In February, Hilary and I interviewed Robert James – author of WHO Won?: An Irreverent Look at the Oscars 1927-1943. Robert James’ charmingly irascible personality shines through in both the interview and the book as he – in his words – “gives the middle finger to the Academy.” We all agree the Academy sometimes deserves to be flipped off.. *cough*1954*cough*
The structure of the book is easy to follow. He analyzes the films nominated in most of the categories each year. James shies away from the technical awards because he feels he is not qualified to judge those specific results. I agree – technical categories would be very difficult to critique unless you had experience in the field. After each film has been humorously judged, James carries on to the part of the chapter he titles, “What They Got Wrong.” Here, he mentions the unmentionables – the films that were overlooked, ignored for political reasons, or dismissed for their foreign status.
What makes Robert James “qualified” to write such a book? As he explains in the introduction, he has decades of watching films to inform his opinions (not that he’s old or anything). Speaking of opinions, James writes, “Opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one. But I would suggest that while these are my opinions, they are educated opinions, driven by decades of watching films, reading film history, and being fascinated by the electoral whims of Hollywood and America in general.”
Robert James watched as many of the nominated films as he could possibly watch. Some of these films are extremely hard to find – especially the silent films – so the preparation of this project was quite the feat! Along with snide remarks about the Academy’s poor choices of winners, he also gives the reader tidbits of historical trivia. For example: did you know there were two categories for Best Director in 1927? There was a category for directors of dramatic films and another for directors of comedies. They rid of the two categories the next year and dramatic directors have been winning ever since.
If you like an “alternative” view of the Oscars and Hollywood history, then this is the book for you!