Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Academy Loves Movies About Hollywood

By Will Mavity 

Every time a film about Hollywood or movies, in general, enters the Oscar race, Oscar pundits love to throw out the old “AMPAS can’t resist movies about itself” cliché. We’ve heard that line so much that at some point most viewers have accepted it as a scientific fact.

With Quentin Tarantino’s latest, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” out, which is itself a love letter to Hollywood, pundits are once again saying “well obviously the Academy won’t be able to resist this.” The question is, how much does the Academy really love movies about movies? The answer is quite a bit, but not as much as you might think. We’ve had three Best Picture winners this century that revolve around the film industry, but before that, no “movie about movies” had ever won Best Picture. Also, there have been dozens of well-received ‘movies about movies’ like “Get Shorty” and “State and Main,” that presumably would have gotten some Oscar love if the Academy really couldn’t resist any opportunity to navel-gaze.  Instead, they were shut out entirely. Hell, even “Singin’ The Rain,” considered one of the best films ever made by many, only snagged two nominations. The truth is, fewer than 90 ‘movies about movies’ have been nominated in *any* category. And only 12 have been nominated for Best Picture. Admittedly, that averages out to almost one movie about movies nominated every year. But, given how entrenched the belief about Hollywood’s love for movies about itself is, one could be forgiven for expecting more.

So, will “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” be the 13th film to be nominated for Best Picture? Maybe. Who knows. Chances are, it won’t be entirely shut out at the very least.

​Pretty much every category has featured at least one “movie about movies” over the years. But of course, some categories are more friendly to movies about movies. Chief among them are Production Design, Original Screenplay, and Supporting Actress. Let’s see if a rundown of the various categories can give us an idea of where movies like “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” fare best.

Note: I could have counted more films if I had a more liberal definition of “about movies,” but at some point, the definition would become so broad as to become meaningless. As such, I am not including films like “Network,” “Tootsie,” and “All About Eve” that technically could count…but not exactly. Just know, I did not forget about them. They just don’t fit the criteria I set. Also, if you want to dig back far enough, there are one or two films that were nominated in categories that no longer exist like “best dance direction.” I have chosen not to include those.

​Best Picture
1. La La Land
2. Birdman*
3. Argo*
4. The Artist*
5. Hugo
6. Inglourious Basterds
7. The Aviator
8. LA Confidential
9. All That Jazz
10. The Goodbye Girl
11. Sunset Boulevard
12. A Star Is Born

The Academy was shockingly stingy in handing out Best Picture nominees over the years to ‘movies about movies.’ They only nominated 5 before the 21st century. Then, it was as if a dam broke in 2011 with “The Artist.” Since then, we have had 4 more nominated for Best Picture, with two of them winning Best Picture, and a third coming so close that it was mistakenly announced as having won Best Picture. Maybe the threat of a changing industry has Hollywood feeling nostalgic and more inclined to navel-gaze as it hands out awards. If so, that’s good news for “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” especially since the Academy already nominated his last “movie about movies.” Luckily for him, this film is even more explicitly about movies.

1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land*
2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman*
3. Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist*
4. Martin Scorsese – Hugo
5. Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds
6. Martin Scorsese – The Aviator
7. David Lynch – Mulholland Drive
8. Spike Jonze – Being John Malkovich
9. Curtis Hanson – LA Confidential
10. Mike Figgis – Leaving Las Vegas
11. Robert Altman – The Player
12. Richard Rush – The Stunt Man
13. Bob Fosse – All That Jazz
14. Woody Allen – Interiors
15. Francois Truffaut – Day For Night
16. Federico Fellini – 8 ½
17. Billy Wilder – Sunset Boulevard
18. William A. Wellman – A Star Is Born

Interestingly enough, the Academy seems to love to throw “lone director” nominations to movies about movies with some regularity. It has done so 8 times, and it would not be shocking to see them do so again.

