Thursday, August 27, 2015

Your 2015 Honorary Oscar Winners

Earlier today, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced this year's recipients of honorary Oscars, to be bestowed at the Governors' Awards in November. Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee will be given Honorary Oscars for their achievements onscreen, while Debbie Reynolds will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her efforts with the Thalians, an entertainer-lead charity group that focuses on mental health treatment and awareness.

All three recipients are incredibly deserving of the honor. Refreshingly, none of this year's recipients have won competitive Oscars in the past. Don't get me wrong; Rowlands and Reynolds certainly deserved to win for their indelible performances, and that Lee's Do the Right Thing was almost completely ignored by the Academy (two measly nominations) in 1989 ranks high among their greatest oversights. But, to me at least, honorary Oscars shouldn't be handed out to artists who've already collected trophies; let them be an opportunity to right historical wrongs and recognize terrific work that, for whatever reason, had previously been ignored.

Rowlands was undoubtedly one of the most impressive actresses of the 1970s and 1980s, delivering a number of terrific performances after getting her start in the 1950s and 1960s in television. Perhaps no one understood her raw talent better than John Cassavetes, her frequent collaborator and husband. Together, they combined for one classic film after another, from the intimate relationship dramas Faces (1968) and Minnie & Moskowitz (1971) to the bolder character studies A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Opening Night (1977). A Woman Under the Influence is, perhaps, her greatest performance: she plays Mabel Longhetti as a symbol of the modern woman, and imbues her with such rich life that the performance earned Rowlands the first of her two Oscar nominations for Best Actress. The second would come in 1980, for Gloria, also directed by Cassavetes. Unfortunately, Hollywood failed to take notice of her talents, and she instead retreated back to television, ultimately winning four Emmys and two Golden Globes. Her most notable recent role came in The Notebook (2004), directed by her son Nick Cassavetes, though she has worked fairly steadily over the past decade.

Lee certainly needs no introduction. He erupted onto the independent scene with his 1983 NYU student thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, and followed it up with one incendiary film after another: She's Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), and Malcolm X (1992) makes for one hell of a run of films. And though his output has since grown spottier, the subsequent years have yielded two devastatingly emotional documentaries in 4 Little Girls (1997) and When the Levees Broke (2006), a bona-fide masterpiece in 25th Hour (2002), a misunderstood gem in Bamboozled (2000), and the biggest hit of his career in Inside Man (2006). Even in his failures, however, Lee remains a fascinating, engaging, and confident filmmaker, making him one of the most important and interesting voices in American cinema. That he only has two Oscar nominations to date - an Original Screenplay nod for Do the Right Thing, a Documentary Feature nomination for 4 Little Girls (losing both) - does little to diminish the long shadow he casts over the industry.

Reynolds had acted in a handful of films before taking on the role of Kathy in the 1952 masterpiece Singin' in the Rain, but that film was her true introduction to the world. And what an introduction it was, too, as Reynolds sang, danced, and charmed her way into the hearts of millions with her winning performance. She would star in a number of other musicals afterward, including Bundle of Joy (1956), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), the lattermost of which earned her her sole Oscar nomination for Best Actress. In 1969, she starred in her own television show, The Debbie Reynolds Show, which ran for one season. Since the height of her fame, however, she's divided her efforts between film, television, Broadway, and her business ventures, which include the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in North Hollywood and the Thalians.

The Governors' Awards will be handed out November 14, which a taped broadcast set to air during the Academy Awards next year.

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