David Stehman ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Academy Awards have been the paramour American movie award show for 88 years, with hundreds of Oscars being given out to the biggest and best Hollywood performances and producers. Naturally, there are bound to be a few mistakes – Oscars awarded that seemed natural in the moment, but silly in retrospect. Some mistakes are forgivable, like if a movie loses Best Picture to another front-runner. But others can be considered unforgivable in the cinema world.
10. Brave winning Best Animated Feature in 2013
Following the incredible golden age of Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3, and the abysmal critical failure of Cars 2, Pixar needed to get back on top. They attempted to redefine themselves with Pixar’s first princess, Merida, in the Ancient Scottish adventure movie Brave. While the animation showed the best the industry could provide, many criticized the story to be a bit lacking. What could’ve been a grand adventure starring a feminist princess turned out to be a mother-daughter bonding movie with some bears. It did very well in the box office (as Pixar usually does), but long-time fans felt unsatisfied. And it was a great shock to many when Brave won Best Animated Feature at the 2013 Academy Awards. Brave was up against three stellar stop-motion films (ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, and Pirates! Band of Misfits) and Disney’s unexpectedly intelligent video-game-themed film Wreck-It-Ralph. The Academy may have given Brave the Oscar for Pixar’s name and legacy alone, which certainly makes it unfair to the other nominees. Brave was not one of Pixar’s best; it wasn’t horrible, but not better than the other four nominees. And giving a film an award based on the money spent on the campaign is not right.
Fresh off of the Godfather films and his Palm d’Or-winning Cold War film The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola shocked the film world with the over-budget, hyper-disastrous production of his Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now, and what came out of the napalm smoke was a masterpiece. Apocalypse Now is considered by many as the greatest Vietnam War film of all time, especially with its hallucinatory visuals, the hypnotic soundtrack, and killer performances by Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando. It earned Francis Ford Coppola his second Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and was selling tickets like crazy. But when the 1980 Academy Awards came around, the film lost to the most unlikely film possible: the relatively simple divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in a custody case. When compared to the madness (“the horror!”) of Coppola’s war epic, Kramer vs. Kramer seems like a mouse of a movie. When looking at the political climate of the late 70s, early 80s, divorce started to become more common, and debates arose over what that means to traditional families (think of the children!). A film about the Vietnam War (one that ended in 1975, just four years prior to the release of the movie) was too touchy of a subject at the time, and many wanted to look past the uncomfortable topics of life. Thus, the lighter and simpler film was chosen, even though history pushed Kramer vs. Kramer into obscurity.
Two of the biggest movies of 1950 were about show-business and the darker side behind it: All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard. Both included powerhouse performances by Hollywood legends, and both films are considered among the best of Classic Hollywood. All About Eve, following the competition between a veteran actress and a newcomer trying to steal her spotlight, starred Bette Davis as the fading star (“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”) and Anne Baxter as the duplicitous titular starlet. Sunset Boulevard dealt with similar themes, with Gloria Swanson giving the performance of her career (“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up!”) as a fading silent movie star who goes insane in search for fame. All three actresses were nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role in the 1951 Academy Awards. It was a huge shock to the press and the audience when newcomer Judy Holliday won for Born Yesterday, a comedy-drama film about political corruption in Washington D.C. Since Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson were experienced actresses who became legends with their performances that year, and Anne Baxter turned heads with a performance equal to her co-star in intensity, it didn’t seem right that a newcomer in a now-obscure comedy gets the award.
Schindler’s List shocked millions with its gruesome yet inspiring story of a man who saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust. One of the most powerful performances in that film was from Ralph Fiennes, who played a despicable Nazi commandant who delights in sniping Jews from his balcony for no reason. His performance is unlike any in cinema, and the film would not be as much of a success without his heartless performance. On Oscar Night, however, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor went to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive. While Jones did provide a great foil to Harrison Ford in the manhunt thriller, his deadpan stoicism does not seem a match to Fiennes’ non-empathetic cruelty. Jones almost plays himself in his film, while Fiennes transforms into the literal embodiment of everything evil the Nazis stood for. Tommy Lee Jones may have had more experience than Fiennes, which could explain the win, but Fiennes managed to become a legend in one of his first performances.
