Culture Notes: Oscar Specials

laurenbacall2The special awards at the Oscars are a chance to reward worthy careers and correct huge oversights (Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock had to wait for Specials to get their hands on statuettes, inexcusable lapses that help explain Hitchcock’s snippy two-word acceptance speech: “Thank you”). The 2010 ceremony, continuing its spirit of abundance – 10 nominees for Best Picture – will fork over three Honorary Oscars and the Irving Thalberg award, the latter given out specifically to producers.

I can’t really explain why I am mildly obsessed with the Honorary Oscars, except for the general sense of righting past wrongs and affording an opportunity for the ceremony to pause for a few minutes to pay tribute to someone older than Megan Fox. The actual tribute gets shorter every year, and for a long time the tribute clips have been poorly chosen. (The Blake Edwards tribute was a bare-bones montage of sight gags, redeemed by Edwards’ own appearance: a piece of slapstick involving a motorized wheelchair.) For 2010, the honoraries will be handed out before Oscar night, at the “inaugural Governor’s Awards gala event” on Nov. 14 of this year.

Presumably that event will be mentioned/excerpted at the Oscar ceremony itself, in the manner of the dreaded technical awards recap. But still, how embarrassing. Maybe when they run the montage of the year’s deceased movie folk, they can play the Benny Hill music (“Yakety Sax”) as accompaniment, too.

The winners are deserving: Lauren Bacall, Gordon Willis, and Roger Corman. Exec John Calley will get the Thalberg. The Thalberg would’ve seemed the obvious choice for Corman, actually, since it goes to producers, but I won’t argue with the Academy being a little generous to the greatest figure in the history of exploitation (undoubtedly his track record as nurturer of young talent will be prominently lauded). Willis is a defining cinematographer of his generation, although his award is a reminder that the clubby nature of the Oscars kept him out of being nominated during his astonishing period in the 1970s (yep, no photography nominations for the two Godfathers, All the President’s Men, or Manhattan – gag). Bacall is an obvious choice, no complaints there, even if her actual filmography is overloaded with middling titles. She’s still a tie to a vanished kind of Hollywood, and she deserves extra points for having worked with Lars von Trier and Paul Schrader while in her eighties.

It would all make for a very nice Oscar ceremony, except that apparently it won’t. And I’m still annoyed about them giving Jerry Lewis the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award last year, instead of a proper special Oscar. Maybe this year they panicked at the thought of paying tribute to the director of Attack of the Crab Monsters in front of a half-billion viewers. Not realizing how cool that would have been.