The Oscars are one of Hollywood’s greatest traditions, but they’re also one of the more inherently divisive. In any situation where you’re attempting to name a singular, unequivocal “Best” in a subjective category—not just a collection of “Very Goods” or “Great Efforts”—you’re going to draw some criticism. That’s partly because movies aren’t math problem sets: there’s not a single right way to do things, nor a single right answer upon which to arrive, and in reality, one person’s interpretation of a film can be entirely different than what someone else sees. And so, those films and filmmakers that do win Oscars necessarily have to appeal to votes based on the quality of the film, as well as appealing to the sense of populism they need to secure the majority of votes.
And that’s maybe why the Academy’s notorious, career-spanning snub of Alfred Hitchcock—one of film history’s most enduringly entertaining AND well-respected filmmakers—is especially perplexing.
Now, Hitch did receive the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967, of course, which, while arguably more prestigious, has also been famously used to right Academy wrongs (or to have a chance to give Darryl F. Zanuck another trophy—he won the award three times in the first 15 years). But, certainly, Hitch’s breadth of work should have been more than enough to earn him a statuette of his own accord, and he gave them ample opportunities.
Indeed, part of the reason that the injustice feels particularly cutting is that Hitchcock was by no means ignored by the Academy, nominations wise. In total, sixteen of his films were nominated in some capacity over the years, for a sum of 50 nominations—but only six wins. Although a modern audience, having experienced his whole range of films, might curate a different a selection of films, Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times in his lifetime: for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho. (He’s tied, and in good company, with Robert Altman, Clarence Brown, and King Vidor for most “Best Director” nominations without a win.) He directed four films that were nominated for Best Picture: Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Spellbound, and Rebecca. Rebecca was his most successful film in the eyes of Oscar, which perhaps would have been his best opportunity for picking up the prize; it was nominated for 13 awards and actually won Best Picture.
But really, breaking down Hitchcock’s work into a series of numerical equations feels like a betrayal to his career, and underscores the problem of Oscar prognostication. It’s hard to measure a film’s lasting cultural effect when looking at it within the time span of a year, especially when the voting is limited to a relatively small group of viewers. Hitchcock really understood not just how to tell stories, but how to tell them in a specifically cinematic way. Psycho isn’t remembered because of the plot, but because of how everything—sound, lighting, editing, casting, and so on—works together on screen. He was undeniably a master craftsman for the cinematic age.
In the end, I think Hitchcock is a great reminder for Oscar night. Although a win can cement a filmmaker’s legacy, not winning doesn’t take away from our enjoyment of their work. Sure, being on that permanent list can introduce films and filmmakers to future audiences, but sometimes the strength of the films allows them to stand on their own. Vertigo, which seems to be somewhat commonly-agreed-upon as his greatest work by modern viewers, barely made a blip on the Oscar radar, earning only two nominations, and no wins. If a filmmaker is able to consistently tap into the public’s consciousness through film, their legacy will be preserved just the same as it would be had they announced a certain name from an envelope. And Hitchcock’s mastery of the art form has certainly cemented his name in film history despite the Academy’s lack of recognition.
This is part of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. To find out more info, visit the blogathon home page. All future entries will be tagged under 31 Days of Oscar.