Academy Awards Best comedy

Make 'Em Laugh: Why No Oscar for Best Comedy?

Perhaps Oscar should take these guys seriously. hide caption

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It's time for a new Oscar category.

Much of the talk swirling around this year's Academy Awards has focused on the two characteristics that the nominees for best picture supposedly share: A strong political perspective and independent financing. (That's "independent" — and "political" — in the Hollywood definition of the terms, of course.)

For your consideration, I'd like to submit a third: overwhelming humorlessness. Yes, there are some genuinely thrilling moments contained in these five movies. There is not, however, a single sincere laugh.

Ahead of the 78th Academy Awards on March 5, offers a daily take on overlooked aspects of Hollywood's big annual contest. Read online-only essays from NPR's arts staff all this week.

There are a lot of great comedies out there — movies with the sole purpose of making people laugh. But the academy doesn't tend to see it that way. Perhaps this year's best movies, the movies that reflect the collective anxiety of an industry coping with lagging box office and shrinking cultural dominance, really do all focus on willful and ultimately solitary characters who struggle with their respective visions of integrity in the face of interference from the larger, and crueler, world.

But all five? Seriously? Borrrrring.

I wish I could call this bout of earnestness a one-year thing. Although the academy has given nominations here and there to a few "laughter through the tears" comic dramas, the group has long shown a perplexing shyness when it comes to recognizing movies that, you know, make people laugh. Annie Hall won best picture in 1977; before that you need to go back 44 years to find It Happened One Night. And if you're an actor with a talent for comedy, forget it — the academy occasionally throws a nomination to a comic performance, but your chances for a win are virtually nonexistent. (Hello, Marisa Tomei!) Judging from their picks, the academy likes loners, the tormented, the tragically lovelorn. And as for the medically challenged, well, let's just say the academy will nominate people who are afflicted with everything but a sense of humor.

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