Marty's win shows delayed reaction of Oscars

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NEW YORK — Yes, ‘‘The Departed’’ was smart, highly entertaining moviemaking. But nary a critic would say it was Martin Scorsese’s best film — not by a mile. Yet nobody but a heartless grinch would begrudge the masterful director his hard-won Oscar, the first in six nominations. It just points to a simple rule of Oscar history: An award isn’t always about the actual work at hand. Often it amounts to a statement: that someone has finally arrived, or, in Scorsese’s case, is long overdue. In other words, when Oscar comes calling, it’s not always for the right film.

Many fans thought it a crime when Scorsese didn’t win the director prize for ‘‘Raging Bull’’ in 1981, losing out to Robert Redford for ‘‘Ordinary People,’’ or for ‘‘Goodfellas’’ in 1991, when he lost to Kevin Costner for ‘‘Dances With Wolves.’’

‘‘Yes, 'The Departed’ is not a film that history will rank up there with 'Raging Bull,’ ’’ says Jonathan Kuntz, a professor of film history at UCLA. ‘‘But sometimes these awards are like lifetime achievement awards.’’

(And sometimes they ARE lifetime achievement awards: Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman are both legendary directors who never won a directing prize and instead won special awards — Hitchcock in 1968 and Altman last year, months before he died.)

Ask any film buff, and they’ll name a litany of actors and actresses who won for roles that even the performers themselves considered unworthy. Bette Davis was passed over in 1935 for ‘‘Of Human Bondage,’’ so was rewarded for ‘‘Dangerous’’ the next year — a role that film historian Leonard Maltin calls ‘‘rather cheesy.’’ And Elizabeth Taylor didn’t win for ‘‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’’ in 1959, but two years later for ‘‘BUtterfield 8’’ — a film she freely disparaged, Maltin says.

More recently, how about Al Pacino? Nominated seven times for acting awards, including for ‘‘The Godfather’’ (parts one and two) and ‘‘Dog Day Afternoon,’’ he didn’t win until ‘‘Scent of a Woman’’ in 1993.

‘‘The last thing they’re voting on at the Oscars is the best work of the year,’’ says Tom O’Neil, columnist for The Envelope. ‘‘It’s about passing out hugs.’’ And sometimes, he says, the hugs come not too late, but too early.

‘‘When Nicole Kidman won for ’The Hours,’ it was all about her becoming a superstar,’’ O’Neil opines. And when Russell Crowe won for ‘‘Gladiator,’’ he continues, ‘‘It was about welcoming him into the Hollywood colosseum.’’

Is a system where people get rewarded retroactively or prematurely all that bad? Don’t blame the academy, says Maltin, who also covers film for ‘‘Entertainment Tonight.’’ The problem Oscar voters face is that they have no advantage of hindsight,’’ he says. So when people say, 'How could so-and-so never have won,’ ’’ well, it’s all about timing and luck of the draw. Why did Peter O’Toole not win for ‘‘Lawrence of Arabia?’’ Because he happened to be up that year against Gregory Peck for 'To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ’’

At least one analyst says the system is wrong. ‘‘I think Scorsese’s win is absolutely payback to a person who deserved it for his other work,’’ says Richard Walter, head of the screenwriting program at UCLA’s film school. Walter calls this year’s best-picture winner ‘‘Scorsese’s most uninteresting film in years — a bunch of men talking on cell phones, and occasionally a woman talking on a phone.’’

‘‘They should honor the person when they make a really good movie. Otherwise, why should the other nominees have to stand around and see a lesser film win?’’

It’s worth noting there apparently is no ‘‘payback’’ Oscar for certain categories — or at least it takes a whole lot longer. Sound engineer Kevin O’Connell was nominated for the 19th time this year, and still didn’t win — a record for Oscar losses. (He was nominated with two others for sound mixing on Mel Gibson’s ‘‘Apocalypto.’’) ‘‘I’m already checked into therapy tomorrow,’’ he quipped before the show.

For film buffs worried that their favorite has been passed over for the wrong reason, it’s worthwhile heeding the carefree attitude of the late Katharine Hepburn, herself a four-time best actress winner.

