Once again, in its nominations for the best films of 2008, Academy voters show they they don't get the joke. At Oscar time, comedies such as Julie & Julia, 500 Days of Summer and The Hangover are inevitably passed over because at Hollywood's annual throwdown serious movies get taken more seriously.
And not only in the best picture and screenplay categories: In the acting categories you'd have to go back to 1977 when Richard Dreyfuss won for The Goodbye Girl and Diane Keaton for Annie Hall and 1987 when Cher won for Moonstruck and 1997 when Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson won statuettes for As Good as It Gets to see lead actors awarded for a movie comedy.
Nancy Meyers, who writes movie comedies such as Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated observed the unfairness of this bias a few years back when she told me that considering the degree of difficulty involved, the bias against comedy is a raw deal: "In drama, you have a big target. In comedy, you have to hit the bullseye." To put it another way: Oscar rewards the tears of a clown, but not the clown himself: Robin Williams didn't win an Oscar till he wept in Good Will Hunting. Tom Hanks gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance in Big, but gets Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.
Classicists tell us that the bias against comedy is ancient. Plato held a low opinion of the comic form. At their theater festivals, Athenians devoted three days to tragedy and only one to comedy.
Shakespeare was criticized for "mixing kings and clowns." But should the Academy likewise be critical? What Shakespeare knew that Academy voters seem not to is that while the king rules the people, the jester rules the king.
Which comedy films/screenplays/performances got overlooked this year? The most egregious omission for me is Stanley Tucci, brilliant in Julie & Julia and pretty dull as the serial killer in The Lovely Bones, a role that nabbed him a nomination. Your thoughts?