Samuel L. Jackson vs. The Oscars

Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction.

Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction.

 

Samuel L. Jackson, a respected actor amongst his peers and a favorite to many fans, has recently expressed that he is disappointed that he was overlooked for an Oscar for his performance as philosophical hit man Jules Winfield in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.  The winner that year?  Martin Landau for his performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

 

 

In speaking of the loss Jackson says:  “You know they [they talk a lot, don’t they]  were saying ‘Martin’s been nominated a few times and you’re going to be around for a while. Don’t worry.’ I was thinking I didn’t know it was a thing where if you get nominated for a few times you automatically get one. I thought it was supposed to be about impact.”  He goes on to question Landau’s performance by saying: “I really don’t know many people who can not only remember ‘Ed Wood’ but remember what Martin Landau did in it”.  To that, I must say, I remember Ed Wood quite well, and thought Landau was brilliant and very deserving of such accolades.  That said, I did think Jackson’s performance in Pulp Fiction was better (though that is obviously as subjective opinion) and I was rooting for Jackson to win the award that year.  But as is the case every year, there is more than one deserving actor for each award.  There is always a deserving actor who goes home disappointed, just as there are always deserving actors who fail to even get nominated for the award.  And Jackson wasn’t the only victim at the Oscars that year, as Tarantino was also snubbed for best director, and Pulp Fiction was snubbed for best picture (though the consolation prise of best screenplay was award to Tarantino, though had Forrest Gump be an ‘original’ screenplay he likely would have been snubbed in that category as well).  So why were these deserving performances snubbed?  I wish I could quantify that.  I think it is fair to say that the “academy” routinely gives awards to undeserving works (Titanic anyone?) while also routinely ignoring great works (Citizen Kane widely considered by many to be the greatest movie of all time, failed to win best picture the year it was nominated).  With so many obvious snubs, the “academy” frankly holds no weight with me.  Great works are routinely ignored, and more often than not commercial successes are put in their place (though commercial success is no guarantee of an Oscar).  I could go through a seemingly endless list of great directors, and actors and movies that have failed to win, or even sometimes get nominated.  Orson Wells never won an Oscar for directing, nor did Hitchcock, nor did Kubrick and nor has Tarantino.  James Cameron has however, though he has never made a film of the quality the likes of Tarantino, Kubrick, Hitchcock and Wells.   While directors who have nowhere near the oeuvre of these directors have won early in the careers before they had even put together a body of work, some of the greats never win, or if they do, it takes decades to final gain recognition frm the “academy” (just ask Martin Scorsese).  If the “academy” fails so often to recognize greatness, why does anybody care who gets the award at the end of the day?  It is precisely because great artists, like Jackson, Tarantino and many others, continue to strive for the award, and because they lend so much weight to the award that it comes to mean something to anybody.  I mean, if none of the actors or directors nominated showed up for the award, would it mean anything?

Pulp Fiction lost the best pciture and best directro awards to the more family friendly film Forrest Gump.

Pulp Fiction lost the best picture and best director awards to the more family friendly film Forrest Gump.

