Tuesday, January 30, 2007

 

I hate when Oscar errors start being repeated as fact

By Edward Copeland
This happens every year. Someone gets a fact wrong — and who knows where it starts? — then more people either too lazy, too arrogant or too ignorant to know better keep repeating the same mistake time and time again.

This week, it concerns Little Miss Sunshine after it won ensemble acting at the SAG awards, which for some reason people found surprising because they continue to operate under the false assumption that an ensemble acting prize is the same thing as a best picture prize when it's not and when a sizable chunk of SAG ensemble winners did not go on to win the Oscar for best picture and in one case (The Birdcage) wasn't even in the running.

Excuse me, I digress. The error that is being perpetuated is that when Driving Miss Daisy won best picture in 1989 without its director Bruce Beresford being nominated for director, it was the ONLY time it ever happened in Oscar history. WRONG! It was the first time it had happened since 1931-32 when Grand Hotel won without its director being nominated (Hell, Grand Hotel did even better than that best picture was its ONLY nomination.


First, I caught this mistake in the always factually challenged David Poland's column where he wrote:
Other stats working against the nominees include the fact that only one film has ever won Best Picture without a directing nod, Driving Miss Daisy. Does that mean the disqualification of Little Miss Sunshine? Oh yes... and it's been 29 years since the last comedy, Annie Hall, won Best Picture.

Now today, I find in an article by Richard Corliss at Time.com:
And only once did the Best Picture Oscar go to a film whose director didn't receive a nomination: in 1990 with Driving Miss Daisy and Bruce Beresford. So the odds against Little Miss Sunshine are 70 to 1. That a lot of Oscar history the indie movie has to buck.

To make matters even worse, Corliss also misspells Valerie Faris' last name as Feris and gets this fact wrong as well:
Sunshine has a more daunting historical obstacle to hurdle: its directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris, were not nominated in their Oscar category. That citation would have been sweet, whatever you think of the movie, since the Academy has never nominated a directorial pair, and because you could count the number of women nominated for Best Directors on the fingers of a maimed hand. (Three: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano and Sofia Coppola, the only American woman, for Lost in Translation.)

Not only has a directing pair been nominated before — Warren Beatty and Buck Henry for Heaven Can Wait in 1978. A directing pair actually won when Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins took the directing prize for West Side Story in 1961. UPDATE: The Corliss piece has corrected the misspelling of Faris' name and the error about no directing pairs being nominated, but the mistake about Driving Miss Daisy remains.

Of course, this got me starting to look for other goofs and in Susan King's article on the SAGs she wrote:
No Oscar has ever gone to a performer who has not been nominated for a SAG award.

Actually, Marcia Gay Harden did not get a SAG nomination (or a Golden Globe nomination for the matter) for Pollock before she went on to win the Oscar.

If I could have earned a nickel for every incorrect Oscar fact I've seen written over the years, I'd be a very rich man right now — and people in the media wonder why they keep losing credibility with the public when they can't even get the simple shit right.


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Comments:
Maybe you should settle down and not be such an angry person?

The reason why is it being quoted as the only time it has occurred is because it is the only time it has occurred when there were set 5 nominees per category as we have now. Grand Hotel won Best Picture in a year when there were only 3 Best Director nominees (furthermore, there were 8 Best Picture nominees). Of course, you failed to mention that.

Also, as an aside, Little Miss Sunshine really is in an awkward position and I would argue not at all comparable to Driving Miss Daisy. Driving Miss Daisy received 9 Oscar nominations (as opposed to Little Miss Sunshine's 4), including the important Best Film Editing nod, as well as 3 acting nominations which included Best Actor and Best Actress (a win). It won 4 awards in total, a feat that will be hard pressed for Little Miss Sunshine which would have to win all 4 of it's nominations to match.
 
Neither Poland or Corliss made those distinctions which is why they were wrong. The numbers in the categories aren't relevant to the fact that the way they wrote it was incorrect. I do agree with you though that Little Miss Sunshine is hardly comparable to Daisy in terms of overall nominations. I wouldn't completely rule out its winning since most precedents have been falling away year after year, but I do think it has an uphill climb to pull it off.
 
Also, even if you give them the benefit of the doubt and think they forgot to mention the disparity in picture nominees versus directing nominees, 1989 still would not be the first time. Neither Wings (best picture) nor Sunrise (artistic quality of production) received directing nominations for 1927-28 and that year all 3 categories had 3 nominees.
 
