The Academy Awards could learn a lot from the Sammy Awards, but one thing in particular. The Sammy Awards, named in honor of legendary composer Sammy Cahn, who earned 26 Oscar nominations for writing songs for movies, rewards accomplishments in film music. The aspect of the Sammy Awards that could really be exploited by the Oscars to earn back some of their lost prestige, legitimacy, and relevance is related to the wisdom of acknowledging overlooked achievements of the past.
Sammy categories have been added over time to retroactively honor film music from past eras in categories like Best Bronze, Silver, and Golden Age Film Scores. That would be too much to ask of the Oscars, whose voters remain firmly entrenched in their opinion that mistakes or oversights are rarely made and, when they are, they are attended to. The methods by which the Academy Awards has gone about rectifying those blunders of the past are twofold.
The first path toward making up for sins of omission involves redemption by paradoxical repetition. In other words, a guy like Martin Scorsese is rewarded for an egregiously inferior offering like "The Departed" to make up for shocking losses for "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas." The second method aims for salvation of the Academy's legitimacy by giving a Lifetime Achievement Award to artists the voters never got around to giving a competitive award. This has been the case with titanic Oscar-less figures like Ingmar Bergman and Cary Grant. Of course, on extremely rare occasions, the first method is utilized as a faux-Lifetime Achievement Award while at the same time actually honoring outstanding accomplishment in a competitive category. John Wayne is the poster boy for this.
The introduction of a new category or two could produce the dual result of incidents like the Scorsese case occurring less often and allowing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members to routinely make a choice on their own terms about which past gaffes to correct. An honorary Oscar or two a year, or even every other year, could be introduced into the telecast as a way to retroactively acknowledge the achievements of a film or artist that over time has produced a more impressive legacy than the actual winner. Oscar voters love few things more than basking in the sun of their own great taste, and what better way to provide a vehicle for that than to prove that present generations have a much better grasp of artistic achievement than their ancestors?
OK, so maybe those 1940s moldy oldies could not recognize that "Citizen Kane" was destined for a reputation about a thousand times greater than the film that beat it out for Best Picture -- "How Green Was My Valley" -- but that doesn't mean today's generation thinks the same thing. Or how about retroactively and posthumously honoring Stanley Kubrick specifically for directing "Dr. Strangelove" to make up for giving the award that year to George Cukor for "My Fair Lady"?
The method for an ex post facto recognition of such past mistakes need not be presented in such a way as to take away anything from the memory or legacy of the actual winners. Recognition would simply mean that the Academy has perceived that time has amended perspective. The very name could be along the lines of Best Overlooked Artistic Achievement. A name like that means only that present day Oscar voters are willing to recognize that exceptional direction, acting, writing, composing, and so on was not given the appreciation and respect it deserved at the time.
For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:
Heading to the movies? Get an instant mobile coupon to use at select theaters for free popcorn!