... something you did in another year. Cinema Styles presents Great moments in Oscar Compensation History.
Leading up to the Oscars I'll continue to highlight snubs and other odd behavior. This new feature focuses on the best (or worst) of the "mercy" Oscars, as they're known. These are Oscars given as compensation for a flub in a previous year. We'll start it off with an actress, an actor and a director.
BEST ACTRESS: Bette Davis Dangerous 1935 - for her un-nominated performance in Of Human Bondage 1934. This is considered by many to be the first true Oscar compensation award. It was only the eighth year of the awards and already they were screwing up royally. In 1934 Bette Davis received praise for her blazing performance in Of Human Bondage. Whether the accent was perfect or not, who cares? She was easily the most memorable thing on the screen for the entire year and it made her a star. But the Academy didn't nominate her and movie fans around the country cried foul. So the Academy allowed for a write-in-vote among members for the first time so that Davis could still win, possibly. She didn't. The award went to Claudette Colbert (a personal favorite of mine) in It Happened One Night and you can't really complain about that. In 1935 Davis made Dangerous, giving a listless performance in a mediocre film. Nobody cared. They gave her the Oscar for it, but everyone knew why she had really won it.
BEST ACTOR: James Stewart The Philadelphia Story (1940) - for his performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). His performance in The Philadelphia Story is terrific but here's the story from days gone by: In 1938 Robert Donat lost to Spencer Tracy who won his second consecutive Oscar, this time for Boys Town. According to Oscar lore there were some feelings that the Academy was all about rewarding American movies (which it is) and no others. Other Brits had won (Charles Laughton The Private Lives of Henry VII 1933) but many felt Donat's performance in The Citadel was better than Tracy's in Boys Town. So in 1939, Donat received the award for his performance in Goodbye Mr. Chips. That meant Clark Gable had to lose for Gone With the Wind but that was okay because he already had an Oscar for It Happened One Night (1934). That left Jimmy Stewart, of whom many felt gave the best performance of the year in Mr. Smith. Which takes us to 1940 and The Philadelphia Story. Did you get all that?
BEST DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese The Departed (2006) - for a career of previous achievement (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, After Hours, Raging Bull, goodfellas). This is too recent to have any significant lore attached to it but if most filmgoers check their gut instincts there's no denying he didn't deserve it for this movie. The film moves fast and weaves a complicated tale but (for me at least) when it's over, it's gone. It leaves the head and doesn't come back. It was yet another film from last year (like Little Miss Sunshine) that received kudos and attention far outweighing it's status as a somewhat sterile empty crime thriller. But the kudos and awards inflated the expectations and inevitably those expectations were not met. This was not the best film of the year and certainly not Scorsese's best work, but it feels like a Scorsese film (unlike say, The Aviator) and they had to FINALLY give it to him for something.