Tony Earnshaw: Oscars erred with Stan & Ollie snub

Did Stan & Ollie deserve a nod from the Oscars?
Did Stan & Ollie deserve a nod from the Oscars?
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Even though I no longer stay up through the night to watch the live telecast of the Academy Awards I still keep a beady eye on who’s been nominated, and for what.

And as the names and titles are revealed it’s a given that the sundry observers of the movie industry will point to those individuals who don’t appear on the line-up.

This year my pals within the horror world lamented that Toni Collette had been overlooked for her role as a manic, haunted and grieving mother in Hereditary. But then horror has never been a favourite of Oscar – Anthony ‘Hannibal Lecter’ Hopkins notwithstanding.

So that doesn’t surprise me much. On the other hand I was quietly gutted for John C Reilly and Steve Coogan, who together bring Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel back to our screens in Stan & Ollie. There are several reasons why they’re not on the Oscar list. Perhaps the most crucial is that the film didn’t get massive screen time in the States. And, sadly, whilst The Boys are bona fide icons of comedy, they’re just not as well known as they once were. The passage of time has seen to that.

And perhaps the Academy has a thing – I can only describe it as such – about impersonations. Cinema history is littered with performances good, bad and indifferent from actors giving impersonations of a famous face. Sometimes that impersonation veers too far in the direction of caricature and interpretation; the gift of mimicry can be lost.

Yet the Reilly/Coogan double-act is precisely that: a modern pairing doubling with skill and finesse to bring to life two men who died more than half a century ago.

Yes, there is a sense of careful comedic cloning. But, more importantly, there is a feel of mirroring two very different personalities in both their personal and professional relationships.

Coogan is renowned for his talent for accents, and he nails Stan Laurel’s. But like Reilly he also perfects the man’s gait. Reilly absorbs Hardy, immersing himself into the man. In many ways he outshines Coogan, for his is a performance not built on a foundation of vocal dexterity. Instead he moulds it from scratch.

In the pantheon of cinema’s clowns Laurel and Hardy reign alongside Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers et al. They were giants of the two-reeler and those black-and-white 30s shorts remain as inventive and gently subversive as they ever were. History tells us that The Boys bagged an Oscar for their film The Music Box, in which they lug a piano up a seemingly endless flight of steps before, inevitably, it is smashed to smithereens. It never gets old.

And I remember with a smile watching my mother guffawing at their antics in another winning vignette, Towed in a Hole, in which Stan and Ollie buy a boat and, yes, smash it to bits. With that sort of impact, who needs awards?