No love for comedy (ever) at the Oscars

No love for comedy (ever) at the Oscars

There are plenty of absurd trends associated with the Academy Awards, and even casual moviegoers know that, historically, Oscar rarely “gets it right.”

Great movies often lose out to industry crowd pleasers, with “Argo” and “The Artist” as the most recent examples of Best Picture winners that won for reasons outside their technical and storytelling merits.

I’ve exhausted myself talking about those movies in the past, but a greater problem within the Academy and with the awards-season in general is how comedies and comedic performers are routinely disregarded as inferior to the dramatic counterparts.

Even with an expanded Best Picture category (this year’s lineup includes nine films), good comedies rarely earn accolades.

Some will skirt the argument by saying movies like “American Hustle,” “Nebraska” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” have comedic elements. They do, but those movies come with weightier issues boiling under the laughs.

I’m talking about straight comedy – movies that deliver consistent laughs throughout its running time. Award-contending comedies tend to drop the comedy at some point and jump into issues of love, loss and blah, blah, blah.

Sustained comedy is a tough task, and you certainly can’t rely on popular box office success as a guide for which movies succeed in this regard. “The Hangover Part III” and “Grown Ups 2” both made more than $100 million at the domestic box office, and those are just terrible.

That being said, there is critical consensus on the year’s most successful comedies, and in the case of “The Heat” and “This is the End,” there are box office numbers to back that consensus. And if you count humor-centric animated films like “Frozen,” “Monsters University” and “Despicable Me 2,” there are plenty of popular and critic-approved movies to go along with more under-the-radar or forgotten entries, like “The World’s End,” “In a World…” and “Enough Said.”

Widely regarded as a second-rate awards show, the Golden Globes at least include a “Best Musical or Comedy” category in their slate. This year’s nominees demonstrate the Globes’ faulty logic in selecting films though, counting “Her,” “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” in the comedy category when all (especially “Her”) could contend in the drama category.

And better to leave “The Tourist” debacle of 2010 for another conversation.

In the case of Best Picture, you can often argue the year’s dramas outweigh the successful comedies when whittling a top contenders list down to just nine or 10 movies. It would be an embarrassment if, say, “The Heat” took the place of “12 Years a Slave” in the category.

But what about all the beloved comedic performances ignored throughout the years?  Peter Sellers, Gene Wilder and Bill Murray, just to name a few, were nominated a few times (often for dramatic roles), but their iconic comedic performances have come up Oscar-short. You could point to pages of examples, but I’ll rest my argument on the fact that “Groundhog Day,” one of the best movies of the 1990s, received zero Oscar nominations, not even a bone thrown in the classic “throw-them-a-bone” category of Best Original Screenplay.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for comedies trying to break into the Academy Awards, and the reason dramatic films with elements of comedy have more success, is the very subjectivity of the genre. I’ve been derided more than a few times for recommending the R-rated “This is the End,” and some people think I’m crazy to suggest that sequences in “The Wolf of Wall Street” are supposed to be funny.

Comedy is subjective, and people laugh at different things. That probably explains the box office love for “Grown Ups 2,” but I refuse to accept that sorry conclusion.

I’m not asking for a total overhaul. Just a little more consideration for the movies that offer escape and provide much-needed levity to casual moviegoers. Perhaps the Academy can add a Best Comedy or Best Comedic Performance category. They added Animated Feature because of audience and industry demand, so it’s not out of the question.

As long as they don’t give Adam Sandler the first award.

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