One of the most famous Oscar surprises occurred at the 65th Academy Awards on March 29, 1993. Unforgiven and Howards End led with 9 nominations each. People still whispered about The Crying Game’s ending and sang along to Aladdin and The Bodyguard’s nominated songs. Jack Palance, 1992’s best supporting actor (City Slickers), presented the first award of the night: Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Most thought veterans Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, or Judy Davis would win. Instead it went to Marisa Tomei for her tough talking, flowered-bodysuit wearing girlfriend in the fluffy My Cousin Vinny. (A role which also brought her an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance. Take that, Plowright.) People were shocked; some believing Palance simply misread the card. To be fair, Tomei has proven herself with incredible performances in In the Bedroom and The Wrestler. But that year, the award should have gone to Davis or Plowright.
Like Tomei or The Muppet Movie’s “Rainbow Connection” losing to a Norma Rae song in 1979 or director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) beating David Fincher (The Social Network) in 2011, there are many moments where the Academy simply got it wrong. Here are my top picks.
Best Picture, 2006: Crash.
I’ll admit it: I thought Crash was a well-crafted, if heavy handed, film that captured great performances from Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Matt Dillon. Brokeback Mountain, on the other hand, was a lyrical masterpiece, which, under Ang Lee’s direction, launched the serious careers of Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway. Perhaps Crash winning was due to an older Hollywood being uncomfortable with the subject matter (like Ernest Borgnines now infamous quote: “If John Wayne were alive, he’d be rolling over in his grave.”). Regardless, it was wrong then, and seems even more ridiculous as the years go by.
The Color Purple snub, 1986
Both Purple and Out of Africa went into the 58th Academy Awards with 11 nominations. But unlike Africa which went on to win seven, including Best Picture, Purple went home empty handed. “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”
Best Supporting Actress, 2003: Renee Zellweger
The Cold Mountain TV trailer was on an endless loop. Every five minutes, squinty Zellweger saying: “But they made the weather and they stand in the rain and say… “It’s raining?’” Ugh. I thought her accent in the preview was bad, than I saw the movie and also became annoyed by her “hey-I’m-a-plucky-girl” performance. The award should have gone to Shoreh Aghdashloo for her devastating performance in The House of Sand and Fog.
Best Director, 1990: Kevin Costner
Costner (Dances with Wolves) wins. Martin Scorcese (Goodfellas) does not. Discuss.
Stanley Kubrick vs. The Movie Musical, 1965 and 1969
In 1965, Dr. Strangelove lost to My Fair Lady for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. In 1969, Kubrick (2001) lost to Carol Reed (Oliver!) for Best Director. Unbelievable.
71st Academy Awards, 1999
Harvey Weinstein’s juggernaut campaign for Shakespeare in Love upset many categories this year. It is a wonderful film, but it did not deserve to beat Saving Private Ryan or Elizabeth or Life is Beautiful for Best Picture. Or for Gwyneth to beat Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) or Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station). Or for Judi Dench to win (which, frankly, felt more like a consolation prize for her loss to Helen Hunt the year before). Not all can be blamed on Weinstein, though. While Life is Beautiful was an extraordinary film, and appropriately won for Best Foreign, it was Ian McKellan, not Roberto Benigni, who should have walked away with Best Actor for his breathtaking performance in Gods and Monsters. And who knows, perhaps he too would have climbed up on the chairs?
Best Original Song, 1999: Phil Collins
Also from that tragic night: Phil Collins’ Tarzan song, “You’ll Be in My Heart” beat “Save Me” (Magnolia), “Blame Canada” (South Park), and “When She Loved Me” (Toy Story 2). Phil. Flippin’. Collins.
Best Picture, 1957: Around the World in 80 Days
It beat Giant, The King and I, and The Ten Commandments. What, you’ve never seen it? Shocking.
Actors in the 90s
The 90’s were a wonky decade for lead and supporting actors: a) Al Pacino hoo-ah-ing himself to 1992 Best Actor (Scent of a Woman) over Robert Downey, Jr. (Chaplin) and Denzel Washington (Malcolm X); b) Michael Caine (Cider House Rules) over Tom Cruise’s career performance (Magnolia) in 1999; and, c) Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) jaw-dropping loss to Tommy Lee Jones (Fugitive) in 1993.
Best Supporting Actress, 1974: Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express could (and can) not compare to Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles). “Then why don’t you get your fwiggin’ feet off the stage?