When I was a kid, George C. Scott refused to accept an Oscar for his role in Patton. Marlon Brando did something similar a couple of years later for his role in The Godfather. Both men refused to treat acting like a sporting contest, with winners and losers.
Today I was reminded of that issue when I read an article in the NY Times regarding the prospects of American Sniper winning the best-picture Oscar. According to the article, a huge plurality of Americans (42%) think the movie should be awarded the Oscar, with the next highest movie at only 12%. This dominance of American Sniper was also reflected at the box office, where it had grossed more than the combined gross of the other seven nominated film. Despite this support, the article pointed out that sophisticated betting prognosticators give American Sniper less than a 1% chance of winning the best-picture Oscar.
So, how can the American people evaluate a movie so dramatically different than those in the movie industry, i.e., the Oscar voters?
The same sort of issue arose last week when Kanye West voiced his disappointment that the best-album Grammy went to Beck instead of Kanye’s favorite, Beyoncé. According to West, “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”
When I first heard Kanye’s comment, I thought that it was silly to suggest that one person’s music is objectively better than someone else’s, especially when you are dealing with different genres. But that is essentially what an Academy Award does.
Art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” But does one person’s perception of beauty or emotion power mean more than another’s?
Americans, it seems, are inclined to grant outsize authority to Academy or Grammy voters, with their elitism/expert background seen as a good thing. That is probably why the People’s Choice awards, based on mass popularity, have never caught on.
But one of the greatest singers of all-time, Elvis Presley, never won a major Grammy, which is no doubt a travesty, and the appropriate response is to refer to the title of Elvis’s 1959 album, “50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong.”