‘I coulda been a contender, Charlie.’ That’s Marlon Brando lamenting in the 1954 Oscar winning film, On The Waterfront.
But it could also be Martin Sheen whining to his actor-son over many swigs of Jim Beam about how Apocalypse Now didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar in 1979.
The otherwise square-jawed Martin wouldn’t have been in such a state if the epochal ‘Vietnam’ movie in which he played Captain Benjamin L Willard had simply been denied the golden gong. What makes him — and many Oscar-watchers — blubber with bewilderment is that the Francis Ford Coppola dark epic lost out to the Dustin Hoffman-Meryl Streep divorce-weepie, Kramer Vs Kramer Go figure.
The Best Film Oscar, we tend to forget year after year, is given to a movie that ‘hits the spot’, ‘captures the mood’, rather than to the ‘finest movie’ (a tough choice to make, in any case, as one man’s golden peacock can be another man’s turkey). The Best Picture Oscar (as opposed to the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar) goes to a film that hits a sweet spot, that speaks to us in ‘our language’ — the language they speak in America, at any rate.
It could be a great film. But it doesn’t have to be one.
The Cannes Film Festival doesn’t have a Best Foreign Film category. The movies here are judged by their ‘movieness’ — not by their ability to say something different (in a different language) to what American (and sometimes British) movies say.
Martin Scorcese got the Palme D’Or in 1976 for Taxi Driver, his modern fable about one man’s dysfunctional attempt to save the world from the moral rottenness that he sees all around him. In the same year, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to......Rocky, a film about a heavy-lidded local lad who boxes his way up the ladder to become the thing that every ticket-paying soul loves: an underdog millionaire and a beginning of a many-sequeled franchise.
But those chewing their lips over Oscar’s strange tastebuds should remember two things:
1. Nominations for the Best Film Award are made by all the 5,000-plus members (doddering and sparky, Republican and Democrat) of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So unlike in every other category where peer reviewers judge films till the final stage (deciding the winner), the Best Picture Oscar wannabe has to cater to all tastes right from the start.
2. While the Academy organises the Oscar event that you’ll watch from some godawful hour in the morning tomorrow, it’s ABC TV that controls it. So having Jean-Luc Godards’s Breathless win the Best Picture Oscar doesn’t really make family viewing sense.
So who’ll get the 2008 Best Motion Picture Oscar? Slumdog Millionaire, most probably. As for 2008’s best movie, well, that’s a different ballgame altogether, isn’t it?