Attenborough: Oscar got it wrong

Posted by · 4:18 pm · September 8th, 2008

As awards geeks, bitching about the Academy’s supposed mistakes is pretty much our favourite sport. The question of who should and shouldn’t have won provides endless material for discussion — frequently on these pages.

One of the titles that comes up often in the “shouldn’t have won” category is Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi,” that well-mounted, well-acted and thoroughly indigestible biopic that managed to beat such more-beloved nominees as “Tootsie” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” It was an unpopular choice even at the time. After the ceremony, NYT critic Vincent Canby famously wrote: “”E.T.” and “Tootsie” are films. “Gandhi” is a laboriously illustrated textbook.”

Interestingly, Lord Attenborough, of all people, agrees. In a recent interview with BBC Radio Five, he admits that “E.T.” was robbed, being “an infinitely more creative and fundamental piece of cinema” than his own winning film. Attenborough continues:

[Business partner] Diana and I went to see “E.T.” in Los Angeles shortly before all the awards and we used language, when we came out, to the extent of saying ‘we have no chance – “E.T.” should and will walk away with it’.

Without the initial premise of Mahatma Gandhi, the film (“Gandhi”) would be nothing. Therefore it’s a narrative film but it’s a piece of narration rather than a piece of cinema, as such. “E.T.” depended absolutely on the concept of cinema and I think that Steven Spielberg, who I’m very fond of, is a genius. I think “E.T.” is a quite extraordinary piece of cinema.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I’ve never been a fan of Attenborough as a filmmaker (“Shadowlands” excepted), but he sure is a classy guy. There are a lot of undeserving Oscar winners out there who must know they got lucky, but few of them have the guts to come right out and say so.

Anyone else want to come forward? Kevin Costner? Gwyneth Paltrow? John G. Avildsen? Anyone?

→ 21 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

21 responses so far

  • 1 9-08-2008 at 4:28 pm

    Roman said...

    This isn’t exactly new. Attenborough is a huge Spielberg fan (and freind) and has been touting E.T. from the very beginning.

    He is a very classy guy though and there is not denying the power of “Ghandi” and his other films.

  • 2 9-08-2008 at 4:38 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I knew he and Spielberg were friends, but I’d never heard him address the issue this directly before.

    I’d deny the power of most of his films, but that’s beside the point.

  • 3 9-08-2008 at 4:44 pm

    Roman said...

    He did.

    Here’s a quote from this very site (among others):

    “Attenborough himself, on the way to accept the Directors Guild Award for the film, stopped to chat with Steven Spielberg to make clear what everyone in the room seemed to know: that Spielberg should have won the award for “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial!””

  • 4 9-08-2008 at 4:48 pm

    Mr. F said...

    I’d like to think that Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts said something similar after watching “Elizabeth” and “Requiem for a Dream”

  • 5 9-08-2008 at 4:50 pm

    Roman said...

    By the way, as a Spielberg fan, I have to say that his not being nominated for A.I./Minority Report annoyed me much more than his losing for E.T. and, yes, even not being nominated for Jaws (among other flicks).

  • 6 9-08-2008 at 4:52 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Mr F:


  • 7 9-08-2008 at 4:54 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not to mention “Central Station” and “You Can Count on Me.”

  • 8 9-08-2008 at 4:57 pm

    Markku said...

    Before “Gandhi”, Attenborough was snubbed for his excellent anti-war films “Oh, What a Lovely War” and “A Bridge Too Far”, both flawed masterpieces and far superior films to his Oscar-winning epic. In Gandhi he seemed far too intimidated by the man to make a truly engaging film out of him.

  • 9 9-08-2008 at 5:48 pm

    M.Harris said...

    Speaking of coming forward,”Driving Miss Daisy”over “Born On The Fourth Of July”

  • 10 9-08-2008 at 7:04 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Gandhi” is a good movie so I really don’t care.

    And Kevin Costner? Dude, he deserved that with 100% of his fiber. He crafted an American masterwork.

  • 11 9-08-2008 at 7:11 pm

    CGB said...

    You forgot Julia Roberts at the end of that list. She certainly should come forward and admit Ellen Burstyn gave the better performance.

    But I’m definitely not holding my breath.

  • 12 9-08-2008 at 7:39 pm

    N8 said...

