My Ideal Candidates for the 2015 Honorary Oscars

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If you didn’t realize the 2014 Governors Awards have come and gone, or that it’s even a thing, you can’t be faulted. For the past few years, the Governors Awards, the honorary Academy Awards, have been held in the middle of November. They are not televised. This year, there has been even less press about the event, in spite of the distinguished honorees Maureen O’Hara, Hayao Miyazaki, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Harry Belafonte.

Even if the Honorary Oscars don’t mean much to anyone else, I still find them highly important, especially as a means to reward cinematic artists who for one reason or another were shorthanded by the Academy in spite of producing consistently stellar work in their long tenure. Although the Oscars are subjective, and highly politically motivated, for better or worse, they are still film’s gold standard. That is why I am geared up towards next year’s Governors Awards and who the recipients should be.

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Foreign films, especially French films, in the 1950s played an instrumental role in demolishing the draconian Hays Code. The acting Grand Dame Jeanne Moreau was a significant player in the turn of events. She first came into the American conscience when her nude scene in The Lovers (1958), directed by French New Waver Louis Malle, was labeled by certain Ohioans as pornographic and landed an art house exhibitor in prison. There was a six year legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court before a Justice taciturnly declared it not porn with “I know it when I see it.” Today, viewers remember it for a magnetic and sensuous performance by Moreau as a wealthy unhappily married woman who has an affair with a younger polo-player.

She re-teamed with Malle the same year on Elevator to the Gallows, one of the quintessential French New Wave films. While it’s short on plot, it excels in atmosphere, much of the credit going to Moreau, playing an adulterer who conspires to murder her husband. In spite of the police detective’s skewering speech towards her evil deed, Moreau paints a tragic and sympathetic portrait of a lonely and desperate woman who is a slave to her overly romantic nature. The numerous scenes of her walking alone in Paris stand out the most for their frankness and mystery.

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Most critics and cineastes would cite Jules and Jim (1962) as Moreau’s career pinnacle. Directed by Francois Truffaut, Moreau’s Catherine, which is the central role, is heralded as one of the richest female characterizations captured on film. In an essay for the Criterion, John Powers raves “as played by Moreau, a pop-eyed siren with the ferocity of Bette Davis and the kitty-cat wiles of Tuesday Weld, Catherine becomes one of the modern movies’ triumphant characterizations—the anima as autocrat. Whether playing with vitriol or jumping into the Seine, she elevates capriciousness to an existential principle.”

She has collaborated with several of the best directors including Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Reiner Weiner Fassbinder, John Frankenheimer, and Luis Bunuel, delivering varied and dynamic performances for each.

Berlin, BAFTA, BFI, Cannes, and Venice have all bestowed honorary awards on Moreau. Come on Oscar, it’s your turn.

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Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are iconic films that rightfully received Oscar nominations for Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro (who won for the latter). Amazingly, screenwriter Paul Schrader went unlauded for both masterworks, and to this day hasn’t received a single Oscar nomination. His writing for Taxi Driver captured the idiosyncratic tone of the lowlifes that populated the ghostly desolate 70s NYC. Raging Bull is one of the few films that could turn excessive swearing into poetry of the inarticulate and uneducated Jake LaMotta and company. Both screenplays are still as powerful and shocking today.

As a matter of fact, Schrader has written and directed over twenty scripts and feature films that tackle a wide array of themes and modes ranging from Blue Collar (featuring Richard Pryor in a rare dramatic role) a film which Time Out magazine calls “the most clear-sighted movie ever made about the ways that shopfloor workers get fucked over by ‘the system,’” a quirky 80s update of Jacques Tourner’s cult classic horror Cat People, a Cannes-winning art house biopic of controversial Japanese author Yukio Mishima Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, to a boldly analytical religious epic The Last Temptation of Christ that got many Christians in a tizzy.

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Unlike many of his peers such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Brian DePalma who have skewed mainstream in later years, Schrader has remained intense and experimental. Even though his latest film The Canyons, a micro indie starring Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen, received generally bad reviews, all of the critics conceded it was an interesting failure, a quality which has won champions such as the Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek.

There’s a strong probability that even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve heard a countless number of Lalo Schifrin’s film scores. It wouldn’t be an understatement to claim that the Argentinian pianist and composer, who has scored over 200 films and TV shows in his 50+ year career, created the sound for the late 1960s and 70s, his style imitated by most films of the day. Unlike many film scores today (by more well-known names John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Hans Zimmer), Schifrin’s compositions are highly layered, and he is able to create a sound that is versatile yet recognizable particularly through the overlaying of a larger orchestra in the background and a foregrounded individual instrument.

His exhaustive range covers a soft bossa nova for the then-explosive 1967 D.H. Lawrence lesbian drama The Fox; an ominous, atonal electronica score for Dirty Harry (which really should have been nominated and won in its day); a melancholy guitar score for Cool Hand Luke; a smooth but noirish 80s pop-jazz score for Boulevard Nights; a frantically screeching string orchestra for The Exorcist; a funky 70s jive with a prominent clave for Enter the Dragon; an Asian-esque pulsating drum beat with synths for Rush Hour; a percussive bossa bop for Bullitt. Six nominations and no gold, it’s time to fix that, Academy.

I’ll abstain from the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award because it’s a bullshit prize. It’s time to stop enabling do-gooder celebrities and their band aid charities.

2 thoughts on “My Ideal Candidates for the 2015 Honorary Oscars

  1. Candace

    A tour de force article about these people who should have received more than a passing nod. That Paul Schrader is still not a household name astonishes me. I saw “Blue Collar” when it came out and still cringe over its no holds barred story. Excellent film and not for the faint of heart.

    As for Lalo Schifrin, he definitely set the tone and mood for movie scoring in general and atmosphere for each single movie in particular. I knew when I heard the iconoclastic “Mission:Impossible” then AND now that things were on the upswing. That definitely would be a great day to see that he is honored instead of the same ol’ same ol’ looping music of today’s “composers”.

    I agree with you strongly on the Humanitarian Award but I do know that some things have been at least brought to the public’s short-term attention with some of these moviemakers. Not that it’s made a difference…

    My first Jeanne Moreau movie was “The Bride Wore Black”, I think. Simply a lot of fun because it was my exposure to that time period and Ms.Moreau. “The Lovers” — say, we should give the Humanitarian Award to that judge who decided “I know it when I see it”.

    As always, this is just superb writing and reporting on your part, Adam. I look forward to more.

  2. Adam Tawfik

    Hi Candace,

    Thank you so much for your complementary remarks and lively response. Schrader really should be more of a household name. Taxi Driver can’t be beat.

    I’m glad you mention The Bride Wore Black because it demonstrates how Moreau is pure magic even when the film is a dull, plodding mess. Yes, the Judge should be recognized by the Academy, even if it’s posthumously.

    If the Humanitarian Award was for awarding pedantic do-gooder movies, it would be one thing, but they usually go to celebs for their high profile ambassadorial work with an org. like the UN or UNICEF, or some other well-meaning, but toothless org. It has absolutely nothing to do with movies.


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