I'm pretty cynical about movie awards in general, and while "The Academy" is hardly the worst of the annual tongue-baths, it is (obviously) the largest. But when all the griping and complaining and second-guessing is done, while you're perusing the winners, the "losers," and the endless deluge of year-end "best of" checklists, we can always take a little solace in the fact that, hell, movies are getting attention, being talked about, and causing all sorts of arguments on Twitter. And really, that's what the beauty of cinema is all about.
Jokes aside, I haven't missed an Oscar broadcast since I knew what the phrase meant, and while I often come off as blustery blowhard, the simple truth is that I love the movies -- and when the movies that hit me in a personal way get some global attention, that just makes me happy for a few minutes. Nobody knows why, really, but if you can root for game show contestants and reality TV stooges, than I can have a small rooting interest in the fine people who make high-end films.
So here's a list, off the top of my head, of moments of Academy Award victory that actually had me cheering from my couch.
Jennifer Connelly -- I know it's not "cool" to dig A Beautiful Mind, and Ms. Connelly's work therein isn't even among her very best performances (trust me, I've seen them all) but when you've "grown up" with a performer of about the same age, when you've overlooked their failures and cheered their successes, and when you're DESPERATELY and MADLY in love with an actress, it's cool to get a little excited when she wins the big brass ring. She coulda/shoulda been nominated for Requiem for a Dream or, better yet, Waking the Dead, but this is better than nothing. (Jenny, call me when Paul Bettany stops being handsome. In like 2044.)
Kevin Kline -- Yep, my eyes were glued to the Oscar show back when A Fish Called Wanda was a nominee. (And if you haven't seen it lately, or at all(!), trust me: it still holds up.) Believe it or not, this maniacal ensemble farce was also nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay. The Academy was much cooler in the 1980s, trust me. Regarding Mr. Kline, his is the performance most frequently cited when people converse about "why comedy performances don't win enough awards." I couldn't agree more; even among Kevin Kline's excellent work in several comedies (Dave, In & Out, Soapdish), his performance in Wanda is pretty special.
Pulp Fiction -- I'm still steamed that it didn't win Best Picture (not really) but I do remember hooting and hollering when it won for Best Screenplay. Yes, I was one of those movie geeks who thought he "discovered" Quentin Tarantino all by himself. Great, now I want to go watch Pulp Fiction right now.
The Cove -- People often debate the relative "importance" of film critics in the grand scheme of things, but I know one thing: if I helped convince ONE person to buy a ticket or a copy of The Cove, then I've done some good. Some of the best documentaries ever made shed fascinating new light on history, and others, like this one, demand that we address the world's injustices today. Plus it's just damn good documentary filmmaking, and I was thrilled when the filmmakers took the top prize against some rather strong competitors. I don't know that I'd ever want to watch The Cove again, but I'm damn glad that saw it once, saw it early, and was able to throw my support behind it with a rather forcefully positive review.
Robin Williams -- Focus on the guy's lousier movies if you must, but I've been a Robin Williams fan since the days of Mork and Popeye. Nominated for Good Morning Vietnam in 1987 -- didn't win. Nominated again for Dead Poets Society two years later. Didn't win. Third time? The Fisher King. Nope. Then he finally did win for Good Will Hunting and I felt really happy for the lovable lunatic.
The Silence of the Lambs -- This ... was ... awesome! It just kept winning! It tied the all-time record for "big five category" wins! A horror movie! From a genre-friendly director who got his start with Roger Corman! Vindication for the horror geeks! Yes, the film is fantastic regardless of the genre, and you could just as easily call it a dark thriller or a character-based procedural -- but screw all that: a horror flick won Picture, Actor, Actress, etc., etc. And here's the best part: the film holds up remarkably well today.
Gene Hackman -- He won his first Oscar the year I was born (for The French Connection), and he's been my favorite actor for as long as I can remember, so it was great to see the old guy win a second statue for his staggeringly nasty performance in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. You may remember this as "just another villain" role for Mr. Hackman. If that's the case, please do revisit Unforgiven as soon as you have two free hours. You don't take an Oscar away from Pacino and Nicholson by delivering "just another villain."
Kathy Bates -- Yeah, I'm going with the horror pick again, but let's be fair: Ms. Bates' performance in Rob Reiner's Misery is force of nature creepy. Raw, rough, sometimes fun, sometimes downright horrifying. And she had some serious competition that year in Anjelica Huston (The Grifters), Meryl Streep (Postcards from the Edge), and Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman). Yes, I truly thought Julia Roberts was going to steal it. Whew.
Bonus pick for nerdly disappointment: Sigourney Weaver's performance in Aliens losing out to Marlee Matlin. I remember screaming things at the TV.