Proving the Honorary Oscars are not simply lifetime achievement awards given as a consolation prize, two of this year’s four Governors Award recipients are already Academy Award winners. And of those two, there are seven nominations among them. Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki was recognized in the Best Animated Feature category in 2003 for Spirited Away, in 2006 for Howl’s Moving Castle and in 2014 for The Wind Rises. He won the first of those.
French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere was nominated in 1973 and 1978 for collaborating with Luis Bunuel on scripts for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (original) and That Obscure Object of Desire (adapted), then in 1989 for working with director Philip Kaufman on the adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. His first nomination and win came in 1963 for writing and directing the short film Happy Anniversary with Pierre Etaix.
As for the other two honorees who’ll receive their statuettes in a special ceremony on November 8th, one is actress and iconic redhead Maureen O’Hara, who was never herself nominated but who starred in Best Picture winner How Green Is My Valley and nominees Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man.
Rounding out the foursome is Harry Belafonte, whose previous vicinity to Oscar was narrating the documentary feature nominee King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis and starring in Carmen Jones, which received nominations for co-star Dorothy Dandridge and its score. He also performed the nominated song “Unchained Melody” at the 1956 ceremony, though he wasn’t the voice on the soundtrack for its movie, Unchained. And the 2011 doc about him, Sing Your Song, was shortlisted but didn’t move forward. Belafonte has been chosen for the 2014 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his great off-screen work as an activist.
All of these new Governors Award winners have had tremendous careers, obviously, but there are some highlights that I think should have also been recognized by the Academy and weren’t. So, in a way, I am still looking at these special Oscars as making up for these overlooked works and performances.
My Neighbor Totoro – Let’s pretend the Academy had a category for animated features decades before they smartened up. Also, let’s pretend that Totoro and its director weren’t ignored in the US before 1993. The film’s stiff competition could have included fellow Japanese masterpieces Akira and Grave of the Fireflies, in addition to maybe The Land Before Time and Oliver & Company. It probably wouldn’t have won.
Princess Mononoke – Same goes for this high-profile film from Miyazaki, which if counted for 1997 wouldn’t have had any better competition than Disney’s Hercules, Anastasia and, uh, Cat’s Don’t Dance. Even if going by its US release year of 1999, there’s — well, okay, that year we had Toy Story 2, The Iron Giant and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. To go another way, Princess Monoke was Japan’s submission to the foreign language category in 1997, Miyazaki’s only film to be selected for the chance. The nominees in that category ended up being a handful of films mostly forgotten today, including winner of the Oscar, Mike van Diem’s Character. I also personally would have nominated it for best score.
The Tin Drum – While some of his earlier collaborations with Bunuel are also Oscar-worthy, particularly Belle de Jour and the underrated The Milky Way, his work with other notable filmmakers shouldn’t have gone ignored. The process and struggle and achievement of his adaptation with Volker Schlondorff (plus Franz Seitz and Gunter Grass), of Grass’s novel “The Tin Drum” is something that ought to be studied by all screenwriters. The Tin Drum did win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it should have been nominated for more Oscars the following year, as was certainly possible, including in the adapted screenplay category.
Birth – If there’s any screenplay he’s deserved a fifth nomination for in the 25 years since his last, the one for this underrated Jonathan Glazer feature is it. This was another interesting process, in which Carriere was instrumental in the beginning but was really only involved early on and not for the finished version (Glazer was the primary writer and Milo Addica came on after Carriere). But his presence can be felt in the final film, and also he was just due for some new relevance ten years ago.
The Quiet Man – If she was to get a lead actress nomination for any movie, it would have had to be from one of her collaborations with John Ford, and among those The Quiet Man arguably features her best performance, as the feisty Irish wife of John Wayne. She actually believes that Ford campaigned behind her back to be snubbed. Thankfully he wasn’t around to keep her from finally receiving love from Oscar this year.
Only the Lonely – Having been wooed back to the screen after 20 years for a part written for her by Chris Columbus, O’Hara returned for the kind of comeback performance that is often recognized by the Academy, even if as a career-achievement sort of thing. Playing domineering mother to John Candy, she earned it, but the movie wasn’t a big enough splash to lead to a supporting actress nod for her. Did they really need to honor Juliette Lewis instead?
Beetlejuice – One of the Oscar categories that should exist is for best use of a song not written for the movie. If that award was a thing in 1988, maybe “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” would have still lost to “Wind Beneath My Wings,” but it sure would have been nominated. The credit on the award would have partly gone to the performer of the version used, of course. As one of the most memorable musical scenes in modern movie history, the “Day-O” bit introduced the artist and made him relevant to a whole new generation.
Kansas City – After returning to acting in the mid 1990s, Belafonte soon garnered praises for his against-type performance in this jazz-filled Robert Altman gangster film. As a whole, though, the movie might not have been strong enough for the Academy to pay attention to any of its parts. At least the New York Film Critics Circle knew what was up.