So what's your point Copeland, that the writers are idiots or that their basic assumptions are wrong? Or perhaps, just that you are a nitpicker who thinks that the slightest factual error renders everything else written false? I sense this is your point, which is ridiculous. The fact remains that it is extremely rare for a film to win Best Picture when it does not receive a Best Director nomination.

Yes, it happened a few times in the early years where there were only three Best Picture nominations or when the role of the director was not as clearly established as it is now ... but those flyaway errors don't really take away from the point that, in the modern era when the director is considered the primary artist in charge, it is very rare for a film to win when the director isn't nominated.

Just fact-checking stories does not debunk their analysis. Sure, I'd love to read 100 percent error free journalism, but in this day of blogs and instant commentary, I'm not anal enough to demand it like some ... I'd much rather stick to arguing whether the basic analysis is true or false, not whether every nit-picky point is nailed down.
 
I totally agree with you, Edward.

It seems that anyone with a passing interest in the Oscars now acts as if they're experts, especially when they just rehash tired statistics they've heard elsewhere, and tout the "ooooh, a film can't win Best Picture without an editing nomination!" line (which I still maintain is coincidence more than anything).

Fact-checking should be par for the course when writing anything, be it an article for a major journalistic news source or for a blog entry that nobody will read. If someone is going to act like they know their stuff then they should at least make the effort to ensure they're correct. Countless so-called Oscar experts fail to do this daily (unless you're Tom O'Neil, in which case you get the people on your forum to do your fact-checking for you).

And I agree 100% with the SAG's ensemble award not equating a best picture award.

Yes, I'm a pedant. There's no shame in that.
 
>>Fact-checking should be par for the course when writing anything, be it an article for a major journalistic news source or for a blog entry that nobody will read

Oh please ... what nonsense. It's quite possible to say and write with 100 percent precision and to be absolutely wrong in the process. It's also quite possible to make many small errors in fact and have sterling analysis. Yes, one should always strive for 100 percent accuracy, but the world would be an extremely boring place if we demanded factual accuracy above all else. I'm surprised that you even enjoy artistic works of fiction if you're so in love with trivial facts.
 
The point is not trivia the point is accuracy. Sure, in the scheme of things getting facts wrong about something like the Academy Awards is not that big a deal but what if it's getting facts wrong about a country having WMDs? About a country being involved in a terrorist attack when they werent? About taking a country into war under false pretenses? It's about credibility in things that are sold as journalism. Fiction is fiction. Journalism shouldn't be.
 
Great article. Thanks! With each passing year, we see the rapid rise in the number of Oscar watchers and self-proclaimed experts posting their predictions and opinions. (I know, I know..guilty as charged. I have my own blog and chances are a nit-picker may find an error or two... although I'm pretty good about fact checking).
A year or two ago, a movie critic in a daily newspaper (which shall remain anonymous)made her Oscar predictions with so many errors that it made my head spin. I knew this writer, and sent her, off the record, a friendly email listing the number of mistakes in her column. Her terse (can you blame her?) reply blamed it all on her editor who "didn't have time" to check the facts.
My point is this: I have been an Oscar historian most of my adult life. It's a hobby for the most part, but one that I take rather seriously. Whether it's the World Series or presidential election trivia, facts are facts. And they really should be respected as such.
 
Edward Copeland, you're right on the money.

The fact that people are getting so many oscar facts wrong is because there's a whole lot of websites obsessively devoted to trying to get an edge in predicting the oscar race and that's just rediculous.

By the way, check out my blog at sophomorecritic.blogspot.com
 
Excellent article, Edward! Bravo! Those who dismiss it as nit picking or trivia need to understand that the kind of sloppy, uninformed "reporting" found in Oscar coverage is also the norm when it comes to more important matters, including war. And, I'm sorry, but there is simply no excuse for Richard Corliss of Time magazine to be so ignorant. All it would take to discover his error about who has and has not won Oscars for directing is to visit the Academy's web site. In a matter of seconds, he could have discovered that Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins shared the directing Oscar for "West Side Story." A few seconds more, and he would have known that Warren Beatty and Buck Henry shared a nomination in the same category. Considering his subject, Corliss' errors completely negate his "analysis."

Facts are important.
 
As a fact-checker for a major weekly magazine, all I have to say to Edward is keep up the good work. Some might call it nitpicking; I'd say you're just exposing the media's laziness and senility. My god, it's epidemic. Honestly, how can these people claim any authority or credibilty when they can't get even the simplest shit right? A 25-second Google search is all it'd take to check those errors you point out. I guess 25 seconds from nationally read and respected writers is too much to ask.
 
