I have been watching and writing about a lot of movies lately (including six reviews last week), but I’ve also been reading about them in Michael Schulman’s new book, “Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears.”
It’s packed with stories I’d never heard, including the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the very first Oscar ceremonies. I also enjoyed the chapters about: the egos of the actresses who starred in “Sunset Boulevard,” “All About Eve,” and “Born Yesterday”; how the Academy mishandled blacklisted writers and performers; how “Midnight Cowboy” and “Easy Rider” brought the counterculture to the Oscars; and some fun behind-the-scenes stories about “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Nashville,” and “Dog Day Afternoon.”
There’s a great section devoted to Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, and Halle Berry, who broke the color barrier in their categories by winning Oscars and then discovered the achievements didn’t lead to better roles and higher salaries. Schulman uses them as a way to write about the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, which became a meme during two consecutive years in which no people of color were nominated in any of the acting categories.
Schulman doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of Hollywood, particularly in the person of Harvey Weinstein, who was ultimately ejected from the Academy after multiple reports of his assaults on women came to light. But there’s more on how he used his power, money, and arrogance in outrageous campaigns to win Oscars, including Best Picture for “Shakespeare In Love,” which beat the presumptive favorite, “Saving Private Ryan.”
The book also has plentiful commentary on what was long considered the Worst Academy Awards Ever. That would be the 1989 Oscars, produced by Alan Carr, which never recovered from an opening in which Rob Lowe sang and danced with Snow White. But Schulman points out two other Oscarcasts that may have given Carr’s folly a run for the money when it came to the “worst” title. One would be the climax of the 2017 awards, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope and thus announced “La La Land” had won Best Picture when, in fact, it was “Moonlight.” The other contender would have to be the 2022 Oscarcast, simply due to Will Smith climbing onstage and slapping Chris Rock because the comedian dared to mention Smith’s wife, Jada.
That’s only a fraction of the details Schulman gets into, and I ate them all up. If you’re as big a movie fan as I am, you’ll enjoy “Oscar Wars.”