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Most Likely to Remain the Same

Success, I guess, is signified by the dollars they are holding.
In anticipation of the Oscars, which I normally enjoy, but this year, have little interest in, I’ve been following “The Carpetbagger” blog on the New York Times website, trying to get it up.

In the context of the Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier’s smear campaign against big budget movies, Avatar specifically, the blog interviewed Matt Damon.  Apparently, back when Good Will Hunting was nominated for best screenplay, someone put doubt in the voters’ minds and suggested that Ted Tally, the dude who wrote Silence of the Lambs, was the actual ghostwriter of GWH.  Damon made what I thought was an interesting comment:

“I actually think the way they should do the awards, I really think this, is they should give them out 10 years later. Like the way they do the Hall of Fame in Baseball. They do it in five years, but if you did 10 years later, if this year, we were voting on what was the best picture of 2000, I think it would be much more honest. It’s like, when you pick up great old movies and you go, why the hell didn’t Brando win the Oscar for this one? Who won that year? Whatever the sizzle was about that year. 50 years later you’re looking at a movie and going, this is a historic cinematic performance.”

I keep trying to think about this and about awards in general:  movies, books, anything really.  Sure the Baseball Hall of Fame admits players five years later, but isn’t that what a canon is? Is winning a World Series or MVP kind of like winning an Oscar or the National Book Award?  Sure, winning a Booker is nice, but is that book going to  be on the shelves of every literary scholar in 20 years? 50 years?  I wonder these things aloud in anticipation of the Oscars this weekend and the Pulitzers being announced in a little over a month.

Do people even care about these awards? I invite you to fill the comments space below with your own attempts at reading this sporty analogy or to share a specific nominee you’re pulling for this weekend.  Inspire me to watch for more than the dresses, please.

12 thoughts on “Most Likely to Remain the Same

  1. I like Damon’s idea a lot. I think this could be helpful in a lot of areas. Like best albums of the year lists. Mine would probably stay pretty similar, but would certainly be shuffled a bit.

  2. I like Damon’s idea, but why stick at 10 years? Why not have the best novel of 20 years ago, 50 years, 100 years?

    Looking back, the Booker Prize of 10 years ago was The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, 20 years ago it was Possession by A.S. Byatt, 30 years was Rites of Passage by William Golding, and 40 years (the second year of the Booker) was The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens. I know nothing about the Rubens, but the other three are surely still on the shelves of literary scholars.

    But the interesting thing would be how the vote might change in retrospect. The year Golding won, I remember, was also the year when J.G. Ballard was in contention for Empire of the Sun. 30 years on, which book is likely to get the nod?

    Of course, we have something very like this at the moment with The Lost Booker. They had to restrict the long list to those books that are still in print 40 years later, a kind of test in its own right, but how many of that long list are going to be on a scholar’s bookshelves today?

  3. Awards, huh? They’re certainly good for the people who win them.

    And I never thought that I would type these words but, sure, Damon is suggesting something interesting, and I think Paul’s got a great riff on that idea– I guess the point is that we should be responsible in the constant evaluation and re-evaluation of cultural production.

    My one anxiety is that what Damon is saying resembles a bit of a “time will tell and the best will inevitably emerge” approach which is a worrisome problem with canon formation. I guess I really am trying to “read” his sporty analogy — but it’s interesting the way pronouns slide and slosh together in his statement: the “they” morphs into the “we” and then switches to “you” as if award systems operated like a smooth representative democracy. I mean, so much good work deserves attention and awards are only a tiny part of determining what’s noteworthy and what deserves recognition.

  4. The Oscars have never been about recognizing “the best picture.” Even the Academy will admit that. (Until very recently, no one was required to actually see the films to vote on them.) Rather, the Oscars are part of the advertising campaign for films currently out. They always have been. The studios actually factor Oscar campaigns into their advertising budgets, and make decisions on which films they want to push based on political factors.

    Here are the Best Picture winners from the beginning until now:

