On the opening night of its annual 31 Days of Oscar festival, TCM presents the world premiere of "And the Oscar Goes To...", a documentary tracing the history of the Academy Awards. The documentary is one of a series of programming events leading up to the TCM 20th anniversary in April 2014. In telling the story of the gold-plated statuette that became the film industry's most coveted prize, And the Oscar Goes To... traces the history of the Academy itself, which began in 1927 when Louis B. Mayer, then head of MGM, led other prominent members of the industry in forming this professional honorary organization. Two years later the Academy began bestowing awards, which were nicknamed "Oscar" and quickly came to represent the pinnacle of cinematic achievement.Written by
At a breezy 95 minutes, the entertaining TCM documentary "And the Oscar goes to..." skims across nearly 90 years of Hollywood and Academy Award history with breathless nostalgia and a few fascinating factoids. Despite a personal viewing of the televised Oscar ceremony that stretches back to the late 1950's, much had slipped from memory. Certainly Sacheen Littlefeather's refusal of Marlon Brando's Oscar, Hattie McDaniel's teary acceptance speech, and Jane Fonda receiving the Oscar for her father were familiar from countless replays. However, Dustin Hoffman's gracious speech honoring his co-nominees, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in giddy exuberance after their screen-writing win, and Tom Hanks thanking his gay-American teachers had faded. Vanessa Redgrave's Palestinian comments, however, perhaps remain too controversial for inclusion. Also missing are any mention of how the nominations are made, who can vote, and how the winners are determined, despite several shots of an early Price Waterhouse representative.
A movie buff's popcorn flick, "And the Oscar goes to..." includes the ceremony's many hosts, beginning with black-and-white footage of Bob Hope; the quintessential Oscar Night host, Hope had the style, wit, and humor to which later hosts could only aspire. With unflappable good taste, Hope seemed effortless, while others often tried too hard with mixed results. Whoopi Goldberg, however, did provide some priceless moments as host, especially her "African Queen" comment while garbed as Queen Elizabeth I. Johnny Carson and Steve Martin brought back some smiles, but other hosts are remembered with a grimace, and the sight of James Franco and Anne Hathaway was allowed to pass without comment.
Director-writers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have inter-cut brief historical segments amongst the clips and interviews. Evidently, the Academy's original purpose was to combat unionization; but once the Academy renounced political and labor involvement, the board of governors turned to the celebration of movies as an art form, and the Oscars were born. The film also touches briefly on the 1950's black list and includes Lilian Hellman's pointed on-air comments. The spotty history of honoring African-American artists is an all-too-brief flash of clips, and a discussion of gay performances and openly LGBT actors seems to end before it begins. Epstein and Friedman are intent on avoiding controversy and focusing on nostalgia and light interviews with former nominees and winners.
Oscar winners such as Cher, Ellen Burstyn, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Helen Mirren among others discuss the experience of being nominated, waiting tensely in the audience, losing gracefully, and winning graciously. Helen Mirren offers some of the best insights about the inner conflict when artists compete for awards. However, despite the occasional revelations, the film is little more than a nostalgic introduction to a subject that could have filled several hours. Perhaps, if successful, "And the Oscar goes to..." could be the introductory episode in a series that explores Oscar politics and campaigning, studio power and influence, and the Oscar's increasing value to star salaries and movie grosses. A passing glance at overlooked artists (Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Deborah Kerr, Peter O'Toole) and bypassed films (Singin' in the Rain, The Searchers) could have filled an entire documentary. The extended discussion of Martin Scorsese's directorial technique on "Raging Bull" only emphasized Oscar's sometimes bizarre choices; the winners that year over Scorsese and "Raging Bull," Robert Redford and "Ordinary People," were barely mentioned. As one interviewee said, the Oscars is one big night of glittering celebration among countless days of hard non-glamorous work in grungy surroundings. However, that one-night ceremony is an event to enjoy and discuss over the next morning's coffee. The award's ephemeral fame fades quickly, and few can name last year's winners, although the vastly entertaining "And the Oscar goes to..." will help viewers remember many more of them.
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