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Shoulda, woulda, coulda? The top 10 worst ever Oscar decisions

February 28, 2014

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The ego has landed: Citizen Kane could well be the best film ever, but did it land at the Oscars?

Like a bad case of flu, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway come the weekend or when a dubious movie channel broadcasts Police Academy: Mission To Moscow (1994), they’re back for their annual reappearance, peeps – yes, I speak, of course, of the Oscars, which take place in Hollywood on Sunday night (or very early Monday morning if you don’t live in America but much of the rest of the world). The Oscars are a strange beast, oh, but are they; revered by some folk for their mega-celeb-spotability, unremitting fashion-clothes-horsing and mock-gracious acceptance of winning and not winning trophies, but reviled by others for (too often) rewarding far from the most worthy of movies and their makers.

This year, the big guns duking it out will most likely be the flicks 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and American Hustle (all 2013), the directors Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen and the thesps Cate Blanchett, Leonardo Di Caprio and, er, Matthew McConaughney. All of them worthy winners and/ or losers surely. But some years that’s been far from the case – as far, in fact, as McConaughey was from his ‘McConaissance’ when he headlined Surfer, Dude (2008). But of which years do I speak? And of which particular instances when the Academy got it oh-so wrong? Well, dear readers, look no further, for courtesy of George’s Journal, here’s the Room 101 of Oscar’s dreadful decisions…

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CLICK on the entry titles in red for relevant video clips

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10. Argo wins Best Picture but Ben Affleck
isn’t nominated for Best Director
(2012)

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Nominated instead: Michael Haneke (Amour); Ang Lee (Life Of Pi) (winner); David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook); Steven Spielberg (Lincoln); Benh Zeitlin (Beasts Of The Southern Wild)

Don’t get me wrong, by kicking-off this list with this most recent of Oscar mishaps, I’m not necessarily endorsing Ben Affleck’s Argo winning Best Picture at last year’s ceremony. But from the viewpoint of Oscar tradition and, well, just sense it’s plain daft that, because the Academy oddly hadn’t given Affleck a Best Director nomination, when it inevitably gave the top prize to this Hollywood-back-slapping sort-of-true-to-life caper about CIA operatives posing as filmmakers to get embassy staff out of early ’80s, revolutionary Iran, it found it had denied itself even the chance of doubly rewarding the flick with the director award. It’s a bit like a an awards body praising a book to the skies, but claiming the author had nothing to do with it. And, given Affleck had picked up every other major directing award on Argo‘s way to Oscar glory (Ang Lee won Best Director on the night), the whole thing looks more ridiculous than, let’s be honest, Matt Damon’s best bud probably will when he dons the Batsuit.

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9. My Fair Lady wins eight Oscars but Audrey
Hepburn isn’t nominated for Best Actress
(1964)

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Nominated instead: Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins); Anne Bancroft (The Pumpkin Eater); Sophia Loren (Marriage Italian-Style); Debbie Reynolds (The Unsinkable Molly Brown); Kim Stanley (Seance On A Wet Afternoon)

Ah, yes, not only did lovely Audrey Hepburn not receive an Oscar nod for her delightful turn in Warner Bros’ wonderful adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s musical My Fair Lady, its other star Rex Harrison (Best Actor), helmer George Cukor (Best Director) and producer Jack Warner (Best Picture) all did – and all won. So why wasn’t she nominated? Well, the actress who first essayed the role of My Fair Lady‘s Eliza Doolittle – on Broadway – was English musical star Julie Andrews, whom the great American public had understandably taken quite the shine to. Cue then something of a media storm, which was only stirred up by it leaking out Audrey’s singing (in spite of a plucky attempt at performing the tunes herself) was dubbed by Hollywood’s go-to-voice-over-singer Marni Nixon. And the plot thickened further when the passed-over Andrews only went on to pick up the Oscar for which Hepburn hadn’t been nominated, specifically for her lead role in Disney’s marvellous Mary Poppins – which itself also managed to top the year’s box-office ahead of My Fair Lady. Still, not that it was all bad for Audrey; she clearly held no animosity for Andrews and vice versa (she warmly congratulated the latter at the ceremony), she’d already won an Oscar 11 years before for Roman Holiday anyway and, well, when it comes down to it, she was and always would be the glorious Audrey Hepburn, after all.

