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Why are comedies seldom recognized as Best Pictures?

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I think it's easy to suggest just separating the categories, but that just strengthens the idea of there being a segregation within the Academy Awards.

 

Comedy is my favorite genre, so this is a particularly sore point for me. Ryan Gosling SHOULD be nominated next year for his pitch perfect Stan Laurel-esque performance in The Nice Guys, but we all know it will instead be someone in a true story biopic about someone famous with a serious illness struggling in a very bad time of history that gets through it with Hollywood movies. The Academy will eat it up, but it'll be forgotten in a few years.

 

This reminds me of Robert Downey Jr.'s performance in the early 90s as Chaplin. Because the film focused on the serious issues in the great comedian's life, instead of being a light-hearted romp, it was considered worthy of Oscar recognition. But if they had removed all of the angst and scandal in Chaplin's life and just focused on the development of his comedy, it's rather likely Downey would not have been nominated. 

 

As for creating separate categories, perhaps this is why the Golden Globes differentiate between best picture drama and best picture musical-or-comedy. It's something the Academy should also consider.

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This reminds me of Robert Downey Jr.'s performance in the early 90s as Chaplin. Because the film focused on the serious issues in the great comedian's life, instead of being a light-hearted romp, it was considered worthy of Oscar recognition. But if they had removed all of the angst and scandal in Chaplin's life and just focused on the development of his comedy, it's rather likely Downey would not have been nominated. 

 

As for creating separate categories, perhaps this is why the Golden Globes differentiate between best picture drama and best picture musical-or-comedy. It's something the Academy should also consider.

 

I'm surprised the Academy hasn't created separate categories, if for no other reason then marketing purposes (which is the main goal of the awards to begin with). 

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As for creating separate categories, perhaps this is why the Golden Globes differentiate between best picture drama and best picture musical-or-comedy. It's something the Academy should also consider.

 

It's really the only solution to the problem, but it's a disappointing one. And even if it happened, you'd get the same bizarre choices you see at the Golden Globes with light-hearted dramas being 'marketed' as comedies.

 

I completely understand that it's hard to put a comedy and a drama together in a category, because they're completely different, tonally. But if there's a comedy that has a great story, is excellently put together and says something (e.g. Annie Hall or Tootsie, both of which were nominated for Best Picture), I don't see any reason why it should not be in the running alongside all of the weepies.

 

But, honestly, I welcome any solution to the pretentious "Comedy is Lowbrow" idea that so many members of the Academy seem to have. They need to sit down, watch Sullivan's Travels and understand (just as Joel McCrea does) that people need to laugh.

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It's really the only solution to the problem, but it's a disappointing one. And even if it happened, you'd get the same bizarre choices you see at the Golden Globes with light-hearted dramas being 'marketed' as comedies.

 

I completely understand that it's hard to put a comedy and a drama together in a category, because they're completely different, tonally. But if there's a comedy that has a great story, is excellently put together and says something (e.g. Annie Hall or Tootsie, both of which were nominated for Best Picture), I don't see any reason why it should not be in the running alongside all of the weepies.

 

But, honestly, I welcome any solution to the pretentious "Comedy is Lowbrow" idea that so many members of the Academy seem to have. They need to sit down, watch Sullivan's Travels and understand (just as Joel McCrea does) that people need to laugh.

 

I think what you are saying about light-hearted dramas being marketed as comedies is rather interesting. I guess if awards for best picture are handed out by genre, then a decision has to be made about how to classify comedy-dramas which can go either way.

 

Because budgets are so high now for studio films, and they need to appeal to the broadest possible audience to recover their investments, we are seeing a lot of films in recent years that are hybrids (with elements of three and sometimes four genres in them). More than ever, the Academy voters should not discriminate and should be able to look beyond genre classifications to focus on story and overall production values.

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I think what you are saying about light-hearted dramas being marketed as comedies is rather interesting. I guess if awards for best picture are handed out by genre, then a decision has to be made about how to classify comedy-dramas which can go either way.

 

Because budgets are so high now for studio films, and they need to appeal to the broadest possible audience to recover their investments, we are seeing a lot of films in recent years that are hybrids (with elements of three and sometimes four genres in them). More than ever, the Academy voters should not discriminate and should be able to look beyond genre classifications to focus on story and overall production values.

