Suppose There Was a Best Comedy Academy Award…

BEST-PICTURE-COMEDY-2.One of the most prevalent–and long-standing–contentions in the Academy Award universe is that comedic films and performances often get short shrift from the Academy and its voters, who over the decades have shown a marked tendency to favor “important” social dramas and sweeping big-screen epics over pratfalls and gags. There certainly is some merit to this complaint; of the 86 Best Picture winners to date, there are only about a dozen or so that qualify as totally or primarily comedies (movies such as Going My Way, The Sting and The Artist, to name a few, blur the line a bit). Even after you toss in the nine films that are considered musicals, it’s pretty clear that Oscar likes his winners on the serious side, with just an occasional soupçon of whimsy, and the 2009 expansion of Best Picture nominees from five to as many as 10 has done little to change this.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globe Awards, for years looked down upon as a less authoritative and more dubious prize (Pia Zadora’s Best New Star win and The Tourist’s Best Comedy nomination, anyone?), are now seen as the Oscars’ fresher, hipper alternative. One of the main reasons for this shift in attitude–aside from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s recent co-hosting romps–is that there are two Best Picture statues given out: one for Best Drama, the other for Musical or Comedy. The HFPA first split their award into dual categories back in 1951, when admittedly there were a lot more musicals being made. But in the years since, the presence of a separate award has allowed such favorite funny fare as Some Like It Hot, M*A*S*H, Arthur, Mrs. Doubtfire and The Hangover, among others, to come away with an accolade that the oh-so-staid Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stood little chance of bestowing upon them.

Once upon a time, however, things might have been different. When the very first Academy Awards categories were devised and voted on in 1928, there were two separate ways of honoring a film. The Best Production (what we now call Best Picture) award–for “the most outstanding motion picture considering all elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness”–went to, as all good trivia buffs know, the silent WWI actioner Wings. For this inaugural year only, however, a special Artistic Quality of Production prize was presented to Fox for director F.W. Murnau’s moving drama Sunrise, saying the studio had “produced the most artistic, unique and/or original motion picture without reference to cost or magnitude.” There was also a one-and-done Comedy Direction trophy alongside the regular Best Director category, and special awards were given to Charlie Chaplin “for versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus” and Warner Bros. for its game-changing “talkie” The Jazz Singer.

Over the next two to three years the major awards (minus Supporting Actor and Actress, created in 1936) would take the form we still know today, but clearly there was ample opportunity from the start for the Oscars to break off comedy films and “all-singing” musicals into their own competition and let the “outstanding” and “artistic” dramas do their own thing.

With this premise in mind, I would like to offer for your reading pleasure the way I imagine the Academy Awards might have gone if, starting in 1928, there had been two Best Picture awards à la the Golden Globes. Some of this is based on the actual Oscar (and Globe) nominations over time and some is, of course, pure speculation on my part (Did you ever try thinking like the AMPAS? It hurts!).  Please note: Movies listed in italics were the actual Best Picture winner that year.

And the Best Picture Awards go to:


CIRCUS, THE 19281927-28: Drama–Wings; Comedy/Musical–The Circus

1928-29: Drama–In Old Arizona; Comedy/Musical–The Broadway Melody

1929-30: Drama–All Quiet on the Western Front; Comedy/Musical–The Love Parade

1930-31: Drama–Cimarron; Comedy/Musical–The Front Page

1931-32: Drama–Grand Hotel; Comedy/Musical–City Lights

1932-33: Drama–Cavalcade; Comedy/Musical–42nd Street

1934: Drama–The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Comedy/Musical–It Happened One Night

1935: Drama–Mutiny on the Bounty; Comedy/Musical–A Midsummer Night’s Dream

1936: Drama–The Story of Louis Pasteur; Comedy/Musical–The Great Ziegfeld

1937: Drama–The Life of Emile Zola; Comedy/Musical–Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

1938: Drama–The Adventures of Robin Hood; Comedy/Musical–You Can’t Take It with You

