[Note: Scott Weinberg has the pro side of this argument -- why Roger Corman does deserve an Oscar -- in an article that you can read right here.]
In a post yesterday about the honorary Academy Awards given out over the weekend, I said this about one of the recipients, Roger Corman: "Corman, who has directed more than 50 films and produced nearly 400 (!), has never been nominated for an Oscar, probably because all of his movies are terrible. But apparently the Academy is rewarding quantity now, too. So don't give up, Uwe Boll! Just make another 300 movies!" These remarks were met with much disapproval by many readers, and so I would like to elaborate -- assuming any of the people who swore they'd never read Cinematical again are in fact still reading Cinematical (which they are).
First, a correction. I shouldn't have said "all of his movies are terrible." I should have said something like "his movies are generally terrible." "All" suggests that I've seen all 400 of them, which of course I haven't. I ought to have used more general language. That was my bad, as the kids say.
I stand by the point I was making, though. If the Academy is giving out Oscars based on the production of quality work -- which, last time I checked, was the basic idea behind the Oscars -- then Roger Corman does not qualify. The vast majority of his output is mediocre at best. Some of it is downright awful. A few films are good enough on their own, but not to where any of them would deserve Oscars individually. Even as a body, those moderately good Corman movies don't outweigh the dozens -- literally dozens and DOZENS -- of cheap, forgettable clunkers.
Producing a huge quantity of work whose overall entertainment or artistic value averages out to be somewhere between "mediocre" and "mediocre-plus" isn't worthy of Academy Award consideration. That's neat and everything, producing 400 movies over the course of 50 years. Very ambitious of you! But the Academy should be rewarding quality, not quantity.
Corman -- who by most accounts is a nice fellow and a terrific boss to work for -- never tried to make great films. He wanted to make cheap, profitable films, and to crank them out in a couple weeks. He's been extraordinarily successful at it, and there's definitely a place for that kind of product in moviedom. But again, that doesn't mesh with the philosophy of the Academy Awards, which is to reward artistic excellence. How can you give an Oscar to someone who isn't even STRIVING for that, let alone achieving it?
So rewarding Corman for his actual body of work -- the actual quality of the movies he's directed or produced -- is ludicrous to me. He's not the worst filmmaker of all time (my Uwe Boll comparison might have been an exaggeration), but there are plenty of more talented filmmakers who haven't won Oscars. Your opinion on the quality of Corman's work might differ; that's mine.
But there is a more compelling argument in Corman's favor, so let's talk about that. Many people hold that Corman is worthy of recognition because so many huge Hollywood talents got their start acting, writing, or directing for him. Corman was something of a one-man film school, providing the first big break for Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Joe Dante, and dozens more. It's a huge list of people whose first significant Hollywood jobs were in Corman's quick-and-sloppy movie poop factory.
I can respect that, honestly. Entertainment Weekly ran a feature last week with anecdotes from a bunch of the people who owe their careers to Corman, and it was fun to read. There's some great Hollywood history in there. So give those people the Oscars for the good movies they eventually made. Giving Corman an Oscar for helping them learn the ropes is like giving a high school teacher an award because his students went on to graduate from the top of their college classes. Corman's award is indirect: He taught some people who made mediocre films under him but who subsequently made great ones. To me, that's a weak reason to give someone an Oscar.
The film programs at USC, Columbia, and other universities have churned out many great directors, actors, and screenwriters. Do those schools deserve Oscars? Saturday Night Live producer gave early career boosts to Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Phil Hartman, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, and Martin Short. Their combined impact on movies has been tremendous. Does Lorne Michaels deserve an Oscar?
Finally, consider this. Roger Corman now has an Oscar. Here is a list of people who do not:
... and, up until 2007, Martin Scorsese, one of Corman's own proteges.
[Correction: Grant and Astaire received honorary awards, like Corman.]
*Garland got a special "juvenile award" for The Wizard of Oz.
**OK, Kubrick won an Oscar for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that's it.