    1927–1928 Wings
    1928–1929 The Broadway Melody
    1929–1930 All Quiet on the Western Front
    1930–1931 Cimarron
    1931–1932 Grand Hotel
    1932–1933 Cavalcade
    1934 It Happened One Night
    1935 Mutiny on the Bounty
    1936 The Great Ziegfeld
    1937 The Life of Emile Zola
    1938 You Can’t Take It With You
    1939 Gone with the Wind
    1940 Rebecca
    1941 How Green Was My Valley
    1942 Mrs. Miniver
    1943 Casablanca
    1944 Going My Way
    1945 The Lost Weekend
    1946 The Best Years of Our Lives
    1947 Gentleman’s Agreement
    1948 Hamlet
    1949 All the King’s Men
    1950 All About Eve
    1951 An American in Paris
    1952 The Greatest Show on Earth
    1953 From Here to Eternity
    1954 On the Waterfront
    1955 Marty
    1956 Around the World in 80 Days
    1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
    1958 Gigi
    1959 Ben-Hur
    1961 West Side Story
    1962 Lawrence of Arabia
    1963 Tom Jones
    1964 My Fair Lady
    1965 The Sound of Music
    1966 A Man for All Seasons
    1967 In the Heat of the Night
    1968 Oliver!
    1969 Midnight Cowboy
    1970 Patton
    1971 The French Connection
    1972 The Godfather
    1973 The Sting
    1974 The Godfather Part II
    1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    1976 Rocky
    1977 Annie Hall
    1978 The Deer Hunter
    1979 Kramer vs. Kramer
    1980 Ordinary People
    1981 Chariots of Fire
    1982 Gandhi
    1983 Terms of Endearment
    1984 Amadeus
    1985 Out of Africa
    1986 Platoon
    1987 The Last Emperor
    1988 Rain Man
    1989 Driving Miss Daisy
    1990 Dances with Wolves
    1991 The Silence of the Lambs
    1992 Unforgiven
    1993 Schindler’s List
    1994 Forrest Gump
    1995 Braveheart
    1996 The English Patient
    1997 Titanic
    1998 Shakespeare in Love
    1999 American Beauty
    2000 Gladiator
    2001 A Beautiful Mind
    2002 Chicago
    2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    2004 Million Dollar Baby
    2005 Crash
    2006 The Departed
    2007 No Country for Old Men
    2008 Slumdog Millionaire

    There are some great films in there—It Happened One Night, The Lost Weekend, On the Waterfront, The Apartment, the two Godfather films, Annie Hall—but overall it’s a rather soggy list, favoring bombast and popularity and pandering more than anything. I don’t know of any film critics who take the Oscars all that seriously, or who honestly think these films should form the cannon.

    For an alternate list, see this utterly fantastic article by Kristin Thompson:


    Thompson proceeds year by year, 1927–2000, and discusses which films she thinks should have won (she agrees with seven of the actual winners, and notes seven others as “credible choices”). Some excerpts:

    “1927-28 Wings / I like Wings, but Sunrise came out that year and wasn’t even nominated. It did get some sort of consolation prize called “Artistic Quality of Production,” a category later dropped. I actually prefer Seventh Heaven (which was nominated).


    1928-29 Broadway Melody / The great period of Keaton’s career didn’t last far into the Oscar era, but he deserved it for Steamboat Bill, Jr. which wasn’t nominated). Lubitsch’s The Patriot might have been a great film, and it was nominated, but it doesn’t seem to survive.


    1939 Gone with the Wind / Yes, THE year. Apart from William Cameron Menzies’ art direction, the winner is a bore; Vivien Lee chews the scenery, the burning of Atlanta is not all it’s cracked up to be, but yes, the crane shot over the rows of wounded soldiers is a killer—if you want to sit through a four-hour film for it. Better films? Where to start? There’s Stagecoach (nominated), Young Mr. Lincoln (not nominated), Only Angels Have Wings (obviously not nominated or even considered), The Lady Vanishes (not nominated), Alexander Nevsky (not nominated; not Eisenstein’s best film, but better than GwtW), Ninotchka (not Lubitsch’s best, but better than GwtW) The Wizard of Oz (nominated; not as great as it is fun, but still better than GwtW) The choice is a tough one, but I’d go with Stagecoach.


    1943 Casablanca / I like Casablanca. It’s a fun film. It’s very well scripted, the performances are excellent, etc. To claim it’s one of the greatest films ever made or even the greatest American film of its year strikes me as going overboard. I can think of only one possible choice for this year: Shadow of a Doubt, not nominated.


    1958 Gigi / Another film I like, but two films that didn’t get nominated more-or-less tie for my vote: Touch of Evil, closely followed by Vertigo.


    1963 Tom Jones / Obviously there has got to be an alternative, but this was a rough year, with most of the great directors in decline. One of them came through: Shock Corridor, which was not nominated.


    1973 The Sting / Things were definitely picking up by this point. My first choice is American Graffiti, which was nominated; honorable mentions, The Long Goodbye and Badlands (neither nominated).


    1986 Platoon / Take your pick: Blue Velvet (not nominated) or Hannah and Her Sisters (nominated)


    1996 The English Patient / Fargo (nominated) David [Bordwell] keeps telling me to list Jerry Maquire, but that’s his list.


