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Oscar needs a sense of humor

By Elvis Mitchell, Special to CNN
  • Critic Elvis Mitchell: Add Oscar category for comedies
  • It's still tough for the Academy to make room for comedies, Mitchell says
  • "The Hangover" is now the most successful R-rated comedy ever, he says

Editor's note: Elvis Mitchell has hosted The Treatment for KCRW radio in Santa Monica, California, since 1996. The program offers an inside look at the creators of popular culture. Mitchell was a film critic for The New York Times from 2000 to May 2005.

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- In his poem "Style," Charles Bukowski says that it's better to do a boring thing with style than a dangerous thing without it.

Often, it feels like the Academy Awards manages an odd marriage of both elements: a boring thing without style.

But this year, in going back as old-school as it can -- that is, without making the ceremony a drunken, restraint-free luncheon at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel; in other words, the Golden Globes -- the Academy has done something to make the Oscars a lot more interesting.

Returning to naming 10 nominees for best picture is a rousingly smart idea, though those sweating through their Harry Winston loans after several hours of what are laughingly called festivities at the awards presentation might not agree.

Video: Hollywood's Super Bowl
Video: Oscar for best picture?

Slogging through clips of 10 nominees could extend the evening so drastically that there might be a cut to Ellen DeGeneres lacing up her dress Pumas for the "American Idol" finale at the Kodak.

The attendees end up looking so much like Titanic survivors in their beaten-down finery that someone may have to restrain James Cameron from bellowing "king of the world" to the audience.

Prepare for something heretical: There is something the Oscars could learn from the Golden Globes, besides its high school assembly ambience, which includes all the cool kids going outside to smoke.

The Globes breaks nominees into drama and comedy/musical categories, and the latter almost always gets short shrift.

Of the 10 best-picture nominees, with the exception of "Up" -- and some unintentional sections of "The Blind Side" -- none of the films qualify as comedy.

There are comic moments in "Up in the Air," but no one would call it a comedy -- well, no rational person anyway.

But given that this was the year of "The Hangover" -- the "Avatar" of comedies, box office-wise (and if you look closely enough, you might find some shots of Neytiri frolicking in some of those unspeakably naughty activities captured in that pile of "Hangover" end-credit Polaroids) -- as well as "I Love You, Man," and "500 Days of Summer," it's obvious that it's still tough for the Academy to make room for the more daunting task of accepting the hard work of making people laugh.

Of the handful of films to win Oscars in all five major categories -- actor, actress, director, picture and screenplay -- the first to score all of the awards was 1934's romantic comedy "It Happened One Night."

Of the two other films to attain such an achievement, 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was a swirl of bleak comedy and drama. And as far as 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs," Anthony Hopkins' saturnine turn is as theatrically comic, and unredeemable, as Bradley Cooper's Phil.

Frankly, the fact that Phil is responsible for shaping young minds as both a father and teacher is scarier than any anthropophagic amuse-bouche that would send Lecter scouring the aisle of Whole Foods for fava beans.

And when you consider that both "Hangover" and "500 Days" are significant moments in movies ("Hangover" is now the most successful R-rated comedy ever, and the heartbreak comedy "500 Days" is the first bellwether film for the under-30-year-old crowd), there's nothing amusing about the way comedy has been treated by the Academy.

And when the Golden Globes feels like the more progressive organization, we really are just a step away from dogs and cats, living together.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Elvis Mitchell.