Comedy is Oscar's Bridesmaid

After years of great funny flicks getting shut out, Judd Apatow's call for a Best Comedy Academy Award deserves serious attention.

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Nov 22, 2011  |  Updated 9:50 PM EDT
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Comedies like "Bridesmaids" are left at Oscar's altar.

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If there were an Academy Awards category for most disgustingly hilarious bathroom scene in a motion picture, there's no doubt "Bridesmaids" would clean up at the next Oscars.

The odds against that happening, though, seem only slightly steeper than that of an all-out comedy winning the Best Picture Oscar ever again.

We find ourselves reluctantly agreeing with "Bridesmaids" producer Judd Apatow's recent call for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create a Best Comedy category.

"If comedy is not included, ever – it's been like five times in a zillion years that it's won Best Picture – then it doesn't seem like it's screwing up 'Schindler's List' for 'Hangover' to have its own category," he said during a forum held by the Los Angeles Times (via The Huffington Post).

Apatow has a vested interest in funny business. As a major force behind the likes of such uproarious fare as "The 40-year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Superbad," he's effectively combined gross-out humor, sheer silliness – and characters worth caring about – to produce some of the funniest and most successful movies in recent years.

Comedies can bring in big cash – "The Hangover Part II" and "Bridesmaids" are among the Top 10 biggest domestic moneymakers so far this year. But it's not just about the bucks: Think about your favorite movies moments, and there's a good chance many involved the uncontrollable laughter spurred by say, "Young Frankenstein," "There's Something About Mary" or "The Hangover."

The incomparable "It Happened One Night" became the first comedy to win for Best Picture in 1935. The most recent – and we're stretching the definition of "comedy" here – is 1999 winner "Shakespeare in Love." (AMC’s website puts “American Beauty,” which won the next year, in its "borderline or hybrid” comedy category, though the dark look at suburban life isn’t most remembered for inspiring chuckles.)

In between, many classic laughfests – some nominated, others ignored – were robbed of the funny-looking statue: "City Lights," "Duck Soup," "Bringing Up Baby," "Dr. Strangelove," "The Producers" and "Some Like it Hot," to name a few. The last film with numerous laugh-out-loud moments to take the top prize was Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" in 1978.

Thanks to the expansion two years ago of the Best Picture field to as many as 10, Allen at least has a shot at a nomination for "Midnight in Paris," if not a great chance of winning. But the larger nominee list, a reaction the inexcusable snubbing of 2008’s "The Dark Knight,” appears to be more about including quality blockbusters among the usual dramas than serving the cause of comedy.

The only comedy nominated last year – not counting the unintentionally funny at times "The Black Swan" – was "Toy Story 3," a wonderful movie that spurred laughter and bittersweet tears.

The toys’ outing proved our favorite film of a reasonably strong bunch – but probably didn't come close to winning, at least partially because some Oscar voters likely believed the Pixar film belonged in the animation field, which got its own category in 2001.

Other than rightfully rewarding the folks who make us laugh, a comedy category likely would help draw more viewers – including a younger crowd – to the Oscars telecast, whose mass appeal appears to be in decline. It's no coincidence the best Academy Awards hosts – Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and, yes, Billy Crystal – have come from the world of humor.

We’re guessing few viewers would bolt for a bathroom break during the awarding of the Best Comedy Oscar – especially if, say, "Bridesmaids 2," were among the nominees.
 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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