Second Guessing the Academy: Worst. Oscar Wins. Ever.
One of my friends, Kathy, a regular reader of this blog, emailed me and asked me to write about what I think the worst Oscar wins of all time were. I thought it was a very good subject for me to tackle and since the Oscars are telecast live this Sunday at 8pm EST, there’s no time like the present to call the Academy out on the carpet (the RED carpet…so to speak). So I sat down to do the research.
I was originally just going to start in the mid-’80s but started moving backwards to my birth year, 1974. Then I moved even further back to 1970. Obviously, I didn’t start seriously watching the Oscars until the mid-’80s but 1970 is about where I start to recognize movies and have opinions on what happened that year. If you want to check out year by year results of the Oscars head on over to Oscars.com to their Academy Awards Database. You can search by year, award or actor. It helped me a lot in piecing this whole article together.
I started by looking back at the nominations and winners for the 8 main award categories (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay). Like I said, I went back to the 1970 Awards and started my research there. I looked at the nominees and winners for the year and picked the times that I thought the Academy got it wrong. I tried to only pick out completely egregious errors. Ones that offended my delicate sensibilities. I mean, the oversight had to leap off the page at me screaming, “WTF WAS THE ACADEMY THINKING?!” If a movie I liked didn’t win, but I thought the movie that won was worthy, I didn’t bother mentioning it. Keep in mind, this is my own opinion, however right I am, it’s just an opinion.
1972 – This year, the Best Supporting Actor was filled with 3 actors from The Godfather; Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall. How do you choose? If you are the Academy, you pick Joel Grey for his work in Cabaret. Wait, wha-?! That’s right, neither Michael, Sonny nor Tom Hagen won an Oscar for their efforts. But looking back on it, we all can see Mr. Grey’s performance was one for the ages. To throw salt in the wound, Cabaret wins Best Director over Godfather. Tell me that is not a tragedy. At least Brando won Best Actor this year (but he refused the award because Indians were not being treated fairly or something. What a weirdo).
1974 – The year of my birth. Al Pacino is nominated again for his performance as Michael Corleone, this time in Godfather Part II. Finally! Vindication for the oversight of two years ago. Instead of manning up, the Academy goes a completely different direction and awards Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. HARRY AND TONTO. An old guy and his cat traveling cross country to visit his family. Yeah, compelling. That plot synopsis alone fills me with chills. Wow, WTF, Academy? On a side note, I love, love, love that Madeline Kahn got a nomination for Blazing Saddles this year. Also, Young Frankenstein gets a nom for Adapted Screenplay. I love that, too. Neither wins, however, but Art Carney finally gets his trophy.
1978 – The events of this year’s Academy Awards leaves an extremely bitter aftertaste in my mouth. Star Wars opened in May 1977 and was eligible for this year’s Oscars. As we all know, Star Wars broke box office records and went on to be one of, if not the, most influential movie of all time. It changed how movies are made and marketed. It’s success launched a thousand different careers. Without Star Wars there would have been no Harrison Ford, no Industrial Light and Magic and no Pixar (which was a part of ILM before it was sold to Steve Jobs). How could Star Wars not be a shoe-in for every category it was nominated for? It was its destiny. However, it was not meant to be. The old guard of the voting Academy would never allow a “kids movie” to reap the highest rewards. The only actor to be recognized for Star Wars was Sir Alec Guiness, who was already an established and well respected actor. Come on, I mean, even John Travolta got a nomination for his performance in Saturday Night Fever (yes, I’m serious) and Harrison Ford couldn’t get a nomination for Han Solo? That’s messed up, dude. Star Wars was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. However Annie Hall STOLE all three of those awards from George Lucas’ monster space epic. Because today, I know you quote Annie Hall to your friends at every opportunity. Annie Hall pervades our pop culture like no other movie has (hope you are catching the sarcasm, I’m laying it on pretty thick). So, in the interest of fairness, I watched Annie Hall several years ago to see if it deserved all of its awards…and I hated every #%$& second of it. To start off with, I am not a fan of Woody Allen’s movies when he is acting in them. The movies he directs that he doesn’t appear in, I really like (see Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days). The reason? His acting style, to me, is nails-on-a-chalkboard irritating. He plays the same bumbling, neurotic character in every single movie. EVERY MOVIE. Show some range, man! Not only that, since he is writer and director, he writes himself as the lead and puts as his leading lady someone that would obviously, in real life, have nothing to do with him. However, in Annie Hall, he breaks from tradition and writes the leading female character, Annie Hall, as ridiculously neurotic as himself thereby making it seem as if two Woody Allens were in this movie at the same time. Yes, it’s Woody Allen squared. That’s like having two people kick you in the pills as hard as you can, one for each genital. I actually contemplated suicide while watching this atrocious movie. And what the hell is up with Diane Keaton’s wardrobe? She dresses like a 1930s lesbian gangster throughout the movie. Holy crap I hate Annie Hall, so yes, I am a little bitter about it beating Star Wars in 3 major categories during 1978’s Academy Awards.