It's a good point that a movie being marketed incorrectly can affect public perception of the film and therefore the box office and ultimately the "legacy" of the film. The fairly recent Tina Fey film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was promoted in the trailer and ads by punching up the two or three major "jokes", but the movie itself was a basically uncomedic look at war correspondents. I don't know what the final box office was, but I'm willing to bet there were plenty of disgruntled moviegoers who had been expecting something else. The marketing was a disservice to the film and to Fey herself, who is more than able to handle dramatic as well as comedic acting roles. You mentioned Robin Williams a while back as someone who could handle both kinds of roles; he and Tina Fey are examples of actors who may sometimes be penalized because the film companies want to capitalize on their early success as comedians. (Steve Carrell too.)

 

Your point about Academy voters was well-taken. They of all people ought to be aware of the complex nature of successful comedy. They're hurting themselves by not recognizing the achievement with major awards.

 

In another thread I mentioned that part of what makes movie comedy so challenging is that timing hinges on how much you allow for laughter. Wrong choices can really upset the pacing if laughs don't materialize where they were anticipated, or if laughter happens in unanticipated places so that surrounding dfialogue is compromised. On stage, good actors can "surf" the laughter and maximize the comedy that way, but on film the "stage waits" have to be set in stone. It takes a very sure hand; it's a real skill which ought to be given proper recognition. And these days, when more often than not we watch films in relative privacy rather than in a group which can trigger contageous laughter, it's that much harder to create a comic pacing which can satisfy everyone. Good drama is a constant balancing act, but so is good comedy. 

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In another thread I mentioned that part of what makes movie comedy so challenging is that timing hinges on how much you allow for laughter. Wrong choices can really upset the pacing if laughs don't materialize where they were anticipated, or if laughter happens in unanticipated places so that surrounding dfialogue is compromised. On stage, good actors can "surf" the laughter and maximize the comedy that way, but on film the "stage waits" have to be set in stone. It takes a very sure hand; it's a real skill which ought to be given proper recognition. And these days, when more often than not we watch films in relative privacy rather than in a group which can trigger contageous laughter, it's that much harder to create a comic pacing which can satisfy everyone. Good drama is a constant balancing act, but so is good comedy. 

 

Excellent paragraph, and of course, I couldn't agree more. About a week ago, after I made a post on this thread, I was in my kitchen making pancakes. I tried to flip the pancake in the air, thinking it would come back down into the skillet. Unfortunately, there was a bit of water on the floor and as I flipped the pancake with my wrist, I lost my balance with my right foot. I tripped while the pancake was still in the air. It came back down, and at that point because I was falling, the skillet was tilted at an angle. The pancake hit the side of the titled skillet, ricocheted off it at a 45 degree angle and bounced off a nearby wall, Within seconds, I was on the floor next to the pancake that had since slid down the wall and landed at my feet. The whole thing happened so fast.

 

I was alone, and I thought gee, if there had been an audience to see this, I would have had a standing ovation. The timing of my pratfall was perfect, and it was sheer luck that it went off smoothly and I didn't injure myself. The point I'm making is that slapstick comedians have this kind of stuff down to a science. Nothing is pure chance or luck with them. They are masters at these kinds of pratfalls, not an amateur like I was that morning in my kitchen. It's all about coordination and timing, and to pull these kinds of gags or stunts off takes a huge amount of skill.

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I actually wrote my thesis on this topic: http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/honors/93/

 

It has to do with a lot of factors, mostly a lack of understanding of the conventions of comic film and a lack of a common language to discuss comedy.

 

Thanks for sharing the link to your paper. How do you think a common language or greater understanding about comedy can be fostered?

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Thanks for sharing the link to your paper. How do you think a common language or greater understanding about comedy can be fostered?

Great question! Perhaps education and information about film and filmmaking needs to address the process and conventions of film from multiple perspectives. For example, one of the rules of drama is for the performer to never look at the camera and break the fourth wall. However, in comedy this is not only permissible but often highly effective. What do you think?

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Great question! Perhaps education and information about film and filmmaking needs to address the process and conventions of film from multiple perspectives. For example, one of the rules of drama is for the performer to never look at the camera and break the fourth wall. However, in comedy this is not only permissible but often highly effective. What do you think?

 

Yes. That makes sense. Sometimes there seems to be greater reflexivity in comedy. Like turning the jokes back on people and spoofing their unique situations. It's almost like mimicking and mirroring "reality" to present an ironic point. The reflexivity can be very post-modern-- breaking the fourth wall or alluding to things that are self-referential.

 

Personally, I think the most profound stories are ones that seem dramatic but are working on another level, making light of the basic scenario.

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