15 Times the Academy Got it Wrong (and Right) in the Last 15 Years

Posted: February 22, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The Academy receives a lot of flak, much of it for good reasons. They’ve certainly made some head scratching decisions in the past, and will likely continue to do so for as long as there is an Academy. Still, for all their mistakes, they usually get a few things right each year. With that in mind, I present the last fifteen years at the Academy, with presenting an egregious mistake, but also a smart choice which holds up well. I’m strictly looking at the winners here. You wouldn’t see any list entries specifically focusing on what was and wasn’t nominated.

The 72nd Academy Awards

Wrong: Michael Caine wins Best Supporting Actor for The Cider House RulesThe-Cider-House-Rules-Screencaps-michael-caine-6143378-550-330

We all love Michael Caine, but there’s really no way he should have won for his performance in The Cider House Rules. His character is just kind of bland and Caine’s American accent is atrocious. The award should have been given to Tom Cruise for his electric and unforgettable turn in Magnolia. Failing that, Michael Clarke Duncan or Jude Law would have also been better for their work in The Green Mile and The Talented Mr. Ripley, respectively.

Right: The Matrix sweeps the technical categories (Sound Effects Editing, Sound, Visual Effects, and Film Editing)the-matrix-billboard

The Matrix was a game changer which changed how action films looked and sounded for a long time. I can see why the film may have been ignored for awards like Best Picture (even though I disagree) but there’s really no denying the technical supremacy of the film.

The 73rd Academy Awards

Wrong: Julie Roberts wins Best Actress for Erin Brokovichjulia_roberts_erin_brockovich_cleavage_1_XhFJ9JX.sized

This is one of those cases where Roberts’ placement has more to do with the competition. Erin Brokovich is an enjoyable enough film and I do think Roberts gives a fun performance, but Ellen Burstyn is absolutely heart-breaking in Requiem for a Dream, providing one of the best performances of her career. It’s not the sexiest of roles, but it’s unforgettable and demanding.

Right: Benicio del Toro wins Best Supporting Actor for Traffictraffic

I love Traffic, and I’m happy about a lot of the awards it received from the Academy. However I’ve decided to specifically cite del Toro winning for his complex portrayal of a Mexican cop trying to do the right thing in a hard situation. It’s a subtle performance that would have been easy to overlook and I’m glad it wasn’t.

The 74th Academy Awards

Wrong: Ron Howard wins Best Director for A Beautiful Mindrussell_crowe_ron_howard_001

I don’t hate A Beautiful Mind like many people seem to, but it’s not an overly impressive work and Howard’s heavy handed direction rubs me the wrong way. It’s shame because some first-rate directors were nominated for some great films. Robert Altman’s last great film Gosford Park, Ridley Scott’s technically accomplished and authentic Black Hawk Down, and Peter Jackson’s epic and awesome The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring were all also nominated and would have been far better choices. Then there are the directors who made awesome films that weren’t even nominated, like Christopher Nolan (Memento), Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums), and Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También).

Right: Denzel Washington wins Best Actor for Training Daytumblr_mgvwn1rj5l1qc6ngco1_500

There’s a belief that Denzel’s win is something of an apology for snubbing his performance in Malcolm X. That may be, but if so it’s one of the best cases of the politics of the Oscars working in the favour of quality. Washington’s performance in Training Day is awesome, a highlight of both the film and the actor’s illustrious career.

The 75th Academy Awards

Wrong: Chicago wins Best Picture11462_4

Chicago is a fun movie with style, but Best Picture? The film is easily the worst of the five nominees, and ultimately a pretty safe and forgettable choice. The Pianist and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers especially stand out as two films that were far more deserving. Then we have my two favourite films of the year, Minority Report and 25th Hour, which the Academy chose to not even nominate.

Right: Spirited Away wins Best Animated Filmspirited-away-no-face

I’m not even a big fan of this movie, but Spirited Away is still head and shoulders above the other animated films of 2002 with its beautiful animation and designs. It’s also comforting to know an artist like Miyazaki has an Oscar.

The 76th Academy Awards

Wrong: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King wins Best Film Editingsaruman death

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an amazing cinematic accomplishment and I do like that one of them one Best Picture, but some of the love Return of the King received is a bit baffling. Case in point its winning of Best Editing. How can a film which has a seemingly never ending series of endings while simultaneously omitting crucial details win an award for editing? This might have been okay if the competition was stiff, but also nominated was City of God, which has masterful editing and a frenetic style which has been imitated greatly since.

Right: Sean Penn wins Best Actor for Mystic RiverMysticRiver_SeanPenn-005

Return of the King’s Oscar dominance had a tendency to stomp all over the great Mystic River and City of God, but the former did manage to get in for the acting categories. Penn’s turn is especially worthy of its praise, playing both a hurt father figure as well as a dangerous and intimidating figure. It’s a very layered and powerful role.

The 77th Academy Awards

Wrong: Finding Neverland wins Best Score300_album_30742

Do you remember a single note of Finding Neverland’s score? Do you even remember Finding Neverland? I sure don’t, and yet this managed to beat out the notable scores for The Passion of the Christ and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In truth, this category was a letdown this year. Great scores ignored include The Incredibles, Kill Bill Volume Two, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Spider-Man 2.

Right: Charlie Kaufman wins Best Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindgreen-eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-screenshot

Charlie Kaufman writes some of the most interesting moves you’ll ever see and it was about time he be acknowledged. Eternal Sunshine might well be his crowning achievement, creating deep characters, featuring great dialogue, an unpredictable structure, and a totally original high concept. It’s perfect.

