Comedy at the Oscars™: Queries from an Impish Cinephile

Do you like to laugh? I do. Have you ever watched a film made with such cinematic wit and comedic genius that you continued to marvel at its gags for long afterwards? I have. So I wonder (see photo, above!) – really wonder – why so often our culture more often reserves the highest rewards for works of a more serious bent. As a man with an impish disposition, I swear up and down that my love of comedy, or of the irreverent bon mot, does not in any way mean that I don’t take life or the problems of this world seriously. And I think a lot of good and sincere dramas have deservedly won Oscars™. But a look at a list of the Best Picture Oscars™ given since 1927 shows a clear bias towards the serious over the comedic. Why do you think that is?

Here’s the list:

1927-28 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans(1927)Wings (1927)
1929 The Broadway Melody (1929)
1930 All Quiet On the Western Front (1930)
1931 Cimarron (1931)
1932 Grand Hotel (1932)
1933 Cavalcade (1933)
1934 It Happened One Night (1934)
1935 Mutiny On the Bounty (1935)
1936 The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
1937 The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
1938 You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
1939 Gone With the Wind (1939)
1940 Rebecca (1940)
1941 How Green Was My Valley (1941)
1942 Mrs. Miniver (1942)
1943 Casablanca (1942)
1944 Going My Way (1944)
1945 The Lost Weekend (1945)
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
1947 Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
1948 Hamlet (1948)
1949 All the King’s Men (1949)
1950 All About Eve (1950)
1951 An American In Paris (1951)
1952 The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
1953 From Here To Eternity (1953)
1954 On the Waterfront (1954)
1955 Marty (1955)
1956 Around the World In 80 Days (1956)
1957 The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)
1958 Gigi (1958)
1959 Ben-Hur (1959)
1960 The Apartment (1960)
1961 West Side Story (1961)
1962 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
1963 Tom Jones (1963)
1964 My Fair Lady (1964)
1965 The Sound of Music (1965)
1966 A Man For All Seasons (1966)
1967 In the Heat of the Night (1967)
1968 Oliver! (1968)
1969 Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970 Patton (1970)
1971 The French Connection (1971)
1972 The Godfather (1972)
1973 The Sting (1973)
1974 The Godfather, Part II (1974)
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
1976 Rocky (1976)
1977 Annie Hall (1977)
1978 The Deer Hunter (1978)
1979 Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
1980 Ordinary People (1980)
1981 Chariots of Fire (1981)
1982 Gandhi (1982)
1983 Terms of Endearment (1983)
1984 Amadeus (1984)
1985 Out of Africa (1985)
1986 Platoon (1986)
1987 The Last Emperor (1987)
1988 Rain Man (1988)
1989 Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990 Dances With Wolves (1990)
1991 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
1992 Unforgiven (1992)
1993 Schindler’s List (1993)
1994 Forrest Gump (1994)
1995 Braveheart (1995)
1996 The English Patient (1996)
1997 Titanic (1997)
1998 Shakespeare In Love (1998)
1999 American Beauty (1999)
2000 Gladiator (2000)
2001 A Beautiful Mind (2001)
2002 Chicago (2002)
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
2004 Million Dollar Baby (2004)
2005 Crash (2005)
2006 The Departed (2006)
2007 No Country For Old Men (2007)
2008 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
2009 The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010 The King’s Speech (2010)
2011 The Artist (2011)

Some of the above films are dramas with significantly funny writing, such as Casablanca or The Apartment (thankfully Billy Wilder won for at least one of his wittier films, rather than just for the awful The Long Weekend). Some of the above are musicals, which have silliness built into them, like the two Vincente Minnelli films An American in Paris and Gigi (as well as The Sound of Music), although their plots also have elements of high melodrama. Which of the winners, though, would we categorize as pure comedies? Annie Hall? Tom Jones? You Can’t Take It With You? The Artist? All of them are funny, but not necessarily solely comedies. Even Annie Hall – the purest of the lot – has some melodrama in it. Chicago is silly, but it’s a musical, so even the darker elements cannot help but be tinged with the fantastic. I think, in fact, that Annie Hall may be the only film that most people would call a comedy to have won an Oscar™.

I don’t have the space here to list all of the nominees for Best Picture over the years, but if I did, you’d see that very few comedies have even been nominated. Not even Some Like It Hot made it in 1959 … As a kid, I remember being very upset, in 1982, when Gandhi beat out Tootsie. But at least Tootsie was nominated!

Ponder this the next time you feel yourself being transported to another dimension as your ribs hurt from laughter while you watch a great comedy. Is this not art? If it is, then why don’t we recognize it as such?

2 thoughts on “Comedy at the Oscars™: Queries from an Impish Cinephile

    • chrisreedfilm says:

      That, of course, Ruben, is an excellent question. Here’s what I have chosen from my list of the films I have watched over the years to which I have given an A- or A rating:

      1933 – Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
      1934 – It Happened One Night (1934) *** Won!
      1935 – Top Hat (1935) *** Nominated!
      1940 – Great Dictator, The (1940) *** Nominated!
      1941 – Ball of Fire (1941)
      1941 – Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
      1942 – Palm Beach Story, The (1942)
      1942 – To Be or Not to Be (1942)
      1952 – Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
      1953 – Mr Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
      1955 – Ladykillers, The (1955)
      1959 – Some Like It Hot (1959)
      1964 – Dr. Strangelove (1964) *** Nominated!
      1964 – Shot in the Dark, A (1964)
      1967 – Graduate, The (1967) *** Nominated!
      1972 – Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie, The (1972)
      1974 – Blazing Saddles (1974)
      1974 – Young Frankenstein (1974)
      1979 – Being There (1979)
      1982 – Tootsie (1982) *** Nominated!
      1984 – Ghostbusters (1984)
      1986 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
      1986 – Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) *** Nominated!
      1987 – Princess Bride, The (1987)
      1988 – Fish Called Wanda, A (1988)
      1988 – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
      1989 – When Harry Met Sally (1989)
      1991 – Impromptu (1991)
      1993 – Groundhog Day (1993)
      1994 – Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) *** Nominated!
      1996 – Flirting with Disaster (1996)
      1997 – Full Monty, The (1997) *** Nominated!
      1998 – Rushmore (1998)
      1999 – Galaxy Quest (1999)
      2000 – Best in Show (2000)
      2003 – Elf (2003)
      2006 – Little Miss Sunshine (2006) *** Nominated!
      2007 – Death at a Funeral (2007)
      2009 – In the Loop (2009)
      2010 – Trip, The (2010)

      And what would you include?

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