Oscar's Comedy Comeback

Nominations for “Bridesmaids” and “Midnight in Paris” suggest the Academy is ready to laugh again.

“Bridesmaids” got the Oscar-nomination equivalent of the bridesmaid’s role Tuesday, notching nods for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. But at least the “Bridesmaids” got invited to the wedding this year.

The inclusion of the comic chick flick featuring one of the most hilarious gross-out scenes in movie history – along with major nominations for Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and “The Artist” – suggests that after years of a tortured relationship with comedy, Oscar may be ready to laugh again.

There is little funny about the way the Academy has treated comedies over the years – the last laugh-out-loud film to win Best Picture was Allen’s great “Annie Hall” in 1978. (We refuse to count the 1999 winner, the overrated “Shakespeare in Love,” as a comedy.)

Allen’s funniest film of this century earned him three nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. “The Artist,” the more-sweet-than-bitter silent film that engagingly evokes the days of thrills and laughter, received nominations in those key categories and seven others.

With the nod for “Bridesmaids” co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, three of the five nominees for Best Original Screenplay rightfully can be called comedies. The Best Supporting Actress nomination for the irrepressible Melissa McCarthy, whose performance in “Bridesmaids” took the (wedding) cake, may be the biggest indication the Academy is loosening up – or at least is willing to recognize an explosive comic talent.

Perhaps the voters were reacting to "Bridesmaids" producer Judd Apatow's call in November to establish a separate category for comedy flicks. We reluctantly agreed with Apatow’s proposal, though Tuesday’s nominations give us some hope for more change to come.

In 1935, “It Happened One Night” became the first  – and one of the few – comedies to win Best Picture. In the four-plus decades between Frank Capra’s classic and “Annie Hall,” too many high-quality laughfests lost or never got nominated – among them "Bringing Up Baby," "Dr. Strangelove" and "Some Like it Hot." As we’ve noted before, for many folks favorite movie moments involve laughing fits spurred by the likes of "Young Frankenstein," "There's Something About Mary" or "A Fish Called Wanda.” Such films hold treasured spots in many memories but have little recognition from Hollywood to show for it.

“Bridesmaids” may not be in a position to take everything but the kitchen sink on Oscar night. But this year, the bathroom sink will do just fine.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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