I once heard the late Oscar-nominated producer Dan Melnick say, “In Hollywood, when there’s smoke, there’s usually a smoke machine.”