George Clooney got the Oscars off to an interesting start tonight by saying that he was “proud” to be “out of touch” with mainstream America. And the evening ended with the top prize going to Crash, easily my pick for the worst of the five Best Picture nominees.
What’s striking about this latter point is that, as I noted in my last post, every single Oscar winner for at least a quarter-century (from 1980 to 2004) has been one of the year’s 25 most popular films, and most have been in the top dozen. True, a couple of those films — like Million Dollar Baby, written by Crash director Paul Haggis — snuck into the Top 25 largely as a result of their Oscar campaigns. But still, it is striking to see that, for the first time since the 1970s, if not earlier, the Best Picture award went to a film that ranked only 49th. So, in one sense, this was definitely the most “out of touch” the Oscars have been in a long, long while.
It was also striking to see that not one film got more than three Oscars in the end. Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Memoirs of a Geisha and King Kong all nabbed three Oscars each, and every other nominee had to settle for one at the most.
This has to represent the lowest concentration of awards in a long, long time. If I’m not mistaken, the last film to win Best Picture and only two other awards was Rocky, and that was 29 years ago — and even then, Network still claimed four awards. And four years prior to that, The Godfather won Best Picture and only two other awards — and even then, Cabaret still claimed eight awards.
No doubt other fun stats will crop up in tomorrow’s papers. In the meantime, I loved the fact that they got all the Oscar hosts going back to 1990 to appear in the opening montage, and I enjoyed a number of Jon Stewart’s quips — especially the one about the film clips, though I liked some of those, too — and I liked the set design, and I was not at all surprised to see that, in the Best Foreign Language Film category, the Academy once again swooned for the movie about the adult who is redeemed by a child, i.e. Tsotsi. On that and other levels, this actually felt like a rather conservative ceremony, nothing too out of the ordinary, despite all the hoo-ha over liberal politics and groundbreaking precedents, etc.
Then again, I was also impressed to see that the right-leaning Mel Gibson took part in the opening montage for what some might call this left-leaning ceremony, and had fun taking the piss out of his recent proclivity for movies that are written in dead languages. All the controversy over The Passion of the Christ has calmed down, I guess, and Mel is back in the fold. But it does make you wonder why Clooney and others are being praised for their courage now, when clearly there was almost nobody in the room who didn’t admire them for what they were doing — in sharp contrast to the ostracism with which Mel was threatened not too long ago.
Oh, and I just have to say how weird it is to think that I was sitting across a table from Reese Witherspoon four months ago, when she was promoting the very movie for which she won Best Actress tonight!
Many thanks to Fr. Chris and Kim for letting my wife, my kids and myself come over to their place tonight to make use of their TV!
MAR 31 UPDATE: Finally checked the pre-1970s Oscars. From the 1950s on, the Best Picture winners have almost always won at least four in total — and on the rare occasion that they didn’t, usually some other film did. Here is a list of the years in which the Best Picture winner won three awards or less, along with the films from those years that had the same number of awards or more:
1969: Midnight Cowboy, 3; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 4
1952: The Greatest Show on Earth, 2; High Noon, 4; The Bad and the Beautiful, 5
1949: All the King’s Men, 3; The Heiress, 4
1947: Gentleman’s Agreement, 3; Miracle on 34th Street, 3
1943: Casablanca, 3; The Song of Bernadette, 4
1940: Rebecca, 2; The Philadelphia Story, 2; The Grapes of Wrath, 2; Pinocchio, 2; The Thief of Bagdad, 3
1938: You Can’t Take It with You, 2; Boys Town, 2; Jezebel, 2; The Adventures of Robin Hood, 3
1937: The Life of Emile Zola, 3
1936: The Great Ziegfield, 3; The Story of Louis Pasteur, 3; Anthony Adverse, 4
1935: Mutiny on the Bounty, 1; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2; The Informer, 4
1933: Cavalcade, 3
1932: Grand Hotel, 1; The Champ, 2; Bad Girl, 2
1931: Cimarron, 3
1930: All Quiet on the Western Front, 2; The Big House, 2
1929: The Broadway Melody, 1
1928: Wings, 2; Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, 3; Seventh Heaven, 3
So, prior to 2005, there were only ten years in which not one film won at least four awards — the most recent of which was 1947.