The 78th Academy Awards

Wrong: Crash wins Best Picturecrash-4-large

I won’t spend much time here as this is almost certainly the most maligned Oscar choice in recent memory. Just a really flawed and heavy handed effort which had no business even being nominated.

Right: “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle and Flow wins Best Original SongTerrence-Howard-as-DJay-in-Hustle-and-Flow

Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” had previously won this award for 8 Mile, but I think this was an even bigger victory for a hip hop song. “Lose Yourself” is a song about meeting challenges and overcoming adversity, performed by the biggest artist of the time, and in a film directed by a prestigious filmmaker. This song is about the difficulties of pimping, written by a moderately successful rap group, and featured in a new filmmaker’s freshman effort. And yet the song proves to be a passionate and moving anthem completely deserving of its victory.

The 79th Academy Awards

Wrong: Little Miss Sunshine wins Best Original Screenplaylittlemiss1

I like Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a cute movie with some genuinely funny moments. But it’s also twee and disposable. There’s no way in hell it deserved to win over compelling and complex nominees Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Queen.

Right: Helen Mirren wins Best Actress for The QueenHelen-Mirren-in-The-Queen-001

It might be easy to dismiss Mirren’s performance as being the type of Oscar bait biopic work that the Academy usually honours, but anyone who has seen The Queen knows that isn’t the case. Mirren creates a wonderfully layered portrait of a complex figure trying to discover what to do and her place in the modern world. It’s a masterclass in how to create a character through subtlety.

The 80th Academy Awards

Wrong: Atonement wins Best Original ScoreAtonement+OST+Atonement+HQ+PNG

Unlike Finding Neverland, which had a forgettable score, Atonement’s score is overbearing and actively distracts from the film while watching. The notion of fusing the sounds of a typewriter into the music was misguided and very annoying. Anyway, the score of the year was clearly Johnny Greenwood’s for There Will Be Blood, but since the Academy deemed it ineligible they probably should have gone with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford…which also wasn’t nominated. Whatever.

Right: Daniel Day-Lewis wins Best Actor for There Will Be Blooddlpeeps

This is one of the greatest performances of all-time. To award anything else would have been insanity.

The 81st Academy Awards

Wrong: Sean Penn wins Best Actor for MilkSean-Penn-in-Milk

Penn definitely deserved his Oscar for Mystic River, but not for Milk. He’s very good, don’t get me wrong, but this was Mickey Rourke’s to win. His heart wrenching turn in The Wrestler is one of the best performances in recent memory and is still remembered fondly, whereas Milk is largely forgotten.

Right: Heath Ledger wins Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knightheath-ledger-dark-knight

The Dark Knight was the most talked about film of 2008 and much of that came from Ledger’s incredible portrayal of famous super villain The Joker. This performance was a complete icon almost immediately and his performance has already been immortalized as one of the best villains of all time. No, he didn’t win because he died, he won because he was the best.

The 82nd Academy Awards

Wrong: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire wins Best Adapted Screenplayprecious06

No one talks about it now, but critics seemed to love Precious back in 2009. This is a sappy and simplistic movie which indulges in clichés and features some very underdeveloped characters. Other nominees were District 9, An Education, In the Loop, and Up in the Air. In the Loop is easily my choice, but really any of the nominees would have been better than Precious.

Right: Mo’Nique wins Best Supporting Actress for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphirepicture_2_copy3

I pretty much hate Precious, but also believe in being fair. Mo’Nnique gives a genuinely compelling and intense performance, turning a one-dimensional villain into a character with some complexity. She really makes the most out of what she has and is a primary reason people believed Precious was better than it really is.

The 83rd Academy Awards

Wrong: The King’s Speech wins Best PictureThe-Kings-Speech-ian-jack-007

This was the first year I really followed the award’s season and I remember getting into a lot of debates regarding its artistic quality. It’s a good movie I suppose, but it’s the type of safe middlebrow fluff that makes me roll my eyes. These movies exist to win awards, and they tend to be forgotten pretty quickly, which is certainly the case here. This is a year that gave us bold cinematic works like Inception, The Social Network, and Black Swan, along with excellent audience pleasers like Toy Story 3, True Grit, and The Fighter. Pick any of these at random and you have a better winner than The King’s Speech.

Right: The Social Network wins Best Adapted Screenplaysocial

The Social Network was the Best Picture frontrunner for a long time before Harvey Weinstein’s campaigning turned the tide. Still, the Academy at least still honoured Aaron Sorkin’s excellent screenplay. The dialogue is of course the stand out, but Sorkin also deserves credit for crafting some well-realized characters and turning the founding of a website into a genuinely exciting story.

The 84th Academy Awards

Wrong: The Artist wins Best Picturethe-artist-scream

I’m embarrassed to say I fully supported this choice back in 2011. I was a lot younger than and I know a lot more about film and silent cinema now. This may have more style and ambition than The King’s Speech, but at the end of the day this is another safe and middlebrow film which is unchallenging and it isn’t nearly as powerful or moving as it thinks it is. To be honest, all of the Best Picture nominees were pretty flawed, but I’d still say Hugo, Midnight in Paris, or The Descendants would have all been much better choices.

Right: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wins Best Film Editing102611-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-clothing

This gets a lot of points for being a surprise. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of the best films of the year, but a lot of its nominations seemed more like afterthoughts or place fillers. It was pretty thrilling