NINOTCHKA 21939: Drama–Gone with the Wind; Comedy/Musical–Ninotchka

1940: Drama–Rebecca; Comedy/Musical–The Philadelphia Story

1941: Drama–How Green Was My Valley; Comedy/Musical–Here Comes Mr. Jordan

1942: Drama–Mrs. Miniver; Comedy/Musical–Yankee Doodle Dandy

1943: Drama–Casablanca; Comedy/Musical–Heaven Can Wait

1944: Drama–Gaslight; Comedy/Musical–Going My Way

1945: Drama–The Lost Weekend; Comedy/Musical–The Bells of St. Mary’s

1946: Drama–The Best Years of Our Lives; Comedy/Musical–Song of the South

1947: Drama–Gentleman’s Agreement; Comedy/Musical–Miracle on 34th Street

1948: Drama–Hamlet; Comedy/Musical–The Red Shoes

 ADAM'S RIB1949: Drama–All the King’s Men; Comedy/Musical–Adam’s Rib

1950: Drama–All About Eve; Comedy/Musical–Born Yesterday

1951: Drama–A Streetcar Named Desire; Comedy/Musical–An American in Paris

1952: Drama–The Greatest Show on Earth; Comedy/Musical–Singin’ in the Rain

1953: Drama–From Here to Eternity; Comedy/Musical–Roman Holiday

1954: Drama–On the Waterfront; Comedy/Musical–A Star Is Born

1955: Drama–Marty; Comedy/Musical–Mister Roberts

1956: Drama–The Ten Commandments; Comedy/Musical–Around the World in 80 Days

1957: Drama–The Bridge on the River Kwai; Comedy/Musical–The Pajama Game

1958: Drama–The Defiant Ones; Comedy/Musical–Gigi

SOME LIKE IT HOT1959: Drama–Ben-Hur; Comedy/Musical–Some Like It Hot

1960: Drama–Elmer Gantry; Comedy/Musical–The Apartment

1961: Drama–Judgment at Nuremberg; Comedy/Musical–West Side Story

1962: Drama–Lawrence of Arabia; Comedy/Musical–The Music Man

1963: Drama–Lilies of the Field; Comedy/Musical–Tom Jones

1964: Drama–Becket; Comedy/Musical–My Fair Lady

1965: Drama–Doctor Zhivago; Comedy/Musical–The Sound of Music

1966: Drama–A Man for All Seasons; Comedy/Musical–The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

1967: Drama–In the Heat of the Night; Comedy/Musical–The Graduate

1968: Drama–The Lion in Winter; Comedy/Musical–Oliver!

CACTUS FLOWER1969: Drama–Midnight Cowboy; Comedy/Musical–Cactus Flower

1970: Drama–Patton; Comedy/Musical–M*A*S*H

1971: Drama–The French Connection; Comedy/Musical–Fiddler on the Roof

1972: Drama–The Godfather; Comedy/Musical–Cabaret

1973: Drama–The Sting; Comedy/Musical–A Touch of Class

1974: Drama–The Godfather, Part II; Comedy/Musical–Harry and Tonto

1975: Drama–One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Comedy/Musical–Shampoo

1976: Drama–Rocky; Comedy/Musical–A Star Is Born

1977: Drama–Julia; Comedy/Musical–Annie Hall

1978: Drama–The Deer Hunter; Comedy/Musical–Heaven Can Wait

1979: Drama–Kramer vs. Kramer; Comedy/Musical–All That Jazz

9 TO 5 31980: Drama–Ordinary People; Comedy/Musical–9 to 5

1981: Drama–Chariots of Fire; Comedy/Musical–Arthur

1982: Drama–Gandhi; Comedy/Musical–Tootsie

1983: Drama–Terms of Endearment; Comedy/Musical–The Big Chill

1984: Drama–Amadeus; Comedy/Musical–Ghostbusters

1985: Drama–Out of Africa; Comedy/Musical–A Chorus Line

1986: Drama–Platoon; Comedy/Musical–Hannah and Her Sisters

1987: Drama–The Last Emperor; Comedy/Musical–Broadcast News

1988: Drama–Rain Man; Comedy/Musical–Working Girl

1989: Drama–My Left Foot; Comedy/Musical–Driving Miss Daisy

1990: Drama–Dances with Wolves; Comedy/Musical–Cyrano de Bergerac

1991: Drama–The Silence of the Lambs; Comedy/Musical–Beauty and the Beast

1992: Drama–Unforgiven; Comedy/Musical–The Player

1993: Drama–Schindler’s List; Comedy/Musical–Sleepless in Seattle

1994: Drama– Forrest Gump; Comedy/Musical–Four Weddings and a Funeral

1995: Drama–Braveheart; Comedy/Musical–Toy Story

1996: Drama–The English Patient; Comedy/Musical–Fargo

FULL MONTY, THE1997: Drama–Titanic; Comedy/Musical–The Full Monty

1998: Drama–Saving Private Ryan; Comedy/Musical–Shakespeare in Love

1999: Drama–American Beauty; Comedy/Musical–Notting Hill

2000: Drama–Gladiator; Comedy/Musical–Chocolat

2001: Drama–A Beautiful Mind; Comedy/Musical–Gosford Park

2002: Drama–The Hours; Comedy/Musical–Chicago 

2003: Drama–The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Comedy/Musical–Lost in Translation

2004: Drama–Million Dollar Baby; Comedy/Musical–Sideways

2005: Drama–Crash; Comedy/Musical–The Producers

2006: Drama–The Departed; Comedy/Musical–Little Miss Sunshine

2007: Drama–No Country for Old Men; Comedy/Musical–Juno

2008: Drama–Slumdog Millionaire; Comedy/Musical–Mamma Mia!

2009: Drama–The Hurt Locker; Comedy/Musical–Up

KAAOS_1-Sheet_CS4_v19.indd2010: Drama–The King’s Speech; Comedy/Musical–The Kids Are All Right

2011: Drama–The Help; Comedy/Musical–The Artist

2012: Drama–Argo; Comedy/Musical–Silver Linings Playbook

2013: Drama–12 Years a Slave; Comedy/Musical–American Hustle


That’s right, Star Wars was overlooked yet again and Martin Scorsese still had to wait until 2006. That being said, the above list does offer a more comprehensive representation of Hollywood’s best over the last 80-plus years. What changes would you make–bearing in mind that the actual Best Picture winners can’t be replaced–to my alternative Oscar history? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below, and remember to watch the real Academy Awards this Sunday night.