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8. John G Avildsen wins
Best Director for 
Rocky (1976)

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Also nominated: Ingmar Bergman (Face To Face); Sidney Lumet (Network); Alan J Pakula
(All The President’s Men); Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties)
Not even nominated: Hal Ashby (Bound For Glory); Brian De Palma (Carrie); Clint Eastwood (The Outlaw Josey Wales); Richard Lester (Robin And Marian); Alan Parker (Bugsy Malone); John Schlesinger (Marathon Man); Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver)

For many, Rocky is the ultimate David-nearly-triumphs-over-Goliath (if you’ll allow this metaphor to stretch to Sylvester Stallone being David to Carl Weathers’ Goliath) cinematic sporting experience, but for those versed in Oscar lore, it also did the ultimate smash and grab at the 49th Academy Awards. Not only did the Stallone-penned and -headlined hokey boxing drama triumph over a quartet of unquestionably quality films including the greats All The President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver to win Best Picture, it also pulled off the Oscar double Argo wasn’t able to – yes, its helmer John G Avildsen picked up the Best Director award. And just look above there at the cream of US and European filmmakers he, well, creamed to take the prize. Frankly, with the aid of hindsight, it almost defies belief. Not least because, unlike his competitors, he went on to direct the dubious likes of the first three Karate Kid flicks (1984, ’86 and ’89), the execrable Rocky V (1989) and, best of all, the Jean-Claude Van Damme turgid turd Inferno (1999). But hey, at least he had nothing to do with Sly’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1993).

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7. Helen Hunt wins Best Actress
for 
As Good As It Gets (1997)

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Also nominated: Judi Dench (Mrs Brown); Helena Bonham Carter (The Wings Of The Dove); Julie Christie (Afterglow); Kate Winslet (Titanic)
Not even nominated: Joan Allen; Sigourney Weaver (both The Ice Storm); Minnie Driver (Grosse Pointe Blank); Pam Grier (Jackie Brown); Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter)

It was the ceremony at which Titanic equalled Ben-Hur‘s (1959) heaviest ever haul of 11 Oscars (in doing so, beating L.A. Confidential to Best Picture; itself quite the crime), but easily the biggest blot added to the Academy record books that night was when an – admittedly likeable – sitcom actress in an – admittedly likeable – romcom performance somehow rose above four giants of British acting boasting four excellent, nuanced performances to be named that year’s Best Actress. So why did it happen? Well, sadly the only plausible explanation is because she was a popular American actress who’d grafted away in LA for years and the others, revered Brits with thesp ability coming out of their ears notwithstanding, were not. But hey, the Oscars are an American industry awards so will understandably (if dubiously) reward their own now and again, right? Sure, but that year it was pretty obvious (quality-wise) who was making up the numbers in that category. Many view the ‘British snub’ as being particularly hard on Judi Dench, given her turn as the legendary Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown deserved a platinum statuette, let alone a gold one. Happily though, the grande dame of UK thesping got her just desserts just a year later when she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Shakespeare In Love – a role that saw her appear on screen for no more than eight minutes. Well played, Denchster, well played.

