The Absent-Minded Academy Remembers About Honorary Oscars

Since the Honorary Oscars got shuffled off to their own ceremony at the Governors Awards, the lifetime achievement section of the Oscar telecast has been rather perfunctory, and the selections generally less scrutinized. The Oscars may be a big self-congratulatory party for the industry, but at least they invite the viewing public along – it’s hard to get excited about the Governors Award selections when we won’t be able to get past the doorman anyway.

Today new AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs praised the relatively new format for the Honorary Oscars, saying the relaxed setting of the Governors Awards allows for proper tribute to be paid to each honoree’s careers, outside the time constraints of broadcast TV. I still think it’s a shame to lose that kind of meaningful recognition of cinema history in the Oscar ceremony itself, but I suppose she’s right. Especially when you’ve got three great, more-than-qualified candidates to discuss like the lineup announced today: this year’s Honorary Oscars will go to actress Angela Lansbury, comedian/actor Steve Martin, and costume designer Piero Tosi.

Lansbury has been a perennial candidate for this honor, and her name came up a lot last year in particular, when the Academy’s decision to honor four white men (and no women) received a fair amount of criticism. Though she was probably always more prominent on stage than on screen, she left a lasting impression through iconic roles such as her villainous turn in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination. She was also nominated for supporting turns in “Gaslight” (1944), her screen debut, and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945).

Martin is a slightly outside-the-box choice that actually makes perfect sense, considering his history with the Academy. While he’s never been nominated as an actor, Martin has of course hosted the Oscars on numerous occasions, and has been one of the few to acquit himself with both critics and audiences on that front; he was also nominated for his 1977 short film, “The Absent-Minded Waiter.” But really this feels like a long overdue recognition by the Academy of the existence of comedy. Straight-up humor rarely flies with the Academy – sure, we get a Robert Downey, Jr. here, a Melissa McCarthy there – but at this point there’s no denying Martin as one of the most influential comedians of the last century. It’s nice to see AMPAS see that there was value in Martin’s ability to bring so much laughter to the screen over the years.

Tosi, meanwhile, has designed many a ravishing wardrobe over the years, particularly back in the 1970s when he worked with director Luchino Visconti on lavish pieces like “The Leopard” and “Death in Venice.” Since the costume designers have always been relatively open to foreign fare, he won Oscar nominations for both those films, as well as “Ludwig” (1972), “La Cage aux Folles” (1978) and “La traviata” (1982).

The Academy also announced that the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award will go to Angelina Jolie. Though her political activism and humanitarian work has become something of a late-night joke, there’s no denying the hard work and time Jolie has dedicated to social justice and advocacy groups like the Prevent Sexual Violence Initiative, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Deserving recipients all around, so congrats to them. Is there anyone you think the Academy continues to ignore, though?

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