Sunday night the Academy Awards will be held. There are some that believe The Aviator may well win Best Picture and Martin Scorsese may win the Best Director award for his work on the movie. And having seen The Aviator, I honestly believe it deserves all the awards it can get. Unfortunately, I don't think it will win either the Oscar for Best Picture or Best Director. It has already won a number of awards: Best Film at the American Film Institute awards, Best Picture-Drama at the Golden Globes, Best Picture at the Producers Guild of America awards, and so on.
Unfortunately, it has lost some awards that are pretty good indicators of what the Oscars will look like. The Los Angeles Film Critics preferred Sideways to The Aviator--the movie virtually swept their awards. The New York Film Critics also gave Sideways their Best Picture award, while the Best Director Award went to Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby. Sideways also swept the Broadcast Critics Choice Awards. The Directors Guild of America also gave their award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film to Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby. At the Screen Actors Guild, Leonardo DiCarprio (who played Howard Hughes in The Aviator) lost to Jamie Foxx for his role as Ray Charles Ray, while the entire cast of The Aviator lost to the cast of Sideways. At The American Society of Cinematographers awards, The Aviator lost to A Very Long Engagement in the feature film competition. Quite simply, it looks to me like competition at the Oscars is going to be between Sideways and Million Dollar Baby, with The Aviator as odd man out. To me this is a real shame, as I feel The Aviator truly deserves to win Best Picture.
Of course, it would not be the first time that the best movie did not win the Oscar for Best Picture. How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane at the 1941 Oscars. Any other year How Green Was My Valley probably would have deserved to win. It is a great film. But Citizen Kane has become the touchstone of motion pictures--the film to which all others are compared. Only a few films (Seven Samurai, for one) are as good as it is. I rather suspect Citizen Kane lost the Best Picture Oscar For two reasons. First, it was made by a Hollywood outsider, Orson Welles. Second, and perhaps more importantly, William Randolph Hearst actively campaigned against the film, believing it was based on his life (in truth, it was based on a number of different tycoons' lives).
At least How Green Was My Valley is a great film; however, there have been times when great films have lost to films that were only good and, sometimes, to films that were actually bad. Singin' in the Rain is considered by many to be the greatest musical of all time and one of the greatest films of all time. Surely, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture? Well, no, it didn't. It lost to The Greatest Show on Earth, a film that, while entertaining, is hardly great. It is perhaps arguable what the best movie released in 1985 was. Some might argue that it was Prizzi's Honor, others might make an argument for The Color Purple or Kiss of the Spider Woman. Few would argue for the movie that actually won Best Picture that year: Out of Africa. Indeed, I don't even think Out of Africa should have been nominated, as it is a bad movie whose only redeeming feature is its cinematography. I can only figure both Sydney Pollack and Meryl Streep had a number of bad days when they made that movie.
In fact, the number of classic movies that either did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture or that were not even nominated is pretty amazing. King Kong (the original, not the Seventies remake), It's a Wonderful Life, The Searchers, North by Northwest, and Star Wars, among a number of others, did not win the Oscar for Best Picture. That is not to say that there are not years when the best picture actually wins Best Picture--The Apartment won in 1960. Annie Hall won in 1977. The Lord Of the Rings: The Return Of the King won in 2003. That having been said, when it comes down to it, I don't really trust the Academy in selecting what really is the best picture at times. Too many times the best movie in any given year has not won the award. Many times it has not even been nominated. I suspect this is going to be one of those years when it was nominated (The Aviator being the best film of the year), but it won't win.