The Academy Awards have historically been a rather stodgy affair existing behind the curve of changing tastes. One bit of evidence supporting this view is how the awards handed out by Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have remained relatively unchanged since the very first ceremony that featured more silent nominees than talkies.
Which is not to say that the Academy Awards have remained unchanged in the face of all the many technological advancements in filmmaking over the past 75 years. One of the original Academy Award categories was for Writing: Titles. This particular category holds the dubious distinction of being introduced as a regular category rather than a special award only to be excised from existence the very next year. This category’s existence and demise were both dependent upon what remains one of the most revolutionary and important technical innovations in the history of film: the talkies. The person to win an Oscar for Writing: Titles? Joseph Farnham.
Another Oscar category with a short shelf life, but one that seems as long as the average Academy Awards telecast today in comparison to the longevity of the Writing: Titles category was Best Assistant Director. The short run of this Oscar category occupied the years 1933 to 1937. Aside from its fleeting existence, the most fascinating aspect of this category is that though it was only included in five Oscar ceremonies, no less than 10 different ADs collected the trophy.
The Academy’s unwillingness to institute a permanent category honoring child actors has resulted in weirdness like the 70 year age difference between 1979 Best Supporting Actor nominees Melvyn Douglas and Justin Henry. The closest thing was the infrequent and ultimately discontinued Academy Juvenile Award. Among the much-deserved winners of this Oscar oddball: Margaret O’Brien for “Meet Me in St. Louis,” Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” and Ivan Jandl in “The Search.” The special Academy Award’s swansong occurred in 1960 when Hayley Mills was honored for “Pollyanna.”
Makeup did not become a regular category until the 1980s and those artists are not the only contributors to moviemaking forced to wait well beyond a reasonable period of time for recognition. Since 1999, the Academy’s Board of Governors has rejected three suggestions for new award categories: Best Casting, Best Stunt Coordination (rejected twice) and Best Title Design. Considering the huge impact that perfect casting or astoundingly bad miscasting can have on the success of movie, the fact that stunt work becomes a central component of an increasing percentage of films with each passing years and that the title sequence is in many cases the most memorable part of a movie, the Governors seem to be hellbent on keeping the Academy Awards’ reputation as stubbornly keeping behind the times intact.
It took until 2001 for the Academy to finally realize that feature-length animated films were just as deserving of their own category of animated short subjects. Considering that the last all-out, 100% comedy to win Best Picture was “Annie Hall” back in 1977, who could possibly argue that the single worst oversight at every Oscar ceremony is the continued disrespect given to movies that make us laugh. While mostly forgotten “serious and important” dramas like “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” bloated epics like “Ben-Hur,” and ridiculously trite box office faves like “Titanic” have been honored as the best picture of the year, classic comedic masterpieces like “Some Like it Hot,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Tootsie” never even had a chance.
C’mon Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences: give us a Best Comedy Picture category at long last!