Oscar picks not always right

05:00 AM, Feb 22, 2013

Director Alfred Hitchcock in Hollywood, Calif., Feb., 10, 1964. (The Associated Press)/

Written By Jack Garner

You’re probably shocked — SHOCKED — to hear that Oscar doesn’t always get it right. If they did:

• Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca would have not been beaten by Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine. (I ask you, can you even picture Paul Lukas in your mind’s eye?)

• Peter O’Toole would have won some Oscar, any Oscar, from among his eight nominations.

Rocky would never have beaten All the President’s Men or Taxi Driver as best picture.

• Clark Gable’s iconic performance as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind would not have been ignored in favor of Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. P-L-E-A-S-E!

• Cecil B. DeMille’s overblown Greatest Show on Earth would never have shot down the minimalist Western classic, High Noon.

Of the 10 films that made the once-a-decade 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest ever films, according to critics all around the world, only one won a best picture Oscar — Sunrise, a silent film, at the very first Academy Awards in 1929. Among the films on that prestigious list that failed to secure any honors are such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, John Ford’s The Searchers, and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game. Orson Welles’ landmark Citizen Kane won only a screenwriting award.

One problem is that the Academy seldom honors genre pictures, especially Westerns and comedies. If you want to make money, make ‘em laugh. If you want to win awards, make ‘em cry.

Alfred Hitchcock never won a best director Oscar. (Wait. Think about that. Alfred Hitchcock.) And only one of his films was nominated as best picture. Was it Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, The Birds? No, it was Suspicion, which falls short of all those I’ve named. Of course, it didn’t win.

Another legend, John Ford, won four best directing Oscars, but not one for the Western, the form upon which his modern legend has been built. There was no best picture attention for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, My Darling Clementine, and the magnificent The Searchers.

So, let’s all remember not to take these Oscars too seriously, even if they are one of the potential routes for a film seeking immortality.

Of course, to play the Oscar game of woulda-coulda-shoulda, you must remember that nominations don’t occur in a vacuum. One must always consider the competition in that given category, in that given year.

Peter O’Toole, for example, has had the misfortune to come up against formidable opposition. Let’s consider the roles that gave him best chance for an Oscar. He lost as Lawrence of Arabia — after delivering the greatest performance ever not to win — because he bumped up against Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. O’Toole’s delightful comic performance in My Favorite Year went up against another iconic performance, Ben Kingsley in Gandhi. The Stunt Man? The same year as Robert De Niro’s Raging Bull. The Ruling Class? Up against Marlon Brando’s The Godfather. Becket? Splitting the vote with his film co-star, Richard Burton, allowing Rex Harrison to win for My Fair Lady.

Has any other actor ever been so cursed? O’Toole did have one legitimate chance — and was robbed. His fabulous portrait of Henry II opposite Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter was inexplicably beaten by Cliff Robertson’s just okay performance as the mentally challenged Charly. (Robertson’s victory was one of Oscar’s major upsets — he also left in the dust the stunning work of Alan Arkin in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.)

Sometimes, quality performances and films get caught up in a tidal wave for a really big movie — like Titanic and Ben-Hur.

In 1960, for example, such quality films as Otto Preminger’s masterpiece, Anatomy of a Murder and Billy Wilder’s legendary comedy, Some Like It Hot, got run over by Ben-Hur’s chariots. Some Like It Hot didn’t even get a best picture nomination, though actor Jack Lemmon was nominated. And, in 1998, Titanic sunk the superb L.A. Confidential.

Curiously, Clark Gable’s Gone with the Wind defeat has to be viewed as the exception that proves the rule. He lost despite a GWTW tidal wave.

Will any upsets in 2013 find a place in some future version of this story? How about Lincoln being defeated for best picture by Beasts of the Southern Wild? Or nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis winning best actress from the same film? Or little-known Jacki Weaver (the mom in Silver Linings Playbook) defeating Amy Adams, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, or Sally Field as best supporting actress?

Of course, none of that will happen on Sunday night. But wait. That’s what they said about Robert Donat’s chances against the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, in 1939.