1981 – Henry Fonda wins Best Actor for On Golden Pond over Dudley Moore for Arthur. How iconic a character is Arthur? It’s a classic drama/comedy with two very entertaining characters, Arthur and his butler, Hobsen. The character of Arthur is defined by Dudley Moore, his was a fantastic performance that should have won. Thank the Lord Sir John Gielgud won for Supporting Actor, otherwise there would be another entry for Arthur this year. It’s was a great movie, and two great performances. However the Academy decided they better give Fonda the Best Actor Oscar before he died (he was 72 this year and died the next). I watched On Golden Pond many years ago mainly because I love Katherine Hepburn (who is wonderful in the movie and rightfully wins the Best Actress award) and because my mom made me. How Fonda’s performance as a cranky, crotchety old fart gets him this award is beyond me. THIS MOVIE IS SO $%^$ BORING I WANTED TO DIE. Old people, living in the woods get visited by their well-meaning but irritatingly nosy daughter. If that premise screams Oscar to you then you live on a completely different planet than me, cause I don’t get it. Another head scratcher this year, Chariots of Fire beats Raiders of the Lost Ark for Best Picture. Honestly, I’m surprised that Raiders even made it into the Best Picture category. That, in and of itself, is a win. However Lucas (and Spielburg) gets snubbed again for a far inferior picture. I guess I should be happy that On Golden Pond didn’t win, but Chariots of Fire is just as boring. Trust me.
1984 – This is a year of ommission. Robert Redford’s classic baseball flick, The Natural is all but ignored by the Academy. This includes Robert Redford’s phenomenal performance as Ray Hobbs. It’s bad enough it didn’t win, but nothing was even nominated. NOT EVEN NOMINATED!! Strangely enough, Glenn Close, who has about 10 minutes of screen time in the movie, gets nominated as Best Supporting Actress. That’s a complete slap in the face. It’s not like there was a ton of competition; Amadeus, Killing Fields, Passage to India. You can’t tell me The Natural wouldn’t have fit in here. Amadeus won for crying out loud. The Natural wasn’t even nominated for Adapted Screenplay where Amadeus won again. Other nominees included the awful Greystoke: Legend of Tarzan and the ultra-boring Killing Fields. Where’s the love, Academy?
1989 – Did Driving Miss Daisy really deserve to be nominated for this many awards? Best Actor, Best Actress, Supporting Actor, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s about an old black guy that chauffeurs around an old white lady and they become friends (“Hoke, your my best friend”…..Awwwwww). Seriously, this won Best Picture? Really? I have 3 words…Dead Poet’s Society. Suck it, Academy.
1990 – Another especially bitter year for me. Good Fellas gets RAPED by the Academy. And I’m not embellishing for comedic purposes. The fact that Ray Liotta was not at least nominated for his role as Henry Hill is reprehensible. It’s grounds for fire bombing the Academy offices. BURN IT TO THE GROUND. And if that wasn’t enough of a betrayal, Dances With Wolves beats Good Fellas for Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. Yes, Kevin Costner, director of Waterworld and The Postman gets an Oscar over Martin Scorcese (who wouldn’t see a directing Oscar until 2006; 16 years later!). Are you kidding me? No, I’m not kidding. As a matter of fact, Whoopi Goldberg wins Best Supporting Actress for Ghost over Lorraine Bracco in Good Fellas. It’s like the Academy took a vacation this year and let a bunch of drunken monkeys take over the voting. WTF?! On a side note, Godfather Part III was eligible for several awards this year including Best Picture (I’m serious, it was up for best picture…it didn’t win), but Al Pacino is not nominated for Michael Corleone which means that only two actors were recognized with a win for their roles in all three of The Godfather movies (Marlon Brando and Robert Deniro). Interestingly enough, both actors played the same character. And it blows my mind that Al Pacino was never awarded an Oscar for his role as Michael Corleone. That is a shame.