    I couldn’t disagree more.

    Not only do I think Attenborough deserved Best Director of 1982, but I think his achievement in Gandhi is among the greatest derectorial accomplishments of all time. The same should be said of anyone who makes a near-4-hour movie that never once becomes boring. Unfortunately, those types of movies are rare, but Gandhi is one of them.

    Don’t get me wrong. Any other year, I would’ve said Speilberg should win hands-down. ET is the best example of his genius and mastery of storytelling. However, when held up against Attenborough’s intimate yet epic study of one man and the part he played in his nation’s history, I just couldn’t fathom them giving the award to anyone else.

    The size and scope of the picture is extraordinary, but Attenborough put just as much attention into the film’s subtleties. From the performances of small supporting players like Rohini Hattangadi and Edward Fox, to the delicate use of Ravi Shankar’s sublime music, to the terrific film editing that keeps the story moving without losing the emotion effect of each scene. Attenborough is the man to thank.

    While Gandhi is certainly not the sort of movie that people fall in love with (unlike ET and Tootsie), I’ll never doubt that it completely deserved the Academy’s praise. I maintain that it is one of the best unpopular decisions Oscar has ever made.

  • 13 9-08-2008 at 8:54 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    “You forgot Julia Roberts at the end of that list. She certainly should come forward and admit Ellen Burstyn gave the better performance.”

    I don’t know why, but I’d guess Roberts has never even bothered to watch “Requiem for a Dream.

  • 14 9-09-2008 at 12:26 am

    Glenn said...

    But Roberts was exceptionally good in “Erin Brockovich”. Yes, Burstyn was better, but Bjork was perhaps better than than both and she wasn’t even nominated so…

  • 15 9-09-2008 at 1:23 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    100% agreed, Glenn — though she didn’t deserve it, Roberts still gave a solid performance, so I’ve never resented the win that much.

    (Besides, she should have her own gripe with the Academy — she gave the best performance of her career in “Closer” and was completely ignored.)

    And yes to Bjork. One of the greatest performances in modern cinema, I think.

  • 16 9-09-2008 at 2:27 am

    AdamL said...

    Paltrow was completely deserving. I’m sure people resent her win only because of the crying on stage.

  • 17 9-09-2008 at 2:55 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I think it’s a brave thing from Sir At. Although, he might be cleaning his slate publically before he’s going.

  • 18 9-09-2008 at 4:21 am

    Patrick said...

    I think it’s a fashionable opinion to bemoan Paltrow’s Oscar win. But to my mind the gap in quality between her performance and Blanchett’s was not horrific. Her role was light and breezy, but the performance was accomplished, and to my mind she carried the film and it’s ‘feel-good’ nature. Blanchett, working with a much grittier script, perfectly captured the tone of her film.

    Seeing as the Academy clearly preferred ‘Shakespeare In Love’, it came as no great surprise to me that they chose Paltrow. I do not begrudge her the win really. Certainly not on the level of Witherspoon or Berry, where their performances were clearly a side note in the consideration process.

    At least the Academy seemed to genuinely like Paltrow in the role. I count her deserving, despite narrowly preferring Blanchett that year.

  • 19 9-09-2008 at 5:36 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I disagree that Paltrow’s performance was their primary consideration — I think they wanted to annoint an ‘it’ girl that year and, with Harvey Weinstein’s coaxing, they did.

    But it’s a moot point. Fernanda Montenegro should have trumped them all that year, but THAT was never going to happen.

  • 20 9-09-2008 at 6:04 am

    Gustavo said...

    Sir Richard Attenborough’s film wasn’t deserving at all, for E.T. and TOOTSIE are superior indeed, but boy, is he a gentleman or what. Loved his humbleness, which sounded completely sincere to me.

  • 21 9-09-2008 at 9:52 am

    Xavi Rpdriguez said...

    I never understand the Paltrow’s Oscar. Blanchett, Montenegro and Watson deserves that Oscar in that order. Platrow is good but she was side note and insipid performance. Ryder, Danes and Winslet could do a better work. But I think she suffered bad luck, bad films and her best performance in Syylvia was completely ignored. I was thinking why Paltrow didn’t rtecognize those three actress who gaves better performances that her, well, she was the worst to the top five