Is Hollywood ageing?
It is this time of year when Hollywood, Doyenne of the Movie Industry, becomes the focal point of movie makers and movie lovers around the world. Hollywoodians give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done, through a series of award ceremonies. Every film academy, institute, or guild prepare their lists and select the best cinematic achievements of the year. The series of special events commences with The Golden Globe Awards, given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. A small group of foreign journalists reporting to their homelands from Hollywood decided to establish an award for what they considered the best productions. That was in 1944. One would assume that a group of foreign reporters' taste would differ greatly from that of the average American public or critic. As it turned out, the Golden Globes served as a precursor of which direction Oscar would go. Undoubtedly voices unite on applauding excellence and elegance, everywhere.
George Clooney, up for another Oscar
Another important award is offered by the American Film Institute (AFI), a national institute providing leadership in screen education, and "the celebration of excellence in the art of film, television and digital media." Created in 1967, the AFI Life Achievement Award has become recognized by the Hollywood community as the highest honour given for a career in film. Oscar closes the award season. with the presentation of filmdom's top prize.
Celebrating its 80th birthday this year, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was created in 1927 as a kind of "super union" for the elite of the business. Although holding an award ceremony was an afterthought, it soon became the dominating function of AMPAS.
The popularity of the Oscars mushroomed, but fans could only listen to it on radio or read about it in the daily papers. By 1952, with the advent of television, the public was able to view the first ceremony. They were overwhelmed, and wanted more. Through the years it developed into an all-year full-time job, sponsored by major companies. Oscar night became a public event. Excitement starts with the nominations. Parties are planned around it and the guessing game begins. That excitement is present no longer. Gone are the exhilarating years when Hollywood enjoyed the full vigour of its prime. Studded with the most glamorous superstars, Hollywood made the best films and the Academy nominated the best of the best. The standard of an Oscar win was incredibly high then and the competition fierce. Giants of the seventh art would butt heads in the same category. For instance in the best actress category in 1941, the nominees competing for the Oscar were Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland, Greer Garson and Barbara Stanwyck. Fontaine took Oscar home for Suspicion. Youngsters may not recognize those names but rest assured that they were all extraordinary, possessing beauty, talent, and gravitas, and have all won their own Oscars. Who are the nominees of today?
From the thirties on, Hollywood excelled in every film genre it tackled. From crime and gangster to horror films, to screwball comedies, incisive and melo-dramas, lavish musicals, historic epics, action/ adventure, grand sagas and science fiction. Critical and eulogistic themes were also presented that taught us a thing or two about the philosophy of living. Ben Hur (1960) broke Academy Award records winning 11 of its 12 nominations. Titanic broke Ben Hur's record, winning 14 Oscars (1997). What is astounding is the competition films met at Oscar's doorstep. Doctor Zhivago lost to The Sound of Music (1965), and To Kill a Mockingbird lost to Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Hollywood films established themselves as works of high quality, possessing such magnificence as only Hollywood could provide. Of late however, Oscar selections have lost that 'one and two punch' that 'knocks them dead.' Even the bright red glow of Oscar night with a thousand glittering stars has lost some of its sparkle. It seems as though a melancholy wind has blown through tinsel town, rendering it faded and jaded. The output of magnificence is about non-existent, while enormous among the minor ranks. It must be getting on in years when academy members are hard-pressed to find five good Hollywood films to nominate, they have to resort to foreign productions.
You may not have seen or even heard of this year's nominations or nominees. You are not alone. They are - No Country for Old Men (dir, Coen Brothers) receiving 8 nominations, so did There will be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Andersen), Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy), Juno (dir. Jason Reitman), and Atonement (dir. Joe Wright).
The category of the best actor in a leading role may offer some thrills as we watch the nominees George Clooney, Daniel Day Lewis, Johnny Depp, Tommy Lee Jones, and Viggo Mortenson go for the gold, but the best actress list is hardly recognizable. In fact, little known French actress Marion Cotillard somehow made the list for portraying Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (La Mome). While Piaf and her songs are legendary, Cotillard is not. How about that Cate Blanchett who seems to pop every year with a nomination or two, as in this year and last. Admittedly she is a talented actress, but Hollywood folks, please -- is there no other?
The Oscars however, remain the oldest, best known, and most influential film awards. There were times when they fell short. The Academy has to feel rather chagrined about those that got away through the years like East of Eden, Sabrina, Witness for the Prosecution, The Quiet Man, Quo Vadis, and Sunset Boulevard, among others.
Is there a malaise affecting Hollywood or its movies of late? If so, they had better find a cure soon. A global movie-going public is hungry for more of the classic Hollywood fare that once rocked the world.
Can we still dream of perhaps, another Godfather, Gandhi, Gigi, or even a Gladiator ? Maybe we will settle for a new Star Wars, or any WWII epic -- such films have found their place among all the precious memories of our past. We are fortunate to have been given the opportunity to visit those good old friends again in the privacy of our homes.
Does that mean we shall not be watching Oscar Night, February 24th. By no means. Oscar draws over a billion viewers worldwide, who long to see and hear the crinkle and crackle of affluent Hollywoodians, as they parade on tinsel town's rusty red carpet.
O! Call back yesterday, bid time return.
-- William Shakespeare (1564 -- 1616)