1992 – Deciding that they may have made a mistake letting monkeys vote the winners in 1990, the Academy awards Best Actor to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and realizes that they just made the same mistake. If Pacino is going to get nominated, it should have been for Godfather or Scarface, not this movie. Especially because he won this award over Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in Chaplin. Scent of a Woman was lame but Robert Downey Jr. laid it all out in Chaplin. It was an unbelievable performance in an unbelievable movie. At the very least Clint Eastwood should have won this year playing his typical “outlaw with scratchy voice” character in Unforgiven. Either of these would have been better than Scent of a Woman. Also, Crying Game wins Best Original Screenplay over Unforgiven?! Is it just me or is the Academy losing it’s mind?
1995 – I find it hard to believe that The Usual Suspects was NOT nominated for Best Director or Best Picture this year. Kevin Spacey was rightly nominated (and won) for Best Supporting Actor, but why this wonderful movie was ignored in the other categories is beyond me.
1996 – This was a tough one for me. Cuba Gooding, Jr wins Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire. Don’t get me wrong, he absolutely deserved this, it was a great win for a great performance. However, one of the other nominees in this category was Edward Norton in Primal Fear, his first major starring role. He was so good in this movie it was hard for me to see him not win. I was elated he was even nominated as a nobody, but it just showed how strong a performance this was. So, this isn’t really a problem with the Academy, just a footnote for all of you..
1997 – Oh man. This was an up and down year. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon win Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting. Great win, I loved every minute of it because these two guys seem like awesome guys. However, Jack Nicholson wins Best Actor for As Good as it Gets over Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. As Good As it Gets was an okay movie, but Nicholson’s character was super-irritating to me and ruined the whole movie. And the ending sucked. By the end it seemed like nothing had really changed from the beginning. But Good Will Hunting was a tour-de-force performance by relative newcomer Matt Damon. How this didn’t win is a mystery. In a nice bit of karma, Nicholson gets robbed in 2006 for his performance in Departed (for which he was phenomenal) as he’s not even nominated for Best Supporting Actor. And how is Russell Crowe NOT nominated for LA Confidential? He was fantastic.
1998 – OMG, this one really frosts my shorts. Roberto Benigni wins Best Actor for Life is Beautiful over Ed Norton in American History X. Ed Norton gets his second nomination in 3 years for another powerful performance as a Nazi Skinhead that tries to teach his little brother not to be like him. Unbelievable movie and an unbelievable performance. How the Academy can justify that Roberto Benigni’s performance was the best that year is beyond me. It must take some serious Geometry to come up with a proof to solve that equation. Hey, where’s Jim Carrey’s nomination for The Truman Show?
2000 – Julia Robert’s wins Best Actress for Erin Brockovich? Really? This baffles me because Joan Allen tore it up in The Contender that year. Unfortunately, you’ve probably never heard of the movie, but it was awesome. Granted, Joan was nominated for her performance, but Julia Robert’s breasts beat her out…wait I mean “performance”. If you get a chance, rent The Contender starring Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater. Trust me, you will love it. It’s a political thriller and all of the performances are top-notch. Jeff Bridges was nominated for Supporting Actor (Gary Oldman should have been nominated also).
Well, those are some of the corrections/additions I would have made to the Academy Awards lists since 1970. Overall, the Academy does a good job, but every once in a while they get caught “drunk in church” and all hell breaks loose.
Hope you agree with my choices, are there any movies you wish you would have seen get a statue? Let me know.
Oh, and watch the Oscars this Sunday at 8pm EST on ABC.