Jackson, even though he was snubbed by the “academy”, still wants to win the award and is serving as his own hype man, suggesting that he should win the Oscar for best supporting actor this year, though he has failed to even garner a Golden Globe nomination, which is generally a prerequisite to an Oscar nomination.  To that Jackson says:  “I understand what the Golden Globes is. It’s the only show they [the Hollywood Foreign Press Association] have and is their biggest moneymaker so you have to pack the room with people that are going to make people tune into that show. With popular actors and the popular television shows, it’s whoever they think people want to see on the red carpet and hope that they win, not necessarily the quality of work you’ve done”.  I think this is flawed.  The “academy”, last I checked, also only has one show and has the same approach as the Hollywood Foreign Press.  That said, Jackson also states that they want to put the biggest starts on the red carpet, but Jackson is a bigger star than other actors who have been nominated, so his argument doesn’t hold there.  I think the reason Jackson wasn’t nominated is strictly because his performances wasn’t that great in this film (or at least his efforts weren’t as manifestly present to the casual viewer).  That is not to say that it was bad, but he wasn’t given a particularly great role.  It was a small role written almost cartoonishly in some spots (though the character does have a couple scenes where he illustrates exactly how articulate he can be).  If I were Jackson, I would be more upset with other snubs.  Though Jackson has rehashed his performance in Pulp Fiction in other films where he plays equally cool, tough-as-nails characters such as: Shaft, Mace Window, and Nick fury in blockbuster films, while also taking on hipster roles in works such as: Snakes On A Plane, Afro-Samuri, and xXx, he has also displayed his range in films such as The Sunset Limited, Freedomland, and The Caveman’s Valentine.  One might be inclined to note performances in films such as The Red Violin, A Time To Kill and Do The right Thing as well.  I think there are easily a dozen performances in Jackson’s oeuvre that are more deserving or recognition than his most recent role (though I can certainly understand how his most recent role may have been one of the most difficult roles for him personally considering the content and nature of his character).

Samuel L. Jackson's performance in The Sunset Limited was one of the best of his career, but sadly went unnoticed by many.

Samuel L. Jackson’s performance in The Sunset Limited was one of the best of his career, but sadly went unnoticed by many.

 

Jackson does make a good point though in that he suggests that the film’s or performance’s impact should be taken into account.  On that basis, the only thing I can say is that nobody, not the “academy” or any awards show, has foresight.  Hindsight is 20/20.  The real satisfaction shouldn’t be in getting a trivial award such as an Oscar, but in engaging an audience.  Audiences still watch Citizen Kane, so does it really matter that the “academy” gave the Oscar for best picture to How Green Was My Valley?  The Maltese Falcon was also snubbed that same year and today has a bigger audience than the eventual winner.  Shane lost the Oscar for best picture to From Here To Eternity, but who has the broader audience today?  Westside Story, beat out The Hustler, and Paul Newman failed to win an Oscar for his performance in the film, but today I think it’s fair to say that the film has proved that is was no less deserving of an Oscar than the eventual winner.  The French Connection beat out A Clockwork Orange and Last Picture Show, but both films have proved in hindsight that they were no less deserving of the award.  Rocky won for best picture the year it came out, but I think it’s clear that Network and Taxi Driver have both proven to be the better films that and it is Raging Bull which is considered by many to be the best boxing movie regardless of the fact that it lost best picture to Ordinary People (though the sequels to Rocky perhaps cheapened the quality of the original film).  Annie Hall beat Star Wars for best picture, but I think George Lucas can rest easy considering the cultural impact Star Wars has gone on to have compared to the work by Woody Allen.  Kramer Vs. Karmer may have come away with the Oscar for best picture, but Apocalypse Now remains popular today while Kramer Vs. Kramer, though a great film, does not have the audience today that Apocalypse Now has.  The Elephant Man also failed to win best picture, but it is considered by many to be a landmark film, while many have forgotten the film that won that year.  Twenty years from now, are people going to be watching The King’s Speech, or Inception?  Will people be watching Slumdog Millionaire, or The Dark Knight and Ironman?  There are a host of films that were never nominated but have gone on to contribute more to the culture than the film that the “academy” chose for best picture: North By Northwest, Spartacus, Scarface, Vertigo, Kill Bill, Psycho, Rear Window, 2001; A Space Odyssey Touch Of Evil, Resevoir Dogs, Blade Runner, Cool Hand Luke, The Usual Suspects, Hombre, Hisotry of Violence, Easy Rider, Full Metal Jacket, Straw Dogs and Thelma and Louise.  And this is not to mention all the great comedies and blockbusters that routinely get snubbed, as often and do films driven by female characters.  The Oscars are flawed for so many reasons.  They have been turned off by violence, thye don’t recognize comedies, they often give the award to family-friendly movies (no doubt why Forrest Gump won over Pulp Fiction).  I mean there are often people voting who haven’t even watched all the movies/performances nominated.  How much credit can you give this process?  I mean, is anybody going to argue that Robert Zemeckis is a better director than Quentin Tarantino because he has won an Oscar while Tarantino failed to?  What is more satisfying, having won an Oscar but to go on in irrelevance, or to be snubbed but have made a major contribution to a work that has gone on to stand the test of time (Zemeckis had made some great movies though, this is simply an example)?

