Saturday, February 25, 2012

And the Oscar Went to . . .

Love ’em or hate ’em, the Academy Awards continue to hold sway over the motion picture industry—and many devoted filmophiles—despite a glut of competing and seemingly redundant ceremonies and criticism over studio marketing campaigns designed to influence the nomination process. As the originator of cinematic pageantry, the Oscars deliver three hours of history, humor, humility, and chutzpah that are just much about Hollywood’s view of itself as they are about filmmaking. And while most of the high profile accolades (i.e. Best Picture) have tended to fall on memorable heavy hitters like The Sound of Music, Gandhi, and Titanic, a number of live-action comic adaptations have been recognized for their achievements.

Skippy, released in 1931, holds the distinction of being the first live-action comic adaptation to receive praise from the Academy. The movie is based on Percy Cosby’s comic strip of the same name about the misadventures of young boy named Skippy Skinner, which ran from 1923 to 1945 and helped influence future kid comics like Peanuts. The film, which follows Skippy and his friend Sooky as they try to save Sooky’s dog from the dogcatcher, garnered four nominations: Best Actor (former Our Gang star Jackie Cooper), Best Director (Norman Taurog (Cooper’s uncle)), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture with Taurog taking the only win. During the 4th Academy Awards ceremony, nine-year-old Cooper—the youngest actor ever to be nomitated—fell asleep on Marie Dressler and had to be relocated to his mother’s lap after Dressler won the award for Best Actress.

It would be another 48 years before Superman became the next live-action movie based on a comic to receive an Oscar nod in 1979. And though it did not win an award in any of the three categories for which it was nominated (editing, original score, and sound), the film’s visual effects helped net it a Special Achievement Award. Visual effects also helped to earn a nominations for The Mask, Spider-ManIron Man, and The Dark Knight.

In most cases, films inspired by comics tend to be recognized more for their techinical and production efforts—Annie (art and set decoration), The Addams Family (costume design), Men in Black (makeup)—than for the performances they showcase. The few notable exceptions, in addition to Jackie Cooper, include Best Supporting Actor nominees Al Pacino in Dick Tracy, Paul Newman in Road to Perdition, William Hurt for an eight-minute appearance in A History of Violence, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Ledger, who died a year prior to being nominated, went on to win the Oscar for his role as the Joker and became only the second actor to be awarded posthumously.

And with a total of eight Academy Award nominations, The Dark Knight holds the distinction of receiving the most nominations for a live-action comic or cartoon film. In addition to Ledger’s score, the movie also took the prize for Best Sound Editing. But Dick Tracy remains the genre’s ultimate Oscar champ with seven nomiations and three wins: Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Original Song.

In the end, the Academy Awards may be a boon to comic book inspired movies. They may encourage better quality in these adaptions, especially if studios are hoping to hear “And the Oscar goes to  . . .”

The 84th Academy Awards air on February 26.

(Image: Jackie Cooper as Skippy, Mitzi Green as Eloise, and Jackie Searl as Sidney in Skippy. Paramount Pictures)

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