Friday, February 28, 2014

"What Are You, Crazy? - Have An Oscar"

A highly respected lighting director for feature film is hired to work on a big-budget “Courtroom Drama” set in 2014.  Before the film starts shooting, he meets with the movie’s director, to receive his instructions.


“I want naturalistic lighting.  On cue, the lights to go on – and the lights to go off.”


“No Oscar.”

The Film Editor meets with the director:


“Linear storytelling.  Nothing fancy.”


“No Oscar.”

A renowned Costume Designer takes her turn with the director:


“Contemporary attire.  Shoes.  Shirts.  Dark suits and ties.”


“No Oscar.”  (You cannot win an Oscar with a tie.)

The cinematographer sits down with the director:


“I want it clean, and I want it simple.”


“No Oscar.”  (“And boy, do I miss Fellini!")

The “Special Effects” Guru comes in for a meeting:


“I don’t even know what you’re doing here.  This is a ‘Courtroom Drama’!”


“No job".  (And consequently, of course, no Oscar.)

My point being:

You can do impeccable work in your area of expertise.  But if there is no demonstrable “flash” in your assignment....

There is no “Acceptance Speech” in your immediate future.

And, may I say, because this is where I’ve been heading with this all along, you can “Ditto” and double that for acting.

In my exhaustive research on this matter – and by “exhaustive” I mean, I did it till I got tired of it – I have discovered that the best – nay, the only – okay, let me quality –  the virtually only way of obtaining any Oscar consideration whatsoever is to nab a role playing a character who is either, sensory deprived, mentally troubled, some form of an addict, or a larger-than-life figure who actually existed.  


The following actors were either nominated or won Oscars for the following performances, all of which fall into the above-mentioned categories:  (NOTE:  If you can think of any other “Slam-Dunk” categories for sure-fire Oscars consideration, feel free to pass them along.)

Sensory Deprived:  (A partial smattering)

Al Pacino – Scent of a Woman ­­– won an Oscar, playing a blind man.

Jane Wyman – Johnny Belinda – won an Oscar, playing a deaf girl.

Patty Duke – The Miracle Worker – won a Oscar playing Helen Keller, who was deaf, dumb and blind.  (I don’t know why the other candidates in her category even bothered to show up.)

MENTALLY TROUBLED:  (To mention only four of what I am sure is a considerably longer list)

Russell Crowe – A Beautiful Mind – garnered an Oscar nomination for playing a crazy mathematician.

Jessica Lange – Frances ­­– nominated for an Oscar for playing a seriously trouble actress.  

Bette Davis – who, I believe, was “nutso” in ­every role she ever played – eleven Oscar nominations, two wins. 

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine – Keep your eyes open.

ADDICTS:  (A selected three, of substantially more)

Ray Milland – The Long Weekend – Oscar winner, for playing an alcoholic.

Lee Marvin – Cat BallouOscar winner, for playing an alcoholic.

Jamie Foxx – RayOscar winner, for playing a rock ’n roller who took a boatload of drugs. 

(Observation:  Addiction may be the most certain path of all to the Oscars podium.)

LARGER-THAN-LIFE FIGURES WHO ACTUALLY EXISTED:  (In on way comprehensive; I do have a life.)

Daniel Day Lewis – LincolnOscar winner, playing arguably, if you don’t ask anyone from the South, our greatest president.

Paul Muni – The Story of Louis PasteurOscar winner, for the man who made cow milk safe to drink.  (Unless you’re allergic.)  (A substantial portion of Paul Muni’s career involved playing Larger-Than-Life Figures Who Actually Existed; Muni also starred as Mexican revolutionary Benito Juarez, and as French novelist and Dreyfus defender Emile Zola, the latter earning him yet another Oscar nomination.)

And since we are rapidly losing steam here, let’s pluck down

Jamie Foxx - who, in Ray, does “double-duty”, both as an “Addict” and as a “Larger-Than-Life Figure Who Actually Existed.”  Which category earned him the Oscar, it is impossible to say.

Okay, now, for those of you fuming at home, yes, award-winning dramatic performances require the characters to participate in, let’s say, harrowing or, if you wish, challenging situations, for which, I imagine you would agree, “sensorially impaired”, “addicted”, “losing your mind” and “running a country that is coming apart at the seams” would definitely qualify.

Drama equals extremes. 


But not exclusively true.