Best Actress
1. Emma Stone – La La Land*
2. Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn
3. Elisabeth Shue – Leaving Las Vegas
4. Meryl Streep – Postcards from the Edge
5. Sally Kirkland – Anna
6. Jane Fonda – The Morning After
7. Jessica Lange – Frances
8. Geraldine Page – Interiors
9. Marsha Mason – The Goodbye Girl
10. Barbara Streisand – The Way We Were
11. Geraldine Page – Sweet Bird of Youth
12. Bette Davis – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
13. Judy Garland – A Star Is Born
14. Bette Davis – The Star
15. Gloria Swanson – Sunset Boulevard
16. Janet Gaynor – A Star Is Born 

Best Actor
1. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
2. Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
3. Michael Keaton – Birdman
4. Michel Dujardin – The Artist*
5. Peter O’Toole – Venus
6. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator
7. Nicolas Cage – Adaptation
8. Ian McKellen – Gods and Monster
9. Dustin Hoffman – Wag the Dog
10. Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas*
11. Robert Downey Jr. – Chaplin
12. Peter O’Toole – My Favorite Year
13. Peter O’Toole – The Stunt Man
14. Roy Scheider – All That Jazz
15. Richard Dreyfuss – The Goodbye Girl*
16. James Mason – A Star Is Born
17. Kirk Douglas – The Bad and the Beautiful
18. William Holden – Sunset Boulevard
19. Frederich March – A Star Is Born

Best Supporting Actor
1. Edward Norton – Birdman
2. Alan Arkin – Argo
3. Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
4. Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds*
5. Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder
6. Alan Alda – The Aviator
7. Chris Cooper – Adaptation*
8. Willem Dafoe – Shadow of the Vampire
9. Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights
10. Martin Landau – Ed Wood*
11. Michael Lerner – Barton Fink
12. Burgess Meredith – The Day of the Locust
13. Ed Begley – Sweet Bird of Youth*
14. Victor Buono – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
15. Edmond O’Brien – The Barefoot Contessa*
16. Erich von Stroheim – Sunset Boulevard

Best Supporting Actress
1. Emma Stone – Birdman
2. Berenice Bejo – The Artist
3. Penelope Cruz – Nine
4. Cate Blanchett – The Aviator*
5. Meryl Streep – Adaptation
6. Catherine Kenner – Being John Malkovich
7. Lynn Redgrave – Gods and Monsters
8. Kim Basinger – LA Confidential*
9. Joan Cusack – In & Out
10. Julianne Moore – Boogie Nights
11. Kim Stanley – Frances
12. Maggie Smith – California Suite*
13. Maureen Stapleton – Interiors
14. Quinn Cummings – The Goodbye Girl
15. Brenda Vaccaro – Once Is Not Enough
16. Valentina Cortese – Day For Night
17. Ruth Gordon – Inside Daisy Clover
18. Shirley Knight – Sweet Bird of Youth
19. Gloria Grahame – The Bad and the Beautiful*
20. Jean Hagen – Singin’ in the Rain
21. Nancy Olsen – Sunset Boulevard

The acting categories are well represented across the board for ‘movies about movies.’ With 21 nominated actresses, Supporting Actress is the most common category to throw a bone to cast members in (good news for Margot Robbie and Margaret Qualley), but lead actor is not far behind. As such, look out for DiCaprio as well. If I expanded to include movies about stage acting, this list would double. The acting branch adores actors playing actors. But AMPAS also loves acknowledging actors playing producers, and directors. Even roles with limited screentime and no “Oscar scene” like Alan Arkin in “Argo” have snuck in easily over the years. “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” offers meaty turns to several of its cast members in addition to the leg up of simply playing someone in the industry.

Best Original Screenplay
1. La La Land
2. Birdman *
3. The Artist
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. The Aviator
6. Being John Malkovich
7. Boogie Nights
8. Deconstructing Harry
9. Grand Canyon
10. The Purple Rose of Cairo
11. All That Jazz
12. The Goodbye Girl
13. Day For Night
14. 8 ½
15. Hiroshima Mon Amour
16. Man of a Thousand Faces
17. The Barefoot Contessa
18. The Bad and the Beautiful*
19. Sunset Boulevard*
20. A Star Is Born
21. What Price Hollywood?

