This morning, AMPAS announced this year’s Honorary Oscar recipients. For those less familiar with the system, this is informally known as the “Sorry We F-ed Up and Never Gave You an Actual Oscar All Those Years” award. These are people who have put decades of invaluable work into the film industry, whether they be actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, production designers, archivists, whatever. It’s not actually a requirement that you’ve never won a normal Oscar, but it generally seems to help, since those are the people most deserving of long-withheld recognition.
So the announcement caused a bit of a stir, since the list of four honorees was topped by director Francis Ford Coppola, who already has no less than five Oscar statuettes to his name (for writing “Patton,” writing “The Godfather,” and writing, directing and producing “The Godfather Part II”). The Coppola decision is also taking some heat since the man hasn’t really directed anything worthy of any acclaim since The Godfather Part III (and that really wasn’t very good anyway), but he has also been very active as a producer on many other notable projects in the past thirty years, so I’m not going to fault the Academy there. It’s far from the worst choice the Academy has ever made, since Coppola has certainly been an instrumental figure in Hollywood over his distinguished career. But how about someone who’s still waiting for their moment in the limelight? How about a woman, since all three of the other recipients were men? Liv Ullman? Catherine Denueve? Angela Lansbury? Heck, Jane Campion is starting to stray into this territory.
Anyway, here are the other three honorees, all extremely desserving:
- Director Jean-Luc Godard
Godard’s 1960 film “Breathless” is often credited with kicking off the French New Wave, one of the most influential film movements of the century. Like Roger Corman last year, the Academy Governors have reached out and recognized a highly important filmmaker that the Academy’s general voting body wouldn’t touch with a ten-and-a-half-foot pole (Godard hasn’t received a single Oscar nomination in his entire career, not even in the Foreign Language Film category). Of course, the feeling of hatred in this case is extremely mutual; Godard is known for his staunch anti-Hollywood stance, and his films reflect his general defiance of all traditional American forms of narrative and style. It will be fascinating to see whether he shows up at the ceremony.
- Actor Eli Wallach
Best known for his work in Westerns, particularly as the shifty Tuco in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and the villainous Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven.” One of Hollywood’s all-time greatest character actors, and remarkably still kicking at the age of 95. You might remember him as the only redeemable aspect of Nancy Meyers’ “The Holiday.”
- Filmmaker/preservationist Kevin Brownlow
A famous film historian known particularly for his work documenting the silent era. He has rescued and restored countless silent film treasures (notable Abel Gance’s 1927 masterpiece, “Napoleon”) and his interviews with elderly, largely forgotten film pioneers in the 1960’s and 70’s were critical in preserving the legacy of the first masters.
The only really disappointing thing about this list is, of course, the fact that once again the general public will ignorant to their achievements. Like last year, the Honorary Oscars will be sidelined to a separate ceremony on November 13, most likely with only another 30-seconds of polite applause at the Oscarcast to remind people of their existence. This is your history, Academy. Show some goddamn respect.