Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Oscar and Robert Altman

Bob Altman is scoring an honorary Oscar this year. This is a big deal, because Altman is Hollywood royalty who has as much to do with the shape of Hollywood filmmaking post-1967 as anyone still working. When I read the dispatch, I wondered how his amazing ouevre managed to NOT win an Oscar, what with "M*A*S*H," "California Split," "Nashville," "Brewster McCloud," etc. to his credit.

Not only that, but two of the bonafide best movies of the last fifteen years - "The Player" and "Gosford Park" - came from Altman, proof that his skill has not waned like many of his contemporaries.

I suppose one should closely consider the way he re-shaped Hollywood alongside his class of young turks, the so-called "New Generation" (rivetingly chronicled in Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls). Out went Sirk, Berkeley, DeMille, Ford and other standard-bearers of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and in came Scorcese, Nicholson, Rafelson, Beatty, and a piles and piles of coke, the new rulers of showbiz. (Interestingly, among their ilk Altman was something of an old man working with the kids, a full 10-15 years older than most of his contemporaries.)

Is it possible that Academy voters would have a career-long grudge with most of the guys who pissed on their legacy - men (almost exclusively male, at least) who flew into town on wings of unsentimentality and "realness," eager to toss aside the fusty business of their forebears and jack it up with equal parts speed and post-Summer of Love cynicism? Maybe it's the fact that Altman was a mean drunk who fucked anything that moved, and poisoned countless working relationships for decades with his liquor-fueled midsbehavior. Point is, there seems to be any number of personal reasons to have sat on Altman Oscars through the years (I don't have time to research what actually won against his better efforts), and in doing so, the Academy of Motion Picture voters prove again that they are short-sided pricks who base little of their vote on the art of film, but rather on what the culture of filmmaking looks like.

Why an honorary Oscar, and not an actual reward for any one of a number of eminently worthy films?