The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a tendency to, let’s say, behave recklessly when it comes time to select the Oscar winners each year. It is no secret amongst film fans that the Academy usually gets things wrong more often than they get things right. This has been a problem throughout the 92 year history of the award show and, despite the exuberance felt by many film lovers after Parasite won Best Picture earlier this year, I don’t see this drastically changing any time soon. Whether these frequent mistakes are due to behind the scenes politics and campaigning or a simple disconnect between Academy voters and fans, they just can’t seem to get it right very often.
With the state of the filmmaking industry currently in flux at the moment, and the Academy recently announcing changes in their rules for the 2021 ceremony, I thought now would be as good a time as any to look back at the history of cinema and the Oscar’s. And since quarantine is putting us all in a pessimistic mood right now, I thought it would be more fun to look back on the mistakes, rather than the triumphant moments. I will be using this list to recount the ten biggest Oscar travesties of all time. I am making my selections based on two things: What/Who Got Snubbed? And, What/Who Actually Ended Up Winning? For instance, a subpar movie winning Best Picture in a mediocre movie year is not as big of a travesty as a slightly better than subpar movie winning Best Picture in a year in which a classic film was released.
I think it is important to note that this list could have certainly been longer than ten if I wanted it to be. There is no shortage of Academy flubs throughout the years in need of some proper critiquing. But for now, I just wanted to focus on what I consider to be the ten biggest missteps. So without further ado, it’s time to partake in one of my favorite pastimes—complaining about the decisions made by Oscar voters.
10. Rocky Winning Best Picture in 1977 Over All The Presidents Men, Network, and Taxi Driver
Don’t get me wrong, Rocky is a great film and it deserved the Best Picture nomination it received. However, the same can’t be said for its eventual win. This is a situation that has much more to do with what didn’t win, rather than what did win. Rocky may be a very influential film on the sports movie genre that went on to launch a massively popular franchise, but it is quite simply an inferior film to All The Presidents Men, Network, and Taxi Driver. When you have a Best Picture category that is as stacked as this one, it’s hard to come terms with the wrong film walking away with the award. Personally, I believe Taxi Driver was the correct choice here.
9. Shakespeare in Love Over Saving Private Ryan in the 1999 Best Picture Race
One of the most infamous decisions in Oscar history can be attributed to one of the most infamous figures in Hollywood history. The aggressive amounts of campaigning done by Harvey Weinstein on the part of Shakespeare in Love led to it upsetting the superior Saving Private Ryan in 1999. Many Oscar viewers are probably unaware about the tremendous amount of campaigning done by film studios during awards season each year, but 1999 was an example of how powerful a tool it ultimately can be.
8. Driving Miss Daisy Winning Best Picture in 1990/Do The Right Thing Not Being Nominated
At number eight, we go from the notorious Shakespeare in Love decision that ended the 1990s, to the notorious decision that kicked off the decade. In 1990, Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture over fellow nominees Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, and My Left Foot. What makes this gaffe particularly egregious, is the fact that the film that should have won this award—Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing—was not even nominated. It’s disappointing when the right film gets nominated but doesn’t win, but it’s even more upsetting when the right film doesn’t even get nominated in the first place. This was a decision that highlighted the old and out-of-touch nature of many Academy voters.
7. Forrest Gump Beating Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption For Best Picture in 1995
Seemingly, the ’90s were a tough decade for the Academy. Forrest Gump winning in 1995 is similar to Rocky winning in 1977 because it’s a bad decision based on what lost more so than what won. Personally, I’ve always been a defender of Forrest Gump as a film. I think its divisive win in 1995 has actually caused too many film fans to be unfairly critical of it over the years. That being said, it obviously had no business beating Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption. The other two films nominated this year were Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Forrest Gump probably fits in, quality wise, better with those two films than it does with Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. If I were in charge of selecting the winner in 1995, Pulp Fiction would have a Best Picture award attached to its name right now.
6. Citizen Kane Losing Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley in 1942
Let’s get one thing out of the way, I have never seen How Green Was My Valley. I have seen Citizen Kane obviously because of its, potentially overstated, status as the greatest film of all time. Whether or not you agree with that historic title, no one can argue that it is a film undeserving of a Best Picture win at least. This decision is perhaps the best example of the Academy’s tendency to award films that ultimately fade into oblivion, over films that go on to be historically important and widely remembered.
5. Crash Winning Best Picture in 2006 Instead of Brokeback Mountain
Crash is considered, by many, to be the worst film to ever win Best Picture. The reason this decision does not rank higher on this list though, is because 2006 was not the most stacked Best Picture category by any means. There was one film however, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, that clearly deserved to win. Paul Haggis’ Crash beating the forbidden cowboy love story remains one of the Oscar mistakes that has aged the absolute worst. (For those interested, the other three nominees this year were Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, and Munich.)
4. Goodfellas Losing Best Picture in 1991 to Dances With Wolves
First of all, The Godfather: Part III being nominated for Best Picture in 1991 is ridiculous enough. But more importantly, the fact that Goodfellas did not win this year is absolutely ludicrous. Dances With Wolves is a fine, if too long, film that is honestly only mentioned in jest in the year 2020. Goodfellas on the other hand, is one of the best films of
3. The Embarrassingly Long List of Important Directors Who Have Never Won in the Best Director Category
In the number three spot on my list, I have decided to take a look at a series of unexplainable omissions rather than one specific decision. I’m going to quickly name just a handful of the directors who have never won Best Director: Stanley Kubrick (4 nominations), Alfred Hitchcock (5 nominations), Paul Thomas Anderson (2 nominations), David Fincher (2 nominations), Quentin Tarantino (3 nominations), Spike Lee (1 nomination), Akira Kurosawa (1 nomination), Sergio Leone (0 nominations), Orson Welles (1 nomination), Robert Altman (5 nominations), Jean-Luc Godard (0 nominations), and David Lynch (3 nominations). I could keep going but you get the point. It’s unbelievable to me that so many talented filmmakers have not been rewarded in the Best Director category over the years. Perhaps what is even more surprising, is the fact that that group of directors I just named has only won five total Oscar’s (not counting honorary/lifetime achievement awards). Those five wins are made up of Orson Welles winning Best Screenplay for Citizen Kane, Spike Lee winning Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, Quentin Tarantino winning Best Screenplay for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, and Stanley Kubrick winning Best Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is unfathomable to me how the Academy could have awarded such a talented group of filmmakers so scarcely over the years.
2. Al Pacino Not Winning For His Performances in The Godfather or The Godfather: Part II in 1973 and 1975
Sometimes the Academy screws up once, and sometimes they get a chance to redeem themselves and still fuck it up somehow. That was the case in the mid ’70s when Al Pacino lost in the Best Supporting Actor category in 1973 for The Godfather and then again two years later when he was nominated in Best Actor for The Godfather: Part II. Somewhat notoriously, Pacino skipped the 1973 ceremony because he believed he should have been nominated in the Best Actor category, rather than Best Supporting Actor. This is ultimately a trivial manner but I’m bringing it up to note that I can potentially forgive the Academy for their mistake in 1973. It is their second misstep however, the 1975 decision, that I simply cannot understand. Al Pacino’s performance in The Godfather: Part II is, quite possibly, the greatest film performance of all time. How the Academy did not choose to reward it, is a mystery that I will never be able to solve. (Notice how I didn’t mention the other nominees Pacino was up against. That’s because it doesn’t matter. It’s Pacino as Michael Corleone, just give him the award.)
1. The King’s Speech Winning Best Picture in 2011 Over The Social Network
We’ve finally arrived at my number one choice, and in homage to the Academy I’ve chosen a winner that can be seen as somewhat controversial. Some would understandably argue that Pacino’s two-time snub was worse than this, but I feel like I had to go with my biggest Best Picture injustice in the number one slot. To this day, I refuse to understand how this happened. The King’s Speech is a fine movie that no one has thought about since the end of 2010/beginning of 2011. On the other hand, The Social Network is quite possibly the best film of the past decade and was blessed with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin as its creative forces. The Social Network has lived on, and remained relevant and beloved, since the time of its release while the The King’s Speech has faded into history as nothing more than a standout in a long line of Oscar fuck-ups. In fact, I’d argue that it has actually become the poster
boy film for Oscar fuck-ups. It is decisions like this, as well as the previous nine on my list, that make film fans angrily complain about the Academy’s choices on a yearly basis, before questioning whether or not any of this shit even really matters in the first place.