Gena Davis and Susan Surandon in Thelma and Louise, one of many films driven by female characters that the "academy" looked over.

Gena Davis and Susan Surandon in Thelma and Louise, one of many films driven by female characters that the “academy” looked over.

 

Ultimately the flaw of such awards shows is that you simply cannot quantify one piece of art next to another.   You cannot put a work by Van Gogh next to a work by Monet and simply say one is better than the other.  Nor can you play a melody next to another and say definitively which is better.  And likewise you cannot put one film next to another and say which of the two is better.  These are things which cannot be quantified.  It is a fallacy to think otherwise, and it is a fallacy that is promoted by award shows such as: the Grammies, the Oscars and the Emmys.  Artists sometime get bent out of shape when they feel a great piece of work has not been recognized, perhaps most famously when Kanye West took to the stage to tell the world that Beyonce’s video for ‘All The Single Ladies’ was one of the best videos of all time while Taylor Swift was onstage accepting the award for best female video.  The truth of the matter is, the Beyonce video had a broader cultural impact and will, in years to come, be regarded as a great video while the Swift video was filled with unoriginal clichés and archetypes what were, even when it was released, considered woeful at best (and even MTV agreed that Beyonce’s video was one of the best ever as they gave it best video of the year later that night, funny considering that it didn’t even win in its own category).

 

Ultimately these award shows are entertaining but really mean nothing.  To be grouped in with a collection of directors such as: Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock, David Cronenburg, David Lynch and Orson Wells would be considered the greatest of compliments, and none has ever won an Oscar for best director (some haven’t even been nominated).  While if one were put in with a group of directors like: Bob Fosse, Norman Taurog, George Roy Hill, George Cukor, Carol Reed, and William Friedkin, most people wouldn’t even know what to make of such a compliment.  Each of these directors have won at least one Oscar for directing and all have multiple nominations, yet their names, to the general audience, are unknown.  So what does winning an Oscar really have to do with the art?  Nothing.  There are simple-minded people out there who feel like they need to be told what great art is, or feel like great art needs to be quantified in some way, when in reality is cannot be done.  It has to do with how we are raised.  We are given grades, and assessed our entire lives and then feel the need to do the same to other things.  Critics are often asked to rank films or grade them, and many are uncomfortable doing so as it is not fair to put a grade on art.  Marketers love being able to tag “Oscar winner” onto a film, and producers know that such tag lines can help sell a movie to audiences, but when they use such tactics, they are trying to sell the movie to marks.  That is how they see an audience.  I watch award shows, because they can be entertaining (that’s to Ricky Gervais), but at the end of the day they simply don’t matter.  Winners are arbitrarily chosen and works deserving of recognition go unnoticed by the major awards every year.

 

 

One of the greatest scenes in teh history of cinema.

Jackson is an amazing actor with a great body of work, whether he wins an Oscar or not will not matter.  He will be remembered for his work and not a statuette that some arbitrary organization might or might not give to him.  He should take pride in the performances he has contributed to film and not worry about what performances happened to win an award from an organization that claims to be able to do something everybody with enough sense knows cannot be done: quantify art.  In short, Jackson should simply say: Fuck the Oscars, they don’t mean shit!

 

Another famous line from Sam Jackson:

And the same line, as it was adapted for network television:

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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