Martin Scorsese was already an experienced director by 1991 (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) but GoodFellas is arguably his masterpiece. A gangster movie that rivals The Godfather, GoodFellas managed to blow the audiences away with its quotable dialogue, memorable characters, and gruesome Scorsese violence. It showed the mob world in ways not quite seen before. But Hollywood loves historical epics, no matter how cliché and overhyped they are. Doing the “solider goes native” plotline seen again and again with Pocahontas and Avatar, Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves swept the Oscars, stealing awards from Martin Scorsese for Screenplay and Director, as well as winning Best Picture. The fact that Dances With Wolves is more referred to when comparing copycats than by its own merit should say something. GoodFellas managed to take mob clichés used since the 30s and create an original tale shows that it is a superior film. But once the Academy heard “period piece epic” they couldn’t keep their votes in their pockets.
The Godfather: Part II and Chinatown blew up in 1974. The former was the sequel to the original mob masterpiece and the latter was a neo-noir that took seedy LA to the big screen. Both had powerhouse performances by their lead actors: Al Pacino reprised his role as Michael Corleone and managed to make the character even more evil and cruel than the first installment, and Jack Nicholson gave the performance of his career as a PI who gets tangled up in corruption and lies while trying to solve a murder. Both performances are legendary, but in 1975 the Oscar went to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. You may ask, “What the hell is Harry and Tonto?” Many filmgoers nowadays certainly don’t know. Harry and Tonto was an episodic road-trip movie about an old man and his cat as they cross the country. It featured Art Carney, who carried the film in a comedic light. The Academy certainly likes to play it safe, and the cynical performances by Pacino and Nicholson could have certainly scared off the more conservative voters.
Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest artists in cinema, and his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey changed science-fiction cinema forever and what movies could be used for. With limited dialogue yet a cerebral, unsettling impact, the power of 2001 came from Kubrick’s direction and mastery. But his vision and legacy failed to impress the Academy, who awarded Carol Reed for Best Director for his upbeat Dickens musical Oliver!. 2001 wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Many film scholars have seen the 1969 Academy Awards as a sign of Hollywood’s fear of the world around them. The late 60s brought in the end of the Production Code (the censorship laws that dominated Hollywood since the 30s) and the peak of Vietnam protests and political unrest between generations. In order to put up a sense of normalcy, the Academy allowed Oliver! to sweep the Oscars. It makes sense due to the context of the time to avoid giving Oscars to complicated or challenging films, but it ended up robbing Stanley Kubrick with his best chance for a Best Director Oscar.
1994 has been called one of the greatest years in movies. The Lion King, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, the list goes on. But it was the critically controversial Forrest Gump that beat the Palm d’Or winning Pulp Fiction and the sleeper hit masterpiece Shawshank Redemption. Many have looked on Forrest Gump, a summary of the second half of the 20th century through the eyes of a simple-minded American, as a good movie. But when compared to the immense legacy of Tarantino’s black comedy and Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, Forrest Gump seems like a safe choice. Another historical epic, Forrest Gump fulfils the general categories of an Oscar winner. The film did not take the risks of Pulp Fiction or packed the emotional, inspirational punch of Shawshank. The Academy played it safe with a decent movie, but not the best of the year.
This is one of the most heated debates in Oscar history. The 2000s featured a rapid development of LGBT rights in America, and Hollywood was on a roll with New Queer Cinema in the 90s filling independent cinema. But in 2005, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain managed to make it to the mainstream, becoming the highest-grossing gay romance film in cinema history. It won countless awards and swept the awards season that year. But when it came to the Oscars, it lost to Crash. Who remembers that movie? Exactly. The LA-set drama seemed like an obvious choice for the LA-based Academy, especially if the more conservative voters refused to watch Brokeback Mountain based on the premise alone. But Brokeback Mountain changed LGBT representation in America and told a powerful love story equal to any classic Hollywood romance. The Academy, always slow with the times, may have been faced with institutional homophobia of the time. Some critics like Roger Ebert refute this claim, saying Crash is a better film. But even after 10 years, Crash has faded to obscurity. The Academy made a big mistake with this one.
The mother of all Oscar mistakes. No matter how you feel about the film that the American Film Institute calls “the greatest of all time,” Citizen Kane changed everything about Hollywood, from cinematography to screenwriting to directing. But the film was also based around William Randolph Hearst, a press mogul who hated the movie so much he ran a smear campaign on Orson Welles and the film. It is no secret that Hearst spun the media to create bad reviews and intimidated the Academy into voting against the film. And on Oscar night in 1942, Citizen Kane only received one win (for Best Screenplay) out of nine nominations. The obscure Wales-set period piece How Green Was My Valley was chosen as the winner for Best Director and Best Picture, something Hollywood has never forgiven the Academy for doing. It’s one thing to be a product of the times, but it’s another to be intimidated by money and power.
Let’s hope the 88th Academy Awards (airing on February 28 on ABC) doesn’t make mistakes like the ones on this list.