Shirley MacLaine received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012. The honor of MacLaine at this point in her career is odd to say the least. One might even suggest that Shirley MacLaine winning the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award is just further evidence that the award, once viewed as among the most prestigious of Hollywood honors, has been tarnished beyond recognition.
Not that I am suggesting such a thing.
But let's take a look at the first few honorees of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, shall we? The inaugural winner of recognition for a lifetime of achievement from the American Film Institute was John Ford, director of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Stagecoach." Ford was followed by James Cagney, Orson Welles and William Wyler. Subsequent AFI Lifetime Achievement recognition included actors like Bette Davis and Gene Kelly and directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder.
Most of these film legends picked up the award in the twilight of their career and some had even been officially retired. Lillian Gish was 90 years old, Frank Capra was 84 and Billy Wilder and Barbara Stanwyck became back to back 79 year old winners.
A funny thing happened to the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in the 21st century. Although Steven Spielberg became the youngest winner-by far-when he was picked up his Lifetime Achievement Award at age 48, he was still in the company of seventy-somethings and eighty-sometimes just a few years before and after. Ever since 45 year old Tom Hanks earned lifetime recognition from the American Film Institute in 2002, not a single winner had reached 80 years old. One of the closest was Sean Connery which brought up an even more important question.
Seriously, Sean Connery? In the company of Cagney, Lemmon, Astaire, Welles, Peck and Nicholson? Seriously?
Maybe it's just that Hollywood legends don't live as long as they used to or maybe it's that by the time they reach 80 they aren't worthy of being called legendary or maybe it's just that ratings for the TV special mean more than actually honoring a lifetime of seriously impressive work. It's up to you to decide if Shirley MacLaine belongs to winners of questionable lifetime work like Connery or whether she was earlier overlooked in favor of questionable talent like Connery or whether she should even win the award at all.
One thing is for sure, though. The AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ain't what it used to be.