Book Review By Monica Sullivan
It's Oscar month again, which means that some film buffs are racing to see every nominated movie & others are ignoring the whole damn thing & watching nothing but guilty pleasures. Devotees of independent film are happy to note that there are indie awards around this time & folks who love to watch millions of good dollars being spent on a stinker like "Battlefield Earth" will be delighted to learn that the L. Ron Hubbard turkey is a front runner for the Razzberries, also distributed this month. Biography Magazine ran pages & pages of beautiful photographs of every Best Actress since Janet Gaynor & asked readers to vote for their favorite. Mine is Bette Davis, but in "Of Human Bondage," "The Letter" & "All About Eve," NOT in the movies which won her the Oscars, "Dangerous" & "Jezebel."
This brings me to the 1991 book by cult movie historian Danny Peary, which I wish Doubleday would expand & update for 2001: "Alternate Oscars." Peary looks at the Best Pictures, Best Actors & Best Actresses for every year between 1927 & 1991 & then discusses his own favorites. Rarely does Peary agree with the Academy. His choice for the first Best Picture, for example, is not William Wellman's "Wings," but F. W. Murnau's "Sunrise." In my opinion, it's the best silent movie ever made & one of the rare studies of marriage that shows love, hate, fidelity, infidelity, near-tragedy & slapstick comedy all in one artfully drawn portrait. You'd have to be a genius to pull off something like that & Murnau definitely was. Peary's other choices for that first ceremony were Charlie Chaplin (who never won a competitive Oscar) for "The Circus" & Mary Pickford, who won, but for the wrong movie, "Coquette," when she should have been honored for her superior performance in "My Best Girl." More often than not, Peary bestows honors on pictures & actors who were never even nominated. Instead of "The Silence Of The Lambs" or nominees like "Beauty & The Beast," "Bugsy" & "The Prince Of Tides," he favors Jane Campion's "An Angel At My Table." Although he agrees that Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Nick Nolte, Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon deserved their nominations, he feels that River Phoenix should have been nominated for "My Own Private Idaho" over Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro & Robin Williams & he believes that Wesley Snipes was better than all of them in "New Jack City." His choice for Best Actress of 1991? Lili Taylor in an indie called "Dogfight," with Kerry Fox, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mimi Rogers & Alison Steadman among the runners-up who were never even nominated. Even when you don't agree with him, Peary's arguments are persuasive & compelling~& the stills he chooses to accompany his choices are delightful. I'd love any book that supports Buster Keaton, Cary Grant & Boris Karloff for Best Actor in, respectively, "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," "The Awful Truth" & "The Body Snatcher," Barbara Stanwyck as Best Actress for "Ball Of Fire" & "Double Indemnity" & Marilyn Monroe for Best Actress in "Some Like It Hot." Danny Peary dedicates "Alternate Oscars" to them all.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/14/01
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