Comedy movies to take home the Oscar for Best Picture from the establishment of the awards to the early 1970s were for the most part categorized in that particular genre with less room for dispute and disagreement than comedies honored since the late 1970s. Winners of the top prize at the Academy Awards ceremony included a screwball comedy, an adaptation of Broadway comedy hit and a bawdy sexual romp as well as two movies that are less unanimously viewed as comedies. The outlook for Oscar gold for comedy changed forever in 1972.
“The Sting” is another Oscar winner where the categorization as comedy is disputable. Humor does permeate the film, but one could equally argue against that generic categorization based on the underlying dramatic thrust of the narrative. The accurate classification of “The Sting” is to honor it as the turning point for the bulk of future comic films to take home the Best Picture Oscar. “The Sting” much more accurately reflects the comfortable hybrid of comedy and drama that describes all but one of those films considered to be members of that exclusive club of comedies to win Best Picture since it grasped victory from the mouths of a dark Ingmar Bergman drama, a demon possessed little girl and 1960s cruisers.
“Annie Hall” is the last film to win Best Picture at the Oscars that is undeniably a comedy in every way. Woody Allen’s career up to “Annie Hall” had been marked by loosely constructed, episodic comedies that required studied analysis to peer beneath the surface humor for any content weighty enough to be considered for an Academy Award. “Annie Hall” single-handedly represents Woody Allen’s transition from a career that might have been viewed with all the respect of Jerry Lewis’ directorial career into the respected artist worthy of academic analysis that he became. “Annie Hall” is also the last time the Academy considered an outright comedy worthy of honoring.
Terms of Endearment
“Terms of Endearment” is often included in lists of comedies to win Best Picture, but it may be the most arguable choice of them all. After all, most dramatic movies that have won Oscar’s big prize don’t contain as intensely dramatic a climax as this movie more appropriately categorized as a tearjerker.
Driving Miss Daisy
If you want to view “Driving Miss Daisy” as a comedy, then it belongs to that list of comedies wrongly recognized by the Academy. Whether comedy or drama or another tearjerker, it should never have beaten out “Do the Right Thing” which isn’t only more dramatic, but also funnier. Humor exists within the storyline of this tepid movie, but some segments of the audience may find it far less amusing than others.
The comedy to be found in “Forrest Gump” is mostly the result of Tom Hanks’ performance that actually deserved to be honored with an Oscar. While there is some tragedy toward the end, one would have to agree that “Forrest Gump” is probably the closest to an outright comedy to win Best Picture since “Annie Hall.”
Shakespeare in Love
The broadening of the generic qualification for comedy continued unabated when “Shakespeare in Love” was added to the exclusive club of comedy movies to take home Best Picture. Yes, okay, I will agree: Geoffrey Rush is hilarious every time he appears and this is the performance he should have won an Oscar for.
The comedy genre has come a long way since Clark Gable chased after a runaway heiress during the Great Depression. The line between comedy and tragedy used to be clearly drawn in the sand. The fact that “American Beauty” is usually placed alongside “Annie Hall” as one of the comedy movies to win Best Picture is a clear indication that the line has forever been erased.
For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:
Comedy Movies to Win Best Picture from the 1930s through the 1960s