Thanks for the kind words. You know, it's amazing to me how much the Internet and Google has changed the ability to check facts (though with things like Wikipedia out there, they can create their own goofs). As someone who has worked in the media for a long time now, I can't even remember the effort it used to take to check questionable things quickly (though I always had a copy of Inside Oscar on my desk on standby).
 
Wait a minute... The last comedy winning Best Picture was Annie Hall? What about Shakespeare in Love??
 
For the sake of accuracy I had to double check on nominations for Best Director at the Academy website. They listed Clarence Brown as five nominations with zero wins. I had recalled reading that Brown had six nominations. I now see that Brown was nominated for as Best Director for Anna Christie AND Romance in 1930. At least keeping stats is a bit easier when you have one film per nomination.
 
You are right Fabio -- Shakespeare in Love was the most recent comedy to win. All the other errors were so glaring that that one flew by me. Good catch!
 
UPDATE: The Corliss piece has corrected the spelling of Faris' name and the mistake about no directing pairs being nominated, but the error about Daisy remains.
 
Sloopy, inaccurate, and just plain ingnorant reporting is epidemic these days. Because I'm a movie fan, I just notice it more when it deals with a subject in which I am not a novice. Several months ago, Premiere ran an article about Warren Beatty in which they claim he was the only person to earn Oscar nominations in the same year for producing, acting, directing, and writing. This is the same blatantly wrong statement Jack Nicholson made when giving Beatty the Irving Thalberg Award around a decade ago. If a magazine that covers movies is unaware of Orson Welles who was the first person to be nominated in those four categories (for an apparently forgotten - at least by Premiere - little item called "Citizen Kane"), why should anyone regard them as anything but a joke? These are well-paid professionals. An occasional error of fact is excusable, but I see it happening far too often. Does anyone still accept the myth that "The Machurian Candidate" was pulled from release in 1963 following the assassination of JFK? The mainstream media repeated that tale endlessly when the film was re-released in 1988, and this myth persists to this day. So I guess I merely imagined seeing it on NBC in 1974. I also imagined the issue of TV Guide in which the film earned one of their "Close-Up"s, as well as Judith Crist's "This Week's Movies" column in which she pointed out that the 1974 telecast was the film's third after having aired on CBS in 1965 and 1966.
 
I remember the Beatty error -- that one drove me crazy at the time, though Jack didn't make it first (and you know he was just reading what someone else wrote for him), it appeared in Entertainment Weekly before that. Apparently part of the problem stems from the Academy's tendency at times to revise its own history, with the argument being made that the producing credit on Citizen Kane that had always gone to Welles would have really gone to the RKO studio head. The one that drove me crazy last year was when several big publications -- most of whom I got to run corrections -- kept saying in Richard Pryor's obituary that he was nominated for an Oscar for supporting actor for Lady Sings the Blues.
 
I think what bothers me is that numerous journalists and bloggers choose to ignore past years (i.e.: the early years of the Oscars) because in their eyes, it does not count. So erroneous information gets published and republished until some observant writer finally says "Enough! These are the facts!" Sadly, to some, facts get in the way of a story. Thanks for writing this message.
 
Thank God! Someone with a sense of reporting actual truths. It's been so annoying this year, with people throwing around these "known facts" of theirs. Some of the worst I've seen cited around the web have come from one of Tom O'Neil's fellow LA Times staffers (Maybe the same Susan King? It's a Susan, I'm not sure...), who said:

"Cruz is the first nominee from a Spanish-language film."

Catalina Sandino Moreno would like to meet you.

Then, there was what you mentioned, the "fact" that no performer was ever snubbed by SAG and still won an Oscar. But there's worse, from a journalist who posts on IMDb's Oscar Buzz:

"It is a known fact that no actor or actress has ever won an Oscar without at least a Golden Globe nomination."

Because not only would Gay Harden like to speak with him, but so would Roberto Benigni AND James Coburn.

And then all these people had conspiracy theories about no duo ever getting an Oscar nom. And once they discovered it happened TWICE, with one winner, they claimed Dayton & Faris were ineligible by a new ruling, and BAM, DGA nom.

I hate bombastic bastards. At least research your facts before you state them, people.

So kudos to you and this fantastic article =). This needed to be said and I'm sure you'll be back next year.
 