Some of our best actors excelled at playing ordinary people.  Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, to name but two, though they are part of a much larger contingent.  (Robert Cummings, Joel McCrea.) 

Both Stewart and Grant enjoyed long and industrious careers.  However, Jimmy only won only one Oscar, Cary Grant, only an honorary Oscar.

Nobody thinks they were bad actors.  The trouble was, they invariably portrayed regular people, who, in films I really like, like North By Northwest (Grant) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (Stewart), got caught up in dramatic situations. 

That’s the other kind of drama – the kind where people “just like us” – not crazy, not addicted, not in the history books, not blind – are faced with extraordinary circumstances when they are unexpectedly drawn into some serious shenanigans.

Grant’s and Stewart’s performances in the above-mentioned movies were wonderful.

But there was not a glimmer of love for them from the “Academy.”

What I am saying is,

There is no award for being “brilliantly ordinary.”

And I am thinking there should be.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Even Meryl Streep has needed help.

- for playing Margaret Thatcher in THE IRON LADY

Plus, you left out mothers desperately striving to save their children, as in

On the other hand, she's been nominated 18 times (including the wins). At that rate, she has to win one *sometimes*.


Lyle said...

Earl: I forwarded your commentary on the Oscars to those on my email lists (with due credit to the brilliant author).

Here are a couple comments you may find of interest.


lyle e davis
The Paper


Daughter, Heidi & son, Brent, make it annual tradition to get together on Academy Awards night to view the Oscars. Point being, the stated requirement is they pledge to view each of the nominated movies for the chief categories (e.g., leading actor/actress, supporting actor/actress, each of the nominated movies, etc.).

Because of their interest and inasmuch as you forwarded the Earl Pomerantz article, I sent along to them.

Brent responded with the following:

From: Brent Skuba
Sent: February 28 14 11:06 AM
To: Alan Skuba
Cc: Heidi (
Subject: Re: The Oscars are coming . . .

Dad - There are some interesting points here, but I think he's oversimplifying. I think plenty of stories about "brilliantly ordinary" people get nominated...this year, for example: Captain Phillips, Philomena, and Gravity. No insanity or addiction in any of those plots...unless piracy or unwed motherhood or being an astronaut counts!

Excited for the annual spectacle to unfold!

Love, B.

Sent from my iPhone

On Feb 28, 2014, at 10:45 AM, Alan Skuba wrote:

Heidi & Brent,

What with your Oscar get together about to occur, thought you might enjoy this piece from writer Earl Pomerantz.

Love you both,



Daughter, Heidi, had this to state on the article…

From: Heidi Maretz
Sent: February 28 14 11:54 AM
To: Brent Skuba
Cc: Alan Skuba
Subject: Re: The Oscars are coming . . .

They don't call it "drama" for nothing. Brent, you are right that those characters are not addicts or insane, but at least with Philomena and Gravity, the women are tortured souls - Sandra by the loss of her daughter and Judi by the loss of her son. Bottom line- we all love to watch tortured souls.

All I know is if Gravity wins Best Picture over 12 Years a Slave, you will witness some seriously dramatic insanity from this actress!

Love you both and thanks for sharing daddy.


canda said...

You left out when an attractive actress like Charlize Theron makes herself look unattractive, as she did in "Monster", the Academy goes wild. What about the actresses that already look like that? How do they enjoy being told they're not getting the part - a beautiful woman is getting it.

Hollywood also loves actors who make great physical transformations on their own - Deniro in "Raging Bull" and McConaughy in "Dallas Buyers Club", although I guess they both fit your larger-than-lifr real person category.

Junior Gilliam, Sr. said...

Interesting theory. I'll buy into it, partially. Streep, Blanchett, Hanks, Crowe, Mirren, Dench and some others whose names escape my fading memory right now - they don't need any help, they're at that elite level. Denzel, too. Certainly the story-line matters but whether the character is an addict or butt-ugly, or even both, I don't think that matters as much as the story. Didn't Jessica Lange win an Oscar playing a normal, beautiful young woman in Tootsie? And didn't she win one playing the depressed wife of an Air Force officer? She was still beautiful - does that matter? How about she's very talented. I'll go with that. I don't have enough energy to research any others and this is subjective anyway, so I'll bid you adieu!

Anonymous said...

And the category for prostitutes:
Donna Reed (From Here to Eternity),
Shirley Jones (Elmer Gantry),
Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8)
Jane Fonda (Klute),
Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite)