EXCLUSIVE: Robert Osborne Talks TCM's 31 Days of Oscar
Turner Classic Movies celebrates the brilliance in movies as recognized by the Academy starting February 1
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be hosting yet another annual 31 Days of Oscar festival starting February 1st. The 2011 edition of the month-long event will feature more than 340 Academy Award-nominated and winning movies, scheduled in trivia-inspired marathons. In addition, each night will feature a Best Picture Oscar winner at 10 p.m. (ET).
TCM host Robert Osborne will host 31 Days of Oscar, which will mark its 17th year on Turner Classic Movies. The 2011 edition will feature several high-profile films making their debuts on TCM, including three Best Picture winners: Cavalcade (1933), Amadeus (1984) and Forrest Gump (1994). The month also includes the TCM debuts of the blockbusters Pretty Woman (1990) and Thelma & Louise (1991), as well as outstanding dramas like Hugh Hudson's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Hector Babenco's Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989) and Michael Mann's Ali (2001).
We're huge fans of host Robert Osborne, so we jumped at the chance to speak with him, not only about this year's 31 Days of Oscar, but also about the Academy Awards in general. One of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to film history, Robert joyfully took us through what we can expect out of both TMC and the Awards telecast itself.
Here is our conversation:
Can you tell me what you guys have planned for 31 Days of Oscar this year?
Robert Osborne: This year, we are going beyond the Oscars. We actually go into March a little bit. That's because, when we first started this franchise, Oscars were given out in March, where there are 31 days. When they changed it to February, which only sometimes has 28 days, we thought, that doesn't sound nearly as impressive. Especially after having given the fans 31 days of Oscars. We didn't want to turn around and just give them twenty-seven. So we decided to dip over into March a little bit.
In your professional opinion, what do you feel is the most overlooked Best Picture winner of all time?
Robert Osborne: That is a good question. I'll have to think about that for a minute. The one best picture winner that people never pay much attention too. I would probably say, because it was a surprise even then, at the time it won...An American in Paris. Because it came out the same year as A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun. Everyone thought those two films would win. But they cancelled each other out. Everyone was totally captivated by An American in Paris. But then Singing in the Rain came along and outshone An American in Paris. When you talk about the great MGM musicals, Singing in the Rain is the one that everyone talks about. That is theGene Kelly movie. I think An American in Paris, which is so good, gets somewhat of a short shrift. I think most people, if you gave them a list from 1951, which also includes The African Queen, and Decision Before Dawn, oh my God, there is a whole list...I think people are always surprised to look at that and see that An American in Paris won the Best Picture Oscar. Because it's a musical. You usually don't think of musicals as having enough substance to win an Oscar.
Not too many musicals have won since then. Chicago...Are there any more?
Robert Osborne: Chicago won. Oliver! won. There have been some other musicals. But not many from the kind of MGM style they had in those days, when An American in Paris came out, and Singing in the Rain.
How do you guys go about putting this whole package together? What does it take to make the perfect 31 days?
Robert Osborne: This is very difficult. Charlie Tabesh is the one who actually puts this all together. He is our Senior Vice President of programming. He is always looking for a fresh way to do this. One year, he did the six degrees of Kevin Bacon for 31 Days. Instead of six-degrees of separation, it was 31 Days of separation. He would jump from one Kevin Bacon movie and then go through a couple of movies until he got to the next Kevin Bacon movie. He would link each movie together. They were all linked together by one particular person. We've done them by year. We've done them all kinds of different ways. This year, we are lumping together people by tying in Oscar trivia. For example, who is the most nominated performer who has never won an Academy Award? Well, its Peter O'Toole, who was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and lost all of those times. We are doing a salute to him. We are also showing all of the Best Picture nominations from the year 1930. We are showing movies in which several members of the family won Oscar nominations for the same film. So you have Walter Huston winning best Supporting Actor for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which his son John Huston directed. They both won Oscars for it. That kind of thing. It all has to do with Oscar trivia, how we are lumping these films together. It's just an excuse to put these wonderful films out there. To have them available for people to see again.
I watch Turner Classic Movies quite often, and one of the reasons is because I love to watch the interstitials where you come out and tell me about whatever movie you are showing at that time. It's so fascinating. Do you actually retain all of this movie knowledge? Or is someone feeding it to you?
Robert Osborne: I hate to say this, but I do retain a lot of it. Yeah. It's always been my hobby. I have a friend who has known me forever, and she said to me, "You know, you have all of this useless information. But you're so lucky that God, or Ted Turner came along...Maybe they're the same person, but he fond a way for you to use that." And she was right. I have always been fascinated by all of this movie trivia. And information about the movies. The more I learned about movies, the more interesting they became. I think my job at Turner is not to sell someone on Casablanca, or Singing in the Rain, or Lawrence of Arabia. But there are a lot of movies in our library, which consists of about seventy-five hundred films; that a lot of people may not want to sit around and watch, because they have never heard of anyone in it. Or the title, or know anything about it. Its my job to come out, tell some stories about it, set it in its time and place, and give folks a reason to watch the movie. I think that's what I do. But we do have researchers who check to make sure what I am saying is accurate. I have to admit, there is a lot swimming around in my head.
