White Chicks

The entire principal cast of A Streetcar Named Desire received Academy Award nominations for acting in 1952. Three of them won. The one who didn’t? Marlon Brando.

I’ve been following the Oscars regularly for nearly as long as I have been a serious movie buff. That’s a long time, and the quizzerly part of my brain (i.e., the part that stores useless trivia in memory locations reserved for what I need to get from the store on the way back from work today) has used these years to collect a whole bunch of interesting trivia about one of the most coveted set of film awards on the planet.

Or at least the part of the planet I inhabit. Aamir Khan, for instance, is well known for not attending the Filmfare awards or any other Indian award show, but pulled out all the stops while promoting Lagaan in the run-up to the Oscars. I’m sure he has his reasons, but the point I’m trying to make is this: we (our film industry as well as the unwashed masses) celebrate the Oscars more than any other film award.

For a long time, I subscribed to that view. In some ways, I think I still do. I couldn’t stop grinning when Scorsese finally won Best Director, even if The Departed wasn’t his best work. As much as I thought that Slumdog was one of Rahman’s least impressive albums, I still celebrated when he won a couple of statuettes. Resul Pookutty’s win was another huge moment.

But strangely enough, it was Slumdog‘s Best Picture win that changed my thinking about the Oscars. Personally, I thought the film was a well-made but badly written work that didn’t deserve all the praise it was getting. I could also see, however, that a lot of Westerners liked the film, so I even wondered if I would’ve been more charitable towards it, had it been set in some other developing country — say, Brazil — rather than India.

Then I realized something: Slumdog won Best Picture, not because it was the piece of work most people in the Academy admired. It won because it was the piece of work most of them liked. As much as I admire Citizen Kane (nominated for Best Picture, lost to How Green Was My Valley), my favourite movie is still Before Sunrise (not even nominated).

This year, for instance, most of the awards were cleaned up by a couple of movies  that were, above all, enjoyable. The Artist was a black-and-white silent film that was enjoyed by everyone who got past those two adjectives and actually watched it. Hugo was a love letter to early cinema pioneers in the guise of a children’s film, and an equally enjoyable ride.

Wonderful films? Absolutely. Best Picture candidates? What does that mean, really?

Now, admittedly, the Academy’s “liking” is often tinged with a touch of self-consciousness. Likeable, relevant serious films very often trump comedies and box office successes. Barring a few exceptions, your safest bet for winning a Best Actor/Actress statuette is to play someone who is either dysfunctional or real (often the same thing). It’s as if the Academy voters have a couple of miniature versions of themselves perched on their shoulders arguing:

Oh come on, admit it, you loved it more than any of the other nominees.

It’s a wonderful movie, but does it really deserve to win Best Picture?

Maybe, as the Clint Eastwood character says in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

ps: In case you were wondering, Brando lost to Bogie for The African Queen. And the Best Picture award in 1952 went to a musical: An American in Paris.

pps: The title of this post is a reference to a Chris Rock sketch introducing the 2005 Oscar ceremony, where he asked random people on the street whether they had watched any of the big nominees that year (Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray, The Aviator, Finding Neverland), and it turned out that most of them hadn’t. On the other hand, all of them had watched and enjoyed a critically-panned Marlon Wayans starrer named White Chicks. Finally, he gets to a serious-looking guy who says he has watched all of the nominees. But when Rock asks him if he has watched White Chicks, his face lights up and he says, “Best movie of the year!”

ppps: Plus, I figure an offensive title like that would get my blog a lot of eyeballs on Women’s Day.

pppps: You realize I was kidding about that last line right?


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7 thoughts on “White Chicks

  1. S says:

    How Green Was My Valley?? I ain’t gonna say even if you cane me the Indian way, citizen!! BTW, what’s with the four S’s in the post script, prefaced with a total of 10 P’s? I LOL’d @ “The Artist was a black-and-white silent film that was enjoyed by everyone who got past those two adjectives and actually watched it.” I haven’t watched it yet (couldn’t get past the damn adjectives!).

    –White Chick S

    • S says:

      p.s: And I didn’t watch the Oscars this time either coz I forgot to TiVo it, and hate to watch live coz of how ad-mired the Academy Awards are.

    • The Oscarcast this time wasn’t quite as wonderful as one would’ve hoped, given that Billy Crystal was returning as emcee. So you didn’t miss much.

      As award shows, I agree with Baradwaj Rangan — the Golden Globes are a lot more fun. So are the Independent Spirit awards, held a day before the Oscars.

      • S says:

        Yeah Golden Globe s = more fun. Funny how that last line reads: “Independent Spirit…a day before the OS curse.”

  2. ak563089@gmail.com says:

    Sorry! Please get your facts right! Aamir Khan ”does not attend any Indian award” is wrong! He only doesn’t attend the likes of Filmfare, Stardust etc. organised by media houses like Times Group etc.
    Otherwise, he’s attended and received National Awards & others like Dinanath Mangeshkar Awards, Raj Kapoor Memorial Awards, Dadasaheb Phalke Awards, Padma Awards, Gollapudi National Awards and awards like Indian of the year by CNN-IBN and NDTV. He’s also attended and received business awards from CNBC-TV18 and NDTV.
    It’s not like he’s only after Oscars and has never attended any Indian award ceremony!
    As far as other award ”shows” are concerned, it’s not only Aamir Khan but even Anupam Kher, Ajay Devgan, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri etc. who’ve spoken against them and refuse to attend them. Actors like Salman Khan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar do attend these shows and perform there – but have always mentioned how these awards go to only those who attend them or agree to cut down their fee for performing in exchange for an award. Several instances have been there of these award shows inventing new categories at the last moment and sometimes giving awards to even those actors whose names weren’t even there in official nominations lists! They’ve been criticised by many reputed Indian journalists, film critics and veteran actors. Whenever any ”award show” like Filmfare shows on TV, social media is loaded with jokes on them!
    There are several reasons why awards are mired in controversy and have no respect. Common citizens in India watch these awards for entertainment and ”tamasha”. And ”award shows” cater to that first! Recognising achievements in cinema is not the priority of Filmfare and its dozen clones!

    • You’re right, I stand corrected on my statement on Aamir’s award show attendance.

      My point on how much we covet the Oscars still remains valid, though.

  3. veracious says:

    The Oscars are a strange beast, indeed. I often find myself playing down Oscar-winning films because they’ve got a type, and so much of Oscar success is based on successful lobbying, rather than quality of film. There’s a reason why Lagaan got as far as it did – they did the lobbying, they made sure people actually *saw* the movie, and so there was good buzz and it got some votes. There’s really no “the little film that could” to Oscars – a film needs backing, and aggressive promotion.

    And a lot of Academy members (who were recently revealed to be really old white guys – shocker!) don’t even watch the films. I sympathise, even if you’re retired, it’s not easy to find the time to watch all those damned film screeners that come through the post.

    So yeah. The process is weird, and thus the picks are weird, and often bland and unmemorable. But still, I find myself thinking “oh I should see that, look at all those Oscar nods it got!” or telling my friend, now that I’ve finally got a good DVD of Lagaan, “this one got nominated for an Oscar, we should watch it”. So you could say the myth of Oscars lives on, even though most of us have critically assessed how well these awards truly capture what’s quality, what’s not.

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