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6. I Just Called To Say I Love You wins
Best Original Song for 
The Woman In Red (1984)

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Also nominated: Against All Odds (Against All Odds); Footloose; Let’s Hear It For The Boy (both Footloose); Ghostbusters (Ghostbusters)
Not even nominated: The Heat Is On (Beverly Hills Cop); The NeverEnding Story (The NeverEnding Story); No More Lonely Nights (Give My Regards To Broad Street); Purple Rain (Purple Rain); Stir It Up (Beverly Hills Cop); When Doves Cry (Purple Rain)

Who ya gonna call? Unfortunately, peeps, not even the Ghostbusters could prevent this insipid-cum-nauseating, MOR-tastic, synth-delivered earworm from taking home ’84’s coveted Best Original Song Oscar, because, yes, they were beaten themselves in that category (in the shape of Ray Parker Jr’s ebullient pop classic, that is). And, yup, so too were the three other co-nominated (more than) decent efforts listed above. Plus, factor in  that Glenn Frey’s agelessly electric The Heat Is On was deemed insufficient even to be nominated, and you might well conclude how outrageous an injustice to, er, music in movie awards it was that maybe the biggest misstep of Stevie Wonder’s career careered away with the win. Having said that, we can at least content ourselves that over the years The Way You Look Tonight (from 1936’s Swing Time); Over The Rainbow (from 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz); When You Wish Upon A Star (from 1940’s Pinocchio); White Christmas (from 1942’s  Holiday Inn); Baby, It’s Cold Outside (from 1949’s Neptune’s Daughter); Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Qué Será, Será) (from 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much); Moon River (from 1961’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s); Born Free (from 1966’s Born Free); Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head (from 1969’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid) and, yes, Fame from (1980’s Fame) all won.

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5. A Beautiful Mind wins
Best Picture
(2001)

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Also nominated: Gosford Park; In The Bedroom; The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring; Moulin Rouge!
Not even nominated: Donnie Darko; Le Fableaux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie); Iris; Memento; Monsters, Inc.; Mulholland Dr.; Ničija Zemlja (No Man’s Land); Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi (Spirited Away); Y Tu Mamá También (And Your Mum Too)

There’s two obvious reasons why A Beautiful Mind winning Best Picture was all wrong. First, look at that quotient of quality flicks above there it beat; second,  just think how it rewarded Ron ‘Richie Cunningham’ Howard with a Best Pic (and, yes, additional Best Director) credit to his name over Robert Altman – yes, Robert Bloody Altman (director of Gosford Park, a non-Oscar winner and, yes, now deceased). But what really sticks in my craw about A Beautiful Mind being named 2001’s best flick is it possesses a pretty mean, fundamental flaw. Sure,  it’s a slick melodrama with admittedly decent direction from Howard, nice performances and a smart screenplay, but it’s that latter aspect that’s the trouble – and, yup, that screenplay won an Oscar too. You see, it’s a biopic of brilliant, Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Nash whom suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Now, while it doesn’t skimp on the mental illness part, it does on the truth; it presents Nash’s life as a fight against adversity saved by the woman whom became his wife, his one-true love Alicia, yet it utterly ignores the facts that before he was married he fathered a child out of wedlock and refused to marry the mother, and that he and Alicia divorced before remarrying 30 years later. Now sure, if you want to make a movie about a real person’s life and play fast with the truth, fine; it’s been done oh-so many times before, but for the love of Robert Altman, don’t name that film which, had it presented its subject’s true life could have been a far more complex, interesting and satisfying watch, its year’s best picture.

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4. Art Carney wins Best Actor
for Harry And Tonto
 (1974)

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Also nominated: Albert Finney (Murder On The Orient Express); Dustin Hoffman (Lenny);
Jack Nicholson (Chinatown); Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II)
Not even nominated: Clint Eastwood (Thunderbolt And Lightfoot); Peter Falk (A Woman Under The Influence); Gene Hackman (The Conversation); Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein)

