Oscar the grouch

Some of the Academy’s recent shocking snubs

Gabriel Shapiro

It’s Oscar time again and like every year, there are speculations, rumors, and ultimately, letdowns. Some years are weaker than others, and at those times it makes sense that a less-than-stellar movie can win an award or two. Other times, though, there are straight-up snubs and plain old bad choices.

Take the 2000 Best Actor award going to Russell Crowe for “Gladiator.” Was this a decent picture? Sure. Was the acting extraordinary? No way. Most disappointing about Crowe’s win was that his performance did not win him the award, the hype surrounding “Gladiator” did. Up against performances by better actors in far better movies – Javier Bardem’s unflinching and absolutely riveting portrayal of Cuban poet and dissident Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls,” and Ed Harris directing himself as the tortured and brilliant title character in “Pollock” – Crowe’s General Maximus only needed to ride the wave of big-budget glam and glitz to Harris or Bardem’s rightful place on the podium.

“Dancer in the Dark” is another great movie, and as such, the Academy had a hard time knowing what to do with it. In fact, this movie was apparently just too tough to classify, as it was filmed in English and set in the United States, but shot mainly in Denmark by a Danish director. So rather than choose whether it should be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film or Best Picture, they gave it a nod for its music and otherwise left it out altogether. Björk, Lars Von Trier and the rest of the people involved with “Dancer in the Dark” did well elsewhere, most notably at Cannes, where Björk won best actress and Von Trier garnered the Palme d’Or.

Von Trier and company have little to grouse about compared to India. That’s right. The whole country of India ought to be more than a bit ticked off around Oscar time. In the 75 years of Academy Awards, only three Indian films have ever been nominated and none have won. What’s the big deal? India is home to the world’s most prolific film industry, and it’s not all Bollywood fluff either. The highlights of Indian cinema include films by Satyajit Ray, who was awarded an honorary lifetime achievement award in 1992, the year he died. Ray has been a major influence on renowned filmmakers from Akira Kurosawa to Martin Scorsese. More recent movies like Shekar Kapur’s biopic “Bandit Queen” and Mani Ratnam’s “Bombay” are examples of movies that, in a less Eurocentric environment, might have been nominated. In 1989 and 2000 respectively, Best Foreign Language Film nominees “Salaam Bombay” and “Lagaan” lost out to European films. 2003 saw India’s biggest star, Shah Rukh Khan, in the most expensive film in the history of Indian movies, the visually astounding, internationally acclaimed period epic “Devdas” become the latest addition to the dissed list, being left out of the running in Tuesday’s nominee announcements.

It seems the little golden statue is running with the popular crowd and not always looking for the date with the most substance or brains. But then for most movie dorks, rejection not in spite of, but rather because of a level of wit, sophistication or intellectual prowess the cool kids don’t have is a familiar occurrence. We’ll get over it, and curse Oscar’s name until next year when that fickle little objet d’amour might finally notice the qualities we admire and go home with a truly deserving new love.

Gabriel Shapiro welcomes comments at [email protected]