Friday, October 14, 2016

A Walk Down Oscar Memory Lane, 20 Years of Following the Oscars (1996)

Image result for fargo jerry maguireI started following the Oscars on a more detailed level 20 years ago this year. Three films from the nominees jump to mind from 1996 for me, and they are Jerry Maguire, The Birdcage, and Fargo.

Jerry Maguire was the romantic comedy/drama, a film type or style that will occasionally find itself in the Best Picture race because of the undeniable magnetism and popularity.  As Good as it Gets (1997) fits this mold in a way, but I the offbeat love story element falls flat as this movie ages.  Maguire is more akin to Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Maguire sticks out to me only because twelve at the time, and it was a film everyone was seeing, including my parents.  This was also one of those moments I look back on and I am thankful my parents let me see R-rated films at twelve. I remember Maguire because I felt part of the in crowd, I had seen the film, and as a young kid I was able to root for a movie.

Jerry Maguire was nominated for 5 Oscars including Best Picture, Actor (Tom Cruise), Best Supporting Actor (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.  Cuba Gooding Jr. walked away the biggest winner and loser that evening; he was the only winner from the film, but his career choices would turn him into a running joke in many people's minds.  Cuba Gooding Jr. started a rebound of his career in the late 2000s, but has truly found the most amazing roles this year, ironically.  Gooding Jr. is part of two different Ryan Muprhy television vehicles, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, and American Horror Story: My Roanoke Tales.

In looking back at this win I would have picked Edward Norton for Primal Fear, but Cuba Gooding Jr. gives one of those beautifully rare scene stealing comedic performance, that is honored by the Oscars.  Cuba Gooding Jr. was the sixth African American Actor to win an Oscar in the the acting categories,the third in the Supporting Actor category to win.  What happened to Gooding Jr.'s career that came after was what happened to many black or African Americans around this time, there were fewer opportunities for roles, especially in prestige pictures, or even well respected art house comedies.  Cuba Gooding Jr. has shown tremendous acting prowess this past year, and I hope as he continues to take on more roles his acting win is held in wider regard.

I have not re-visited Jerry Maguire in a long time, but I am fairly certain the speeches and lack of chemistry between Cruise and Zellwgger would not hold up.  The film is too sappy, and it's interesting because it's a romantic comedy that appealed to both men and women.

I have re-visited The Birdcage, maybe too many times.  As a young gay man (still in the closet) this was a movie I needed to see, there was visibility of gay men, sign me up.  At least that is what the internal voice said in my 12 year old mind.

The Birdcage was not a major Oscar player, the film only had one well deserved nomination for Art Direction. 1996 was before the intensity of the film critic narrative, which has erupted more because of social media and the internet.  1996 was only the second year of the Screen Actors Guild Awards.and holds to be the only year a Best nominee did not win the Outstanding Cast by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and that was The Birdcage. SAG also nominated Nathan Lane for Lead Actor and Hank Azaria for Supporting Actor.

SAG rarely goes rogue, they did in 2015 (big time) and there have been fun ensembles from comedic films nominated: Waking Ned (1998), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), Hairspray (2007), and Bridesmaids (2011), but none of them in the modern awards era won the top prize like The Birdcage, and I can't imagine a film doing that again.  This sets The Birdcage apart from most films, and makes its place in Oscar/award show history unique. The Birdcage is memorable, for me because it was the first film I saw where the lead characters were gay, and did not die tragically. This film will always hold a special place in my heart.

The last and most memorable Oscar film I saw that specific year was Fargo.  Fargo was not a movie I saw in theatres, but rather something I convinced my grandparents let me rent while I stayed over at their house.  I am grateful that both my parents and grandparents allowed me to explore so many great films at such a young age.  I remember going online, and reading in Entertainment Weekly about the Coens, and this film.  At twelve I am I know I did not fully grasp this film, but I did know that I was watching something special.

Fargo's path to the Oscars was not as gold paved as people would assume, sure it won Best Film at the New York Film Critics Association, Best Director at the BAFTA, and Frances won at SAG (it swept the Independent Spirit Awards, but Fargo's winning record, was rather similar to No Country for Old Men.

Fargo like many Coen films was ahead of its time (or for the award season) and was steam rolled in many critics awards by Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies and in the main line awards by The English Patient.  Fargo was nominated for seven Oscars and won two, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay.

Fargo holds a special place in my heart, it's one of the first "dark comedies" I had ever seen, which opened my mind to a whole new world. Fargo is the film I re-visit the most from this year, I have seen it at least 15 times, and every time I watch I find a new thing which makes me smile, or look at the film with a different viewpoint.  Fargo and the Coen's direction helped open my perspective on film and the award season/Oscars.

The Oscars are seen by many around the world as the most prestigious award you can be nominated for/receive.  Over the years there has been a narrative which creates a sense of validation.  Winning the Oscar = You made it!  There are of course ways in which this is debunked, Alfred Hitchcock never won this prize for direction, Peter O'Toole never won for acting, and Roger Deakins has never won in Cinematography.

There are also problematic aspects to the three names I used as examples of Oscar "injustice" namely that they are CIS straight white males (as far as I know).  The greatest amount of visible diversity appears in the acting categories, which is scary because of 1,000 plus nominees only 62 of the acting nominees were black/African American, and this does not account for one person having multiple nominations.  Only three black men have been nominated in Best Director, two of which were in the last 6 years, and Oprah was the first black woman to be nominated as a Producer in the Best Picture category.  I could not find a list for Asian, Latino, or Native nominees.  There are also very few LGBT folks who have been nominated and won at the Oscars. This is why #OscarsSoWhite became a thing, minoritized people are not seeing themselves honored, celebrated, or even show on film.  How can this awards be meaningful is they do not represent society across the globe?

The Oscars represent a zeitgeist in some ways, and in some ways are behind the eight ball.  In the 1970s the Best Picture went to films represented societal norms the strongest.  Films that spoke to people on a social level and were popular.  The legacies of The Godfather and Rocky still live on.  As we moved toward the invention of the blockbuster in the early 80s the Oscars started to lose cultural relevance.

As I have grown up, the Oscars are still fun to watch, I love when small meaningful films like Spotlight can win Best Picture, or when someone like Lupita N'yongo's performance speaks more than the biggest box office star in the world.  Film is about more than the Oscars, but about the experience you can create for people.  In the end I do not remember the amount of nominations a film got (well I do know) but I more important measurement is the impact the film had on me, and film canon.

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