Also, I just wanted to take the time to mention how Little Miss Sunshine CAN still surprise with a win--and be the biggest surprise ever. I'd say it's chances are incredibly slim, due to it having no Directing nomination NOR an Editing nomination. However, I think it's pretty clear for it to even have made the cut, each and every branch must have had a majority nominate it and it's one of those small, passionate films that could still surprise.

I'd say The Departed and Babel are looking best, with the most potential going to The Departed. Letters lacks both acting AND editing noms and Queen the editing, not to mention they have low box office and more discreet fan bases. So I wouldn't be surprised if LMS takes the big boy.
 
I know it's been a long time since this was written and published and last commented on, but it seemed the best place to ask if you'd ever heard about Anthony Quinn winning his LUST FOR LIFE Oscar for a performance that lasts only eight minutes...?

Actually, it's closer to TWENTY-eight minutes, no matter which way you look at it. (I'd be interested to get people's opinions: does a 'performance' encompass the time that a performer is on the screen? When their character is present in the scene but not being focused on or looked at by the camera? Or is it simply/only when they're speaking dialogue? Regardless, the eight minutes figure is bull. Fortunately the imdb trivia page gets it right where wikipedia, and other published books, do not.)
 
I've never heard anyone make that claim about Quinn's performance. When they talk winning for little screen time, inevitably the names Judi Dench or Beatrice Straight come up. (Personally, I think the Emmys outdid them all when they nominated Ellen Burstyn for an appearance of less than a minute in the HBO movie Mrs. Harris. They even changed their rules after that.) Of course as far as Oscar is concerned, the categorization means nothing, it just matters where the voters put them. You get really silly nominations when they fall for marketing ploys such as Ethan Hawke being supporting in TRAINING DAY when he enters the movie before Denzel Washington and stays in it after him. Same with Jamie Foxx in COLLATERAL opposite Tom Cruise (more ridiculous since it wasn't like they would snub Foxx for RAY that year so they just wasted a supporting slot). Other times, they don't fall for the marketing ploy. When Kate Winslet was in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and THE READER in the same year, they tried to sell the idea that she was supporting in THE READER. The waiters at the Golden Globes fell for that, but the acting branch at the Academy nominated her for lead for THE READER and didn't nominate her at all for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (I think they picked the wrong performance, but at least they categorized correctly). They also ignored the usual pitch that any child performer must be placed in supporting the year of WHALE RIDER as Keisha Castle Hughes was being marketed but she landed in lead. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball when it came to Hailee Steinfeld in TRUE GRIT. I think it just comes down to a general feeling of the performance and the character's importance. I know a lot of people who think Peter Finch should have been supporting in NETWORK, but he doesn't have that much less screen time than Holden (Dunaway has the most) and the movie starts and ends by clearly stating "This is the story of Howard Beale" and even when he isn't on the screen, his character often is the center of discussion, though the true lead of the film is the network itself. While I wouldn't have voted for Straight that year, I do think she deserved her nomination. I just think Piper Laurie in CARRIE or Jodie Foster in TAXI DRIVER would have been better choices.
 
Great point about the network in Network :-)

I think the unfortunate difference between the True Grit and Whale Rider situations, at least in the minds of the Academy, was the simple fact that there were no stars in the New Zealand film, so there was no possible excuse (at least not one that made any sense) to say that Castle-Hughes was not the lead or that she was 'supporting' anyone else (presumably the Screen Actors Guild, as the first group to take the hugely significant step of introducing her to the awards race, wasn't quite brave enough to put an unknown child from NZ, as talented as she may have been, in lead where she so clearly belonged). On the other hand, Jeff Bridges was Jeff Bridges, so it must have been easier, even for an Academy which should have known better, to consider Hailee Steinfeld as subordinate to 'the star'.

The Straight victory certainly was remarkable, though I think it can be explained by the character's fierce pride, her ability to easily access audience sympathy, and Chayevsky managing to pack so much into that one scene (not to mention Lumet directing it for maximum impact); I confess that, if given the chance, I would have found it difficult to vote objectively (if such a thing can be done) on the performances, given my adoration of Network versus my mixed feelings toward Taxi Driver and my generally negative view of Carrie.
 
I'd never disagree about Network, which I love. I think it's great they nominated Beatty for basically one scene but I wish they'd found room for Robert Duvall in supporting as well. I think Straight is superb, but I'd probably lean toward Foster. I still think that's her best performance.
 
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