Good news for Tarantino. The writer’s branch already likes Tarantino’s writing, as he has won two Screenplay Oscars to date. More importantly, this seems one of the most frequent categories to acknowledge movies about movies in. It is worth noting that few of the films nominated here actually won, however.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. The Disaster Artist
2. Argo*
3. Hugo
4. Adaptation
5. Gods and Monsters*
6. LA Confidential*
7. Wag the Dog
8. Leaving Las Vegas
9. The Player
10. The Stunt Man
11. California Suite

Best Film Editing
1. La La Land
2. Argo*
3. The Artist
4. Hugo
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. The Aviator*
7. LA Confidential
8. The Player
9. Who Framed Roger Rabbit*
10. All That Jazz*
11. Sunset Boulevard

Best Cinematography
1. La La Land*
2. Birdman*
3. The Artist
4. Hugo*
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. The Black Dahlia
7. The Aviator*
8. LA Confidential
9. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
10. All That Jazz
11. The Way We Were
12. The Day of the Locust
13. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
14. Career
15. The Bad and the Beautiful*
16. Sunset Boulevard

The cinematography branch may not be as reliable in nominated ‘movies about movies’ as some branches, but the fact that they nominated one of the worst ‘movies about movies’ in recent memory (“The Black Dahlia”) suggests they are fans of the sub-genre. In addition, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” Cinematographer Robert Richardson nearly always gets snubbed by the ASC for his Tarantino cinematography and thereby gets written off as a contender by pundits, only to still get the Oscar nomination. So, even if Richardson lags in precursors, don’t count him out for a nomination, especially with Q & As highlighting his impressive lighting rigs created for the film floating around.

Best Original Score
1. La La Land*
2. Saving Mr. Banks
3. Argo
4. The Artist*
5. Hugo
6. LA Confidential
7. Chaplin
8. All That Jazz* (Song Score)
9. The Muppet Movie (Song Score)
10. The Way We Were*
11. A Star Is Born
12. Singin’ in the Rain
13. Sunset Boulevard*
14. Hollywood Canteen
15. Johnny Doughboy
16. The Goldwyn Follies

Best Original Song
1. La La Land*
2. La La Land
3. Youth
4. The Muppets*
5. Nine
6. Postcards from the Edge
7. Best Friends
8. The Muppet Movie
9. The Way We Were*
10. A Star Is Born
11. Hollywood Canteen
12. Hellzapoppin’

Best Production Design
1. La La Land*
2. Hail, Caesar!
3. The Artist
4. Hugo*
5. Nine
6. King Kong
7. The Aviator*
8. LA Confidential
9. Chaplin
10. Barton Fink
11. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
12. All That Jazz*
13. The Last Tycoon
14. The Way We Were
15. California Suite
16. The Oscar
17. Inside Daisy Clover
18. 8 ½*
19. Career
20. A Star Is Born
21. The Bad and the Beautiful*
22. Sunset Boulevard*
23. The Goldwyn Follies

If there is any category that feels like a slam dunk for a nomination, it is Best Production Design. This branch adores movies about Hollywood. 23 nominations including 6 wins. They even nominated “Hail, Caesar!” when every other category shut it out. Tarantino and his team meticulously rebuilt 60s Hollywood and packed it full of Easter Eggs. Expect a nomination (and maybe a win) to be in the bag there. Fun fact, the film’s production designer has never been nominated for an Oscar before and is best known for the Joel Schumacher Batman movies.

Best Costume Design
1. La La Land
2. The Artist*
3. Hugo
4. Nine
5. The Aviator*
6. Barton Fink
7. All That Jazz*
8. The Way We Were
9. The Oscar
10. Inside Daisy Clover
11. 8 ½
12. My Geisha
13. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane*
14. Career
15. A Star Is Born
16. The Bad and the Beautiful*

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
1. Hitchcock
2. Shadow of the Vampire
3. Ed Wood*

Best Sound Mixing
1. La La Land
2. Birdman
3. Argo
4. Hugo*
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. King Kong*
7. The Aviator
8. LA Confidential
9. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
10. Hooper
11. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
12. Hollywood Canteen

Best Sound Editing
1. La La Land
2. Birdman
3. Argo
4. Hugo*
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. King Kong*
7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit*

Best Visual Effects
1. Hugo*
2. King Kong*
3. Who Framed Roger Rabbit*

Best Documentary Feature Film
1. Marlene
2. Hollywood on Trial

Best Foreign Language Film
1. Cinema Paradiso
2. Sesion Continua
3. Day for Night
4. 8 1/2
5. Last Metro

In short, Hollywood loves movies about itself, but not as much as you might think. Still, historically, there is enough love to comfortably say that with its strong reviews, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is comfortable for at least a few nominations. ​Have you seen the latest Quentin Tarantino film yet? Which Oscars do you think it will get nominated for? Let us know in the comments section down below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Will and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mavericksmovies

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Will Mavity
Will Mavity
Loves Awards Season, analyzing stats & conducting interviews. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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