On presenting the above Oscar, Glenda Jackson announced: “Please note this award is not for the best actor, but the best performance by an actor”. Oh, the irony. For that Oscar certainly didn’t go to the best actor; mind you, it didn’t go to the best performance by an actor either. As stated, the nominees were Albert Finney in one of the best comedic performances you’ll see as Poirot in Murder On The Orient Express; Dustin Hoffman (as ever) disappearing entirely into his role, the incendiary comedian Lenny Bruce in Lenny; Jack Nicholson in a subtle turn as streetwise but morally challenged private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown and Al Pacino recurring his role from two years previous but darker and more nuanced as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Oh, and then there was Art Carney. Art who? To be fair, if you’re neither American (or even if you are) nor under 60, you’ll probably not know him. A household name in the US back in the day thanks to starring in The Honeymooners (1955-56), the all-time classic sitcom that was a direct inspiration for The Flintstones (1960-66), Carney wasn’t just hugely familiar to Academy voters, but also an affable chap who’d been around a long time and whose boat was asking to come in, so, yes, they pulled it to their loving bosom and gave him the Oscar. In Harry And Tonto he plays an eccentric widower on a roadtrip across the US with his cat; it’s a nice performance in a nice movie, but history rightly hasn’t been kind – his winning against Pacino, Hoffman, Nicholson and Finney at the very top of their games should have caused nothing less than a pussy riot.

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3. Citizen Kane loses Best Picture
to How Green Was My Valley
 (1941)

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Also nominated: Blossoms In The Dust; Here Comes Mr Jordan; Hold Back The Dawn; The Little Foxes; The Maltese Falcon; One Foot In Heaven; Sergeant York; Suspicion

Here’s a tip for you: if you’ve come up with an idea for a movie including techniques which will change filmmaking forever – and therefore for decades to come be declared by all and sundry as the greatest ever made – don’t build it on a premise that’s a wafer-thin veiled critique of a real-life, all-powerful media baron. If you do, your flick’s unlikely to make back its budget; much less likely win a deserving Best Picture Oscar. This, if you will, is the lesson to be learned from legendary auteur Orson Welles’ crafting of Citizen Kane, whose contemporary reputation was scathingly attacked by the press tycoon it lampooned, William Randolph Hearst. So much so that Kane won just one of the nine Oscars for which it was nominated (Original Screenplay) and most deplorably lost for Best Director (to John Ford) and Best Picture to, yes, Ford’s How Green Was My Valley – a flick about Welsh coalminers. Yes, really, it actually was about Welsh coalminers. Don’t let that deceive you, though, Valley‘s a decent little drama, but a Citizen Kane it most certainly isn’t (in fact, if you really want to get down to it, it’s nowhere near the classic noir that’s The Maltese Falcon either), boasting none of Kane‘s technical leaps forward in storytelling, deep focus, low-angle shots, camera-crane shots and musical score. Sure, by way of fairer comparison, last year’s Gravity may have pushed back the boundaries of moviemaking, but really even that’s one small step for a filmmaker compared to Citizen Kane‘s giant leap forward for cinema-kind.

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2. Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton receive
15 nominations between them – and no wins

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Nominations: O’Toole ~ Lawrence Of Arabia (1962); Becket (1964); The Lion In Winter (1968); Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969); The Ruling Class (1972); The Stunt Man (1980);
My Favourite Year (1982); Venus (2006)/ Burton ~ My Cousin Rachel (1952); The Robe (1953); Becket (1964); The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965); Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolfe? (1966); Anne Of The Thousand Days (1969); Equus (1977)

Paul Schofield in A Man For All Seasons (1966); Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972); Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980); Ben Kingsley in Gandhi (1982) and Forest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland (2006) – fair dues, one could argue the turns from O’Toole and Burton that found themselves up against these performances were beaten fair and square. But these are only, collectively, five performances; making up then just one third of the total 15 – yes, 15 – occasions on which the pair of Celtic heavyweights were incredibly denied Oscar gold. Indeed, so often were they defeated on Oscar’s big night, there must have been times when they lost out to some far less deserving efforts, right? Oh yes. Take a ‘bow’ then, Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou (1965); Cliff Robertson in Charley (1968) – who, what? – and Richard Dreyfus in The Goodbye Girl (1977). Moreover, in the year in which they were both nominated, they were denied by – get this – drawler extraordinaire John Wayne playing a cartoonish ageing cowboy (or something) in True Grit (1969). As mentioned already in this post, the Oscars are, of course, an American industry awards so understandably they’re more often than not going to reward Hollywood insiders born within America’s borders, but for this duo of towering acting talent to lose out this many times is utterly ridiculous. No wonder they spent so many hours in the bar.