    The lessons here are pretty obvious. Chief among them is the fact that the Academy tends to ignore popular genre pictures, even though in retrospect we can see that such films have been the great strength of Hollywood. They’re often the ones we still watch today.

    Another lesson is that, though there are many ways to approach film history other than studying auteurs, going by directors is still a good guide to what films, old or new, we are likely to enjoy—and to admire.”

  5. She agrees with Patton 1970 ?!? Sorry, Five Easy Pieces and MASH are landmarks in american cinema. Patton has George C.’s swagger, but that’s about it. It’s a pretty lazy film. The same David Lean knockoff stuff that was so ‘impressive.’ Gandhi, Braveheart, Dances With Wolves – that swill. It’s a miracle Silence of the Lambs and Unforgiven ever won.

    1. I think she’s trying to be charitable, to not come across as anti-every-Oscar winner. And, like she says, “I have to admit that I haven’t seen this since it first came out, and I didn’t know much about film in those days. In my memory, it seems like the David Lean type of epic that so impresses Academy voters.”

      But you’re right that she overlooks 5EP and MASH.

    2. Some other great films from 1970:
      . Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Meyer)
      . Brewster McCloud (Altman)
      . El Topo (Jodorowsky)
      . Even Dwarfs Started Small (Herzog)
      . Le cercle rouge (Melville)
      . Performance (Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell)
      . The Conformist (Bertolucci)
      . The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Wilder)
      . Tristana (Buñuel)
      . Wanda (Barbara Loden)
      . Zabriskie Point (Antonioni)
      . Zorn’s Lemma (Hollis Frampton)

      And a bunch I haven’t seen, some of which are surely good, maybe even great:
      . Alex in Wonderland (Mazursky)
      . Bed and Board (Truffaut)
      . Brzezina (Wajda)
      . Catch-22 (Nichols)
      . Claire’s Knee (Rohmer)
      . Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg)
      . Deep End (Skolimowski)
      . Eden and After (Resnais)
      . Figures in a Landscape (Losey)
      . Getting Straight (Richard Rush)
      . Gods of the Plague (Fassbinder)
      . Hi, Mom! (De Palma)
      . Le boucher (Chabrol)
      . Leo the Last (Boorman)
      . Le vent d’est (Godard et al)
      . Promise at Dawn (Dassin)
      . Rider on the Rain (Clément)
      . Summer in the City (Wenders)
      . The Deep (Welles—but unfinished and unreleased)
      . The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (De Sica)
      . The Kremlin Letter (Huston)
      . The Penal Colony (Raúl Ruiz)
      . The Spider’s Stratagem (Bertolucci—and based on a Borges story)
      . The Wild Child (Truffaut)
      . Trash (Morrissey)
      . Vladimir et Rosa (Godard et al)
      . Watermelon Man (Van Peebles Sr.)
      . Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (Fassbinder)

      Plenty to watch besides Patton. Which admittedly I haven’t seen since I was a kid.

      A side note: The Molly Maguires came out in 1970, and was one of the few films ever filmed in my hometown of Scranton, PA (well, the surrounds). Which is also where Wanda was filmed, around the same time. I wonder if the casts and crews ran into one another…? I can just picture Sean Connery and Richard Harris sharing a beer with Barbara Loden….

        1. Great film, but it’s 1969, according to the IMDb:


          …although when various films are officially released, and when they win awards (and audiences) is of course much fuzzier than that. I just got back from seeing this tonight:


          It’s absolutely amazing, and I’d never heard of it until a few weeks ago. It’s been playing to sold-out crowds here in Chicago for one week (at the Gene Siskel Film Center). And it’s a brilliant film that must now be added to the list of the best of 1977. It was made in 1977, released in 1987 (?) (and probably enjoyed some attention then)…but it seems as though the US—or our generation, at least—is (re-)discovering it only now…



          1. Yeah, I saw the preview here in nyc. Pretty weird.

            There has been and maybe still is a delay in foreign films being released here and hence questions on when they would be elgible for awards. But Passion of Anna would have been competing against Patton.

            By the way, did you ever see the little known film starring George C. Scott and Liv Ullmann called Pat and Liv, from about 1973. Elliot Gould was rumored to be the director with Bergman as the screenwriter. It was originally supposed to be called The Touch Two.

            1. No, I never saw PAT AND LIV. Haven’t seen THE TOUCH, either. Which I’m going to rent some evening and watch with THE SERPENT’S EGG. I’ll see if I can’t find P&L as well.

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