I am always so fascinated by you, that I have found myself watching movies I would never watch, just to hear what you are going to say about them after they are over.
Robert Osborne: That is great. Thanks.
Thinking back to Halloween, you guys showed The Twonky. Which I had never heard of before. But it stars the great Hans Conreid, whom may be one of my favorite actors. Do you have to look at someone like that, who may be a little bit more obscure, and set out to learn all there is about him? And his weird little film?
Robert Osborne: If I don't know it already, I will research it. I love that kind of stuff. I love research. I love to find out more about these various people. And there is always more to learn. There are always new books coming out. Or we will find old books that we still need to go through. I've got copies of all the old Hollywood Reporters from the 1940s through the 1960s. I love, when I have some free time, going through those and reading who was set for which movie. And they end up not being in the movie. You have to read some more, and find out why they didn't do the movie. I love all that research. And I am glad I have a place to share that with other people.
I love it! I'm glad that you are around to share that information. Now, I just got off the phone with a young lady from the movie Piranha. And they have been running a pretty funny campaign to get that movie nominated for an Oscar. What do you think of that idea?
Robert Osborne: I don't think it's realistic, but it is so hard now for anyone who makes a movie, for them to get attention for that film. I don't blame them for doing that. I'd do the same thing if I had a film out there. Every Friday, I open the New York Times, and there are fifteen new movies that are opening. Some of them sound really interesting. The frustrating thing is that I'll never get around to seeing all fifteen. So a lot of good movies fall by the wayside for any reason. There is no real structure to the movie system, not like there used to be. They used to have major studios, and they would release seventy-five movies a year. They all had normal releasing patterns. They were all copasetic with each other. There were always a variety of films. You saw the cream of the crop. You could get out and watch all of those. But now, there is no rhyme or reason. We have a bunch of independent people making and releasing movies, they are all out at the same time. If they don't hit right off the bat, they get dumped. Then they may end up on Netflix or something, but you rarely get a chance to see them again. I think it's got to be very frustrating for the people who finance the movies, and the people who act in them. That those films, many of which are good, don't get seen. If you have a film that you want to get seen, like Piranha 3D or something, go for it. Find money in the budget to take out Oscar ads and stuff. I think its great..
You mention the fact that we have all of these movies coming out at one time. That had to play into why we now, once again, have ten films nominated for Best Picture. Its not really so much about who wins, as it is the advertising this gives those nominated films...
Robert Osborne: When that first happened, I was against it. Because it wasn't easy to find even five really worthy films. But then I started looking back in the Oscar records. There were many years, in the 1930s through 1943, that had ten nominations. In 1944, they went down to five, and they didn't change that until recently. I looked at those lists. I thought, "Wait a minute!" On any of those lists, there were only about three or four really great movies. There were a lot of movies on those lists that didn't stack up top the others. I thought, maybe its good to have more films nominated, because it does open this awareness about those films. It doesn't mean they are going to win, but at least they have a shot at getting more attention that way. I think, in today's climate, it's a good idea.
With the ten movies, you now have the five that would have gotten nominated anyway, and then some really goofy entries that sort of wedged their way in there...
Robert Osborne: I don't think that is a bad thing. As long as they are good movies. They may not be great movies. But hopefully they are good. I don't think its bad to call attention to those movies, because it gives a more realistic indication of what the year was like in movies. When you look back at some of these years, particularly in the 70s, and in the late 60s, where there were so many bad movies being made...It was a time when censorship was falling to the wayside. People could get away with anything on screen. And there were so many bad movies being mad. But you look at those Oscar lists, and you say, "Well, God, that was a pretty great year." I think its good to have more, just to give you a better overall thrust of what the movies were like in any given year.
What is your personal take on this year?
Robert Osborne: I think this is a pretty good year. I have seen some great movies this year. I thought Blue Valentine was terrific. The King's Speech. The Social Network. There were a lot of really good things out there. For me, I don't think there are many movies that make me want to actually leave the house. To go out and pay ten dollars and see a movie. Once I go, I go because I am particularly interested in the whole industry. I think it's very difficult to get people to go out. There are so many things besides Turner Classic Movies to keep them inside the house. So many things to do. You could spend your whole night on an Ipad, having fun with that. There are not a lot of movies that would really make me leave. Like Avatar. I really wanted to see Avatar. I couldn't wait to go see that. I was kind of the same way about The Social Network. But there aren't many movies that make me feel like I have to go to the movies to see it.
Once we get the nominated ten movies, do you sit down and look at that list and think, 'Okay, here are ten movies I need to be completely knowledgeable about on every level'? Especially since we are seeing newer movies on TCM every single day?
Robert Osborne: I think that is a good thing. I think there will be newer ones, and I will have to know these films. But I think twenty years from now, we may look at some of the films being released today and think, "My God, why wasn't that nominated?" You look at the old lists now, and there are so many films from the 1940s and 50s that make you look back and say, "That wasn't nominated for Best Picture? That performance wasn't nominated? How could they pass that up?" There is a lot that we are missing right now, that will get rediscovered. And we will think, "Why didn't we get more enthused about that in 2010?"
31 Days of Oscar kicks off February 1st, only on TCM.