‘‘Don’t worry about not being nominated,’’ she said in a telegram to Audrey Hepburn, who’d been passed over for ‘‘My Fair Lady,’’ according to ‘‘Inside Oscar’’ by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona.

‘‘Someday,’’ she wrote, ‘‘you’ll get it for a part that doesn’t rate it.’’


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The funny thing is, mostly film critics and "scholars" think Scorsese was cheated. But, huge numbers of people stay away from his films because they are frequently cold and boring. "Departed" needed twenty minutes cut from the beginning. "Gangs of New York" was a snoozer. "Aviator," too. "Goodfellas" was a good film. "Raging Bull," maybe great. I think Scorsese should be celebrated for his work with film restoration. There is no reason to believe that he's not a good man with skill. But, film - storytelling in general - is a visceral experience. Scorsese directs like a mathematician, like it can all be figured out with a formula. He's forgotten that one of the greatest attributes a director can have is knowing when he's boring the audience. We're supposed to think he's a great director because the critics say so, even though we frequently walk out of his film feeling cheated. All the symbolism and "importance" in the world doesn't mean a thing if we are not moved. That's why, far from being the greatest film, "Citizen Kane" is a damned bore. Save the tricks; tell the story and - at the risk of being heretical - move us and entertain us. In a way, it's appropriate that he should pair with Leonardo Di Caprio, as they form a tandem of impressive tedium.

The critics' influence is being too keenly felt in Oscar voting. If voters can't see - or don't want to see - all the nominees, they can just read the critics and fill in the ballots. How else would "Borat" - a largely improvised film - end up with a nomination for best screenplay? What else could account for Meryl Streep, the world's most overrated actress, being nominated every time she sneezes? How else would you explain Julia Roberts being awarded instead of Ellen Burstyn? Who insists Woody Allen is a genius, even though he's been making the same film for 25 years? All of this is, in part, the will of film critics. Martin Scorsese is their new Woody Allen. At least he is no longer the Susan Lucci of film directing.

William Friedkin, director of "French Connection" and "The Exorcist," put it best: "If the critics like and the audiences likes it, it's probably a good film. If the audience likes it and the critics hate it, it's still probably a good film. If the audience hates it and the critics like it, it's a piece of sh**."

Freely translated, it means that we go to films to be moved, transported. If you don't walk out of a film loving it, wanting to see it again and again, it's not a great film. It doesn't matter what the critics say.

I'm very happy that Mr. Scorsese has his Oscar. I'm happier that we don't have to listen to the incessant whining about it anymore.

I agree. I happens all the time. Peter O'Toole though should get an Oscar. He is deserving. I hope he does a really bad movie and gets one.

Also, Denzel Washington was worthy of an Oscar for "Malcolm X" and "Hurricane" but didn't win. The Oscar he got for "Training Day" was a makeup.

I have always thought this. the oscars are not a show to watch if you are expecting true winners. Look at the year they snubbed the Color Purple. I was shocked that they did not give that film one award. To me Whoopi should have gotten the award over Page. I saw both performances and thought Page's was ok but Whooppi's was great. You see Whoopie did not when because it was her first film performance and the oscars are a popularity contest. They rarly give the oscar to newcomers and what a shame that is. it is as if they need to earn the oscar again when they already did. the nomination should be title "most popular actor or mst sentimental choice for actor. It rediculos to hear someone say they should have given the oscar to the person who had directed 5 other great films or acted in great in 4 others films. should that be the criterer to win an oscar. It should be for the best. that is not what happens at the oscars. That is just one case. there are many more cases that are similar when it comes to the much coveted oscars. I used to love the osacrs but now i say big deal its just friend voting for friends. it should be professionals voting for the best of the lot. Martin scorcesse should be a multiple oscar winner but he just has one. that says alot for the vadidity of the "great oscar award". overrated and meaningless is what the oscar has become. I can go on on,but i don't have time.

i dont have a e mail address so i will just leave my name

mr. Acosta from Buffalo ny

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on February 27, 2007 5:23 PM.

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