Oscar’s Crimes – Part 1: Best Picture of 1941
All Points Bulletin:
Be on the lookout for a small, bald, gold man. He is 13 and 1/2 inches tall, weighs 8.5 lbs, sexual organs seem to be absent, tends to stand very still, constantly wielding a crusader’s sword, and is made of gold plated britannium on a black metal base. He is wanted for a list of crimes against the art of film that spans over 83 years. Consider him to be armed and dangerous.
I love the Academy Awards. Throughout society, it is often referred to as the ultimate prize. More so than any other awards, be it the Tony, the Emmy, or the Grammy, it is considered the most prestigious award in entertainment. In our skewed view of society, it is often more talked about and coveted than a Nobel Peace Prize, or a Pulitzer, or a Congressional Medal of Honor (not that it should be—all of those reward REAL achievements). It has spawned a whole series of film awards that come out around this time of year. Whether it be the Screen Actors Guild Awards, or the Directors Guild Awards, or the Golden Globes, or the weird crystal paperweight known as the People’s Choice Awards, or a celebrity getting slimed before accepting their Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award for Best Burp, none of them measure up to the little asexual gold man they give out at the Kodak theater in Hollywood.
However, with being the object of all of this coveting, this little bald bastard has made a series of severely bad calls in the past. It seems like every year, in some category, Oscar has come up with a way to totally miss the target when it comes to rewarding the right people for their contribution to film. Often there are many factors that go into this. As much as we would like it to be, Oscars aren’t given based solely on merit. There are A LOT of politics involved. From the very beginning of the awards, studios have run various campaigns to get their movies to win awards for promotional purposes. Nowadays, multi-million dollar advertisements are aimed solely at Academy members, just to steer their voting. Like sports, it’s often the studios with the deepest pockets who win the awards. There are other factors too, though: actors and people in the business voting for their friends, a great performance no one sees because a movie didn’t do well at the box office, a film’s release date being so long ago that everyone forgets about it come award time, businesses or advertisers outside the film community exerting their influence on the awards, giving an award to a weak performance to make up for years of neglect by Oscar itself—all sorts of things can sway who goes home with the gold.
Now, sometimes Oscar gets it very, very right. Casablanca won Best Picture in 1942, Gone With The Wind won Best Picture in 1939, Jack Nicholson won Best Actor for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, Elizabeth Taylor won Best Actress for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf? in 1966. All of those are well and good, and everything seems right with the world.
Citing a credible source, this topic comes to me from a few good books on Oscar history. The most influential on me would be Alternate Oscars by Danny Peary. This book came out in 1991, so it doesn’t cover the last 19 years, but the idea is really fun. Peary goes through year by year, citing who won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Then he names what his pick is for who should have won in each of those categories instead, and has about a page-long defense of each of his alternates. I have read this book cover to cover several times over the years, because it is a really fun exercise in “what if.” I’m not saying I agree with all of his criticisms all the time, but a good defense of why things should’ve been different becomes a tantalizing brain exercise.
Inspired by this, I have looked over a lot of the years of Academy Awards, and come up with different examples of egregious errors. There are giants in film history who have never won an award. There are others who should have won for their career-defining role, but were edged out by politics or Oscar’s prejudice against some things like comedy.
And I’m not talking about awards where two or three actors all got nominated, but only one could win. A great example of that is Best Supporting Actor for 1993. The nominees were:
Leonardo DiCaprio – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List
Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive
John Malkovich – In The Line Of Fire
Pete Postlethwaite – In The Name Of The Father
Talk about an embarrassment of riches! In fact, all 5 of those nominees were probably the best things in their respective movies. Tommy Lee Jones won that year. I may personally would have preferred Ralph Fiennes winning, but Tommy Lee’s win isn’t really a crime. All of those actors were incredibly deserving.
No, when talking about Oscar committing a crime, I’m looking for the kind of error that leaves your jaw on the floor because you can’t believe it happened. Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to cite some examples, either nominations that didn’t happen but should have, awards that went the wrong way, or movies that were nominated (or won) for things they didn’t deserve.
This week’s first example is also the king of these oversights. It should really give you a good idea of what we are talking about here.
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