The Old Yeller Award for Best Canine Performances

Speaking of Oscar nominations, the canine half of “Wendy and Lucy” has already reeled in a prize from Cannes, the diamond studded collar given to the winner of the Palm Dog.

Which makes me wonder why the Academy doesn’t consider similar awards for outstanding dog performances. Maybe call it the “Old Yeller” after the inimitable scene stealer in the 1957 Disney classic. Not only are there are plenty of nominees to choose from this year, but they also make a surprisingly subversive statement about the nature of class differences in our society.

Lucy is an obvious nominee, but she’s just one of the mutts standing up for the down and out as she remains faithfully loyal to Michele Williams’s indigent Wendy even after the car breaks down and the kibble runs out.

She’s joined by the long-suffering German Shepherd in Lance Hammer’s “Ballast.” He silently shares the hardships of his owner Lawrence, a hardscrabble property owner in the Mississippi Delta whose personal and family woes match the bleak winter landscape.


Moving from fiction to fact are the two pit bulls owned by Kimberly and Scott Roberts, whose home video footage of Hurricane Katrina is included in Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s documentary “Trouble the Water.” Will these two happy-go-lucky pooches survive? It’s enough to curdle Old Yeller’s blood.

The grim streets of a Detroit neighborhood are the stomping grounds of Daisy, whose grizzled visage is matched by those of her owner — nasty, intolerant, beer-chugging and gun-toting Walt Kowalski in Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.” Eastwood himself plays Walt, a Korean War Vet and ex- autoworker who sees the Asian immigrant family next door as the bad guys, not fellow victims. But you know that someone with a dog like Daisy can’t be all bad.

Moving up the class ladder, we have Jesus Christ, the dog in Josh Levine’s “The Wackness.” He belongs to Dr. Squires,  the pot-smoking, pill-popping Manhattan shrink played by Ben Kingsley. Along with Squires’s teenaged pusher/patient Luke, played by Josh Peck, Jesus Christ might be the only friend Dr. Squires has.

The middle class family has its best friend in Marley, the golden lab in David Frankel’s adaptation of the John Grogan memoir “Marley & Me.” Could Marley embody the goofy spirit of  rebellion struggling against bourgeois comformity? I remember when that part used to be played by Owen Wilson.

Things get dicier for dogs when we move deeper into the upper classes, as in Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” You have to feel for Lucky, you have to feel for this dopey golden retriever, even though he’s spoiled rotten, yappy and almost as annoying as the little kid.


He’s got nothing on Chloe, though, the title bitch voiced by Drew Barrymore in Raja Gosnell’s  “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” Like Lucy, she’s got a diamond collar, too; the difference is that Lucy’s was earned.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Outside The Frame Archives