Like the proverbial bar bet where everyone believes they’re right, pointing to Oscar and acknowledging the many missteps in reward judgment they’ve made is an exercise in communal commentary. For all the times AMPAS shows drive and determination, they more often than not resort to politics, pandering, and the lure of overpowering publicity. And then there are those cases were personal preference, not universal aesthetics, lead to isolated and individualized criticism. Again recognizing that the voting membership is comprised of all previous nominees, along with occasional invited inductees, the insular nature of the beast is pretty darn obvious. But as was pointed out in a previous article on the subject, some mistakes just seem egregious in nature.
This time around, we will again pick out ten more Academy atrocities, instances were consensus would argue greatly and defiantly with the standing decision made. Certainly there will be some who wince at a few of the selections, and others will wonder where their own personal pet peeve is. Given time, and continued public outcry, the Oscars may finally get their script together. Until then, they will have more than enough miscues to keep their mangled myth alive. Along with last year’s list, let’s mull over these baffling beauties, shall we, beginning with:
Renee Zellwegger wins for Cold Mountain
2004 Best Supporting Actress
An American in Paris Beats Out A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire
1952 Best Picture
Some Oscar picks so sully their award post-victory that they deserve to give it back. In the case of Ms. Zellwegger, a mere return would not be enough. Ever since copping her prize for this piecemeal Civil War era epic, she’s gone from tolerable to unwatchable. She almost singlehandedly sunk George Clooney’s Leatherheads and Ed Harris’ Appaloosa. With her most recent starring vehicle New in Town DOA at the box office, she’s a bigger embarrassment to the category than Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino combined.
Shrek Beats Monsters, Inc.
2001 Best Animated Feature
The love of old school musicals was still heavy in the air when Vincent Minelli unleashed this twee take on the City of Light. Using the music of George and Ira Gershwin was a masterstroke, and star Gene Kelly was as graceful and forceful as ever. But the rest of the movie was maudlin, syrupy and incessantly melodramatic. And when you compare it to the formidable pair of George Stevens’ Place and Elia Kazan’s Streetcar, this is a clear case of fantasy winning out over cinematic artistry.
Helen Hunt wins for As Good As It Gets
1998 Best Actress
Here it is - the one and only time Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz will be associated directly with an Oscar winning movie (no, Dreamgirls doesn’t count since it wasn’t even nominated). While some may argue with the downplaying of Dreamworks megahit, it’s clearly doesn’t maintain the same caliber of creativity as Pixar’s creature feature. Today, the ogre’s tale seems forced and rather dated. As with most of the masterworks from the other computer generating geniuses, the beasts look better than ever.
My Fair Lady Beats Out Dr. Strangelove and Mary Poppins
1965 Best Picture
Another unnecessary win, another predicable career downfall. After beating out better competitors to take home Oscar gold, Hunt has gone from almost A-lister to footnote, systematically reduced from romantic co-star (What Women Want, Cast Away) to secondary sidelights in innocuous, unexceptional fare (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion). In a mad dash to save her flagging performance options, she was even reduced to hiring and directing herself in her latest film (The She Found Me). At this point, any of 1998’s other actresses (including Titanic‘s Kate Winslet) looks like the wiser choice.
Crash Beats Out Brokeback Mountain and Munich
2006 Best Picture
Like An American in Paris, we have another case of overdone glamour besting actual cinematic superiority. Audrey Hepburn looks fetching, but she can’t sing. Rex Harrison’s not much better, and he took home his own Academy Award for mumbling his way through this musical. As with most song fests, the composers literally save the day. Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner deliver the kind of soundtrack that professional crooners simply die for. And in light of the competition that year, this frilly affront should have stayed a sonic stage experience only.
Art Carney Wins Over Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino
1975 Best Actor
Try as one might, there is really no way to explain this one. Brokeback was the film to beat, and Spielberg’s return to “serious” filmmaking was another example of his mastery of the artform. And yet this vignette oriented atrocity, overloaded with preachy PC platitudes and underdone dramatic ideas took home the prize. Apparently, a winning script and some successful editing (the other Oscars won here) meant it was the best MADE movie of the year. Figures that the Academy would go so far as to get their own category wrong as well.
The English Patient Beats Fargo and Secrets and Lies
1997 Best Picture
It was viewed as the traditional entertainment guard standing up for itself, the then 56 six year old beating out men almost half his age. Yet does Harry and Tonto stand up to the scrutiny of Chinatown? Or The Godfather Part II? Or even the scattershot and overly ambitious Lenny? Clearly a case of aging Hollywood rewarding its own, it’s interesting to note that Carney was much more successful on stage and the small screen than he ever was in movies - and yet he beat the new breed. Go figure.
Driving Miss Daisy Beats Born on the Fourth of July and Field of Dreams
1990 Best Picture
This is a tough one. Many people love the Anthony Minghella epic, and the film itself is not without its charms. But unlike Gladiator, where the other four choices that year were suspect to say the least, there were at least two betters films from 1996 in the running. Gene Siskel worshipped the Coen Brothers thriller (he was not alone), while others championed Mike Leigh’s leap into the mainstream with his familial dramedy. It’s proper to give Patient its due. It’s just not said season’s best.
Akiva Goldsman Wins for A Beautiful Mind
2001 Best Adapted Screenplay
Look - this unrealistic bit of wistfulness practically sets the Civil Rights movement back 20 some years - did it really need to win an Oscar to validate its veiled bigotry? Cloying racial contempt is one thing, but Oliver Stone’s home side Nam drama was the much better piece of political theater. Even the baseball as God glow of Dreams was a better Academy fit. Still, precocious old ladies with prejudice simmering under the surface apparently earn awards season gold. Jessica Tandy may have deserved her statue. This movie didn’t.
How does a hack like this beat out Ghost World, In the Bedroom, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings? Goldsman is a soulless waste, a man whose movies are either saved by their stars or the individual behind the lens. One can’t name a single script he’s written and say, “Now there’s a fine piece of scribing.” Instead, he cobbles together clichés and coincidence and gets rewarded with more jobs. Guess it pays to have friends like Will Smith, Ron Howard, and Brian Glazer.