For film buffs like me, the Oscars are an annual must see event, equivalent to the Super Bowl for sports fans. Even for people who don’t watch many movies (let alone the Oscars); the Academy awards still finds a way into conversations at the water cooler. Especially when it comes to who should have won. There is always disappointment and debate over what film was/is more deserving of a particular award, whether it’s Brokeback Mountain being beaten by Crash or Stanley Kubrick never winning Best Director. It is most certain this has been going on since the first academy awards banquet.
In 1993, film critic Danny Peary took up arms against this sea of troubles with Alternate Oscars; a book determined to bring specific film the recognition denied by the academy. From the first year of the awards through to 1991, Peary examines the nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress for each year and presents essays stating who should have won and why. It’s surprising no one seems to have done this before. Even more surprising is that no one seems to be doing this now. You’d think there’d be a Tumblr page, but no.
For each year, Peary shows the winner and nominations. Right below it, he not only shows his choice of the winner but his choice for nominees as well. He divides each year into Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress. With each category, he presents an essay stating the case for his decision, going into passionate detail of the weaknesses of the best picture winner and the strengths of his alternate Oscars. His prose reveals a clear understanding of film history, whether it’s the silent era or the nineties. And his passion pours into the essays.
In the process, he provides some of his own ideas and theories about the academy and movies. Some of them are interesting, including the ingenious way the spoken legend about a derringer comes back in the climax of McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The most fascinating is his theory of the meaning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which actually makes sense. A few of his ideas that are a bit peculiar. For his defense of King Kong, he suggests the character of Kong is the physical embodiment of the character of Carl Denham. He also seems to believe the Oscars have it in for New York. Considering classic movies set in Wew York including Manhattan and Taxi Driver seem to be denied left out you can’t blame him. The only New York set film to win Best Picture are West Side Story, Annie Hall and Midnight Cowboy. Then again, a lot of his film selections don’t take place in New York either.
There are some wins where he agrees with the academy, including Casablanca for Best Picture, Jack Nicholson for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Some of his alternative wins are pretty obvious, like Citizen Kane for Best Picture, Dustin Hoffman for Tootsie and Marilyn Monroe for Some like It Hot. And then there are the few strange choices too, including Jerry Lewis winning best actor in 1963 for The Nutty Professor while giving no film the best picture award for that year. Take a guess who he thinks should have won 1991 best actor award instead of Anthony Hopkins? Trust me, it’s a surprise. Even the alternate Oscar nominations can be surprising, especially Richard Pryor being nominated for best actor for his live performance.
By the way, this book contains major spoilers for literally ever film it describes; Each and every essay starts with a full summary of the whole film. This raises the question, who is this book for? If this book is meant to encourage people to watch these movies, the summaries ruin it for them by giving away the entire film. The only way the reader will judge the film without spoilers would be to look at the pictures accompanying each essay. But even some of those pictures contain spoilers.
Looking back on it now, its clear Peary intended to bring attention to films under the radar. And it’s quite admirable for him to do that and I found many enjoyable films as a result. But the aforementioned spoilers could be a bit alienating for those who haven’t seen it. It seems more intended for the major movie buffs. This is an unfortunate since he is a good write and a great debater. There is a clear and strong passion for films flowing in every sentence he writes and hopefully it will inspire a future filmmaker or a future writer.
 I guess Fan Theory isn’t a new phenomenon
 He seems to agree with the most of the best actress awards in the 1970s
 Of course today we have YouTube to check out trailers, rotten tomatoes for reviews and imdb for full information. The people of the 1990s weren’t so lucky.