Savvy kudos guru Tariq Khan (Fox News) seems to have gotten to the bottom of the suspicion that Oscar might be an ole geezer out of touch with films about young folks. He sends Gold Derby this specal report. Words below are Tariq’s:
There has been a great deal of discussion about the Oscar chances of “The Social Network,” and if it might simply skew too young to win the award for Best Picture. But is that really true? It turns out that it may well be. Over the years, films which have largely focused on young people – particularly those of high school or college age – have gone down in defeat on Oscar night. Sure, there are exceptions. Take 1961’s “West Side Story” or 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” But consider these 10 films, listed in chronological order.
1.) “Boys Town” (1938) – While Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan was the true star of the film, he shared much of the screen with a large group of school boys (particularly a very young Mickey Rooney). The heart-warming tale became a classic, and won two Academy Awards out of five nominations. Best Picture was not one of them, as it lost to the older cast of “You Can’t Take It With You.”
2.) “East of Eden” (1955) – Despite earning nominations for director Elia Kazan and lead actor James Dean, this modern-day telling of the story of Cain and Abel was somehow left out of the Best Picture race. Was the love triangle involving Dean and co-stars Richard Davalos and Julie Harris deemed too juvenile? The film did produce a win in the supporting actress category for Jo Van Fleet, as the believed-to-be-dead mother. Best Picture went to “Marty,” showing Oscar’s preference for character north of 25
3.) “Love Story” (1970) – Love means never having to say you’re sorry. And apparently very young love means never having to say hello to Oscar. Like “The Social Network,” the film (or at least part of it) takes place on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The film was named Best Drama Picture at the Golden Globes, but was forced to surrender top honors to “Patton” at the Oscars.
4.) “The Last Picture Show” (1971) – This quiet, honest depiction of high school seniors in small town Texas made the honor roll of most critics, and earned eight gold star (aka Oscar) nominations, including Best Picture. Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms and nominee Jeff Bridges were all praised for their natural acting, yet their older co-stars Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman were the ones to win Academy Awards. Meanwhile, it was “The French Connection” that seemed to connect most with voters – who named it Best Picture of the year.
5.) “American Graffiti” (1973) – Yet another fine coming-of-age story, this George Lucas-directed film featured the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Harrison Ford. Boosted by a win for Best Musical/Comedy Picture at the Golden Globes, it seemed like it might have had a chance to snare the top prize at the Oscars. The “Graffiti” producers probably saw the writing on the wall when rival “The Sting” began to sweep the tech categories on Oscar’s big night. Indeed, its sting proved to be fatal when it finished with seven Oscars, leaving “Graffiti” completely erased.
6.) “Breaking Away” (1979) – Set in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, “Breaking Away” focused on a small group of friends facing the realities of life after high school. Like “American Graffiti,” it won the Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy Picture, and Oscar voters gave it high marks with five total nominations. In the end, the film lost Best Picture to the slightly more mature “Kramer vs. Kramer,” though it did manage to break away with the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
7.) “Dead Poets Society” (1989) – A box office sensation in the summer of 1989, this tale of New England boarding school boys and their newfound love of poetry charmed the academy with four nominations. While Robin Williams as an inspirational English teacher was included in the Best Actor category, none of the film’s young actors were recognized. It became another Best Original Screenplay winner, losing the Best Picture award to the more Oscar demographic friendly “Driving Miss Daisy.”
8.) “Scent of a Woman” (1992) – Al Pacino may have been the star (and the eventual Oscar winner for best actor,) but Chris O’Donnell and his fellow classmates shared much of the screen. O’Donnell earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a virtuous northeastern prep school student, but was snubbed come Oscar time. The film was a surprise winner at the Golden Globes (another story entirely) for Best Drama Picture. As expected, the academy chose age over beauty, giving Clint Eastwood‘s “Unforgiven” the scent of Oscar.
9.) “Good Will Hunting” (1997) – Yet another Cambridge-set drama, starring Matt Damon as a genius working as a janitor at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Love interest Minnie Driver at nearby Harvard helped to create cross-campus sparks, and both earned Oscar nominations for their acclaimed performances. Older co-star Robin Williams emerged as the film’s only acting winner, and “Titanic” sailed to victory that Oscar night. Damon and pal Ben Affleck did have a consolation prize with the Best Original Screenplay award. Host Billy Crystal joked that the two were so young that the ballots had to be tabulated by Fisher Price Waterhouse.
10.) “Juno” (2007) – An unlikely candidate for a Best Picture nomination, this surprise smash featuring a fast-talking Ellen Page as a pregnant teen impressed moviegoers and Oscar voters alike. It was a strange awards year, and it looked like “Juno” had the potential to become a surprise winner. Ultimately, it proved to be no competition for the Coen Brothers‘ “No Country for Old Men,” a film with much darker and more weathered characters. Looking at the Oscar/age discrimination theory, anyone told by Javier Bardem to “call it” for “Juno” or “No Country” would need not think twice.
Top photo: Reel Geezers
Bottom photo: “The Social Network” (Columbia)