Oscars 2012: This time, comedies have reason to smile
Fans of comedy could look at the 84th Academy Awards nominations and debate whether the seltzer bottle is half-full or half-empty.
Half-full: The comedies “Midnight in Paris” and “Bridesmaids” combined for six nominations while “The Artist,” a romance with a light touch, piled up 10 nominations on its own, including best film, director, lead actor, supporting actress and original screenplay.
Half-empty: The crowd-pleaser “Bridesmaids” was left standing at the altar in the best-picture race even as “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” — a Sept. 11 drama jeered by many critics — sneaked in. Also, the edgy comedies “50/50” and “Young Adult” were shut out completely, another reminder that academy voters are more comfortable with movies that arrive with a sob instead of a wink.
Comedy hasn’t been king at the Oscars since the Carter administration: Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” was named the best film of 1977 and its star, Diane Keaton, won for best actress while Richard Dreyfuss took home the best actor trophy for “The Goodbye Girl.”
In recent years, Oscar gold has been tilted toward uplifting dramas like “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” or grim social commentaries such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
“Comedies in general don’t get their fair share of accolades,” said Letty Aronson, one of the producers of “Midnight in Paris.” “If it’s a drama there’s this sense that it is somehow more important or substantive or arty but most of the time comedies — not all of them, of course, but many of them and the best of them — say the same things and ask the same kind of questions but just accomplish it with a sensibility that is lighter.”
There’s also the elusive magic of comedy, says actor Jamie Foxx, who has a comedy background but won his lead actor Oscar for playing singer Ray Charles in the drama “Ray.”
“A successful comedic film performance usually is one that appears to be effortless,” Foxx said, “which may not warrant the automatic attention of the audience or film critics as one that is dramatic in nature.”
Bérénice Bejo, nominated for best supporting actress for “The Artist,” said that seriously good comedic performances get ignored year in and year out, which explains why the late Cary Grant never won an Oscar in a competitive category.
“It’s harder to do comedy sometimes,” the Buenos Aires native said. “The rhythm of a comedy is very special. To have so many movies with comedy acknowledged this year is very good.”
In recent decades, comedies have done best in the supporting actor and actress categories (Alan Arkin won for “Little Miss Sunshine,” Kevin Kline for “A Fish Called Wanda,” Marisa Tomei for “My Cousin Vinny,” etc.), especially films directed by Allen (five wins, most recently Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”).
The nominations Tuesday felt like a more emphatic embrace of comedy.
“I was getting so many texts from people saying that comedy finally got a foot in the door this year,” said Melissa McCarthy, whose ribald performance in “Bridesmaids” earned her a supporting actress nomination.
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who wrote “Bridesmaids,” were nominated for best original screenplay, as was Allen, who also received a best director nod. Michel Hazanavicius was nominated for writing and directing “The Artist.”
The three films demonstrate the variety of comedy. “The Artist” is a nearly silent, lighthearted romance set in the late 1920s and early ‘30s. “Midnight” is a time-traveling fantasy laced with literary and artistic allusions and “Bridesmaids,” a box-office champion with $288 million in worldwide grosses, is a bawdy farce.
“Bridesmaids’” failure to land among the nine best picture nominees was disheartening to its fans, but perhaps not surprising given the film’s gleeful vulgarity.
Foxx touched on it when he observed, “More comedies are being made for a younger demographic these days. There seem to be fewer sophisticated comedies being made as the audience appeal seems to have diminished.”
“In the case of ‘Bridesmaids,’ it was such a well-respected breakthrough kind of film, which I thought was hilarious and allowed women to do what men have done in films,” said David Hoberman, producer on “The Muppets.” “So I was glad to see it get the nominations it did get. Yet I can see, as far as best picture, it is hard to put it side by side with ... ‘Ben-Hur’ or ‘The Sound of Music’ or something.”
That’s hardly a new sentiment. Consider Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy “Some Like It Hot,” considered by many historians to be the funniest movie ever made. The farce earned six Oscar nominations but lost the best picture race to … “Ben-Hur.”
Staff writer Rebecca Keegan contributed to this report.
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