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1. Neither Alfred Hitchcock nor
Stanley Kubrick ever win Best Director

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Nominations: Hitchcock ~ Rebecca (1940); Lifeboat (1944); Spellbound (1945); Rear Window (1954); Psycho (1960)/ Kubrick ~ Spartacus (1960); Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964);  2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); A Clockwork Orange (1971); Barry Lyndon (1975)
Not even nominated for: Hitchcock ~ The 39 Steps (1935); The Lady Vanishes (1938); Suspicion (1941); Notorious (1946); Dial M For Murder (1954); Vertigo (1958);
North By Northwest (1959); The Birds (1963)/ Kubrick ~ The Killing (1956); Paths Of Glory (1957); Lolita (1962); The Shining (1980); Full Metal Jacket (1987)

For film lovers, the idea that Alfred Hitchcock and StanleyKubrick aren’t among the greatest directors to have helmed a movie is, frankly laughable. Not for the Academy, it seems. Because, yes, amazingly neither of these acclaimed-to-the-skies, utterly revolutionary geniuses of the medium apparently warranted winning a single director award for their efforts. Sure, many great filmmakers haven’t necessarily won that particular award for their best work (e.g. Roman Polanski for 1975’s Chinatown; Martin Scorsese for 1990’s Goodfellas), but they have nonetheless won it at some stage (Polanski for 2002’s The Pianist; Scorsese for 2006’s The Departed), but Hitchcock and Kubrick can’t claim that – not least because they’re now both dead. The closest, you may say, either came to clinching a Best Director win was when Hitchcock’s Rebecca won Best Picture, yet not only did the director gong that year instead go to John Ford for The Grapes Of The Wrath, but Rebecca only won one other award (cinematography) from its total 11 noms. Granted, both faced stiff opposition some years; Hitch for the supreme Rear Window was up against eventual winner Elia Kazan for eight-times-winning On The Waterfront; Kubrick in ’75 (Barry Lyndon) was up against eventual gong-getter Milos Forman (for five-time-victor One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). But the passing of time certainly hasn’t been kind to other decisions that went against them – for most film fans, Kubrick’s nom for his adored sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey is the least he deserved; Carol Reed’s win over him that year for Oliver! far more than he deserved (although, must admit, I do love Oliver!). And, hey, just look at all the films above there that Hitch wasn’t even nominated for – The 39 Steps? Vertigo? North By Northwest? Come on. However, perhaps the biggest (related) insult came when Kubrick, I kid you not, received a Razzie – instead of an Oscar – nomination for classic chiller The Shining. At least the Academy wasn’t to blame that time – well, not entirely anyway.

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And, in the name of fairness, Oscar’s five greatest ever decisions

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5. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King wins Best Picture (2003)

The top award at last goes to an out-and-out fantasy – and one of the best ever, at that

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4. Star Wars sweeps the technical awards (1977)

Having had an entire special effects studio set up to deliver its eye-popping thrills (Industrial, Light & Magic), George Lucas’s original opus sees Oscar-voters go gaga for its greatness

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3. Robert De Niro wins Best Actor for Raging Bull (1980)

One of the darkest, most visceral, swear-happy and unremitting (yet also one of the most captivating) performances ever leaves the too often soft-bellied Academy punch-drunk

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2. Katharine Hepburn wins her fourth acting Oscar for On Golden Pond (1981)

America’s best ever actress and female star sets a nowhere-near-ever-equalled award record

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1. Casablanca wins Best Picture (1942)

Oscar’s shining moment? Hollywood rightly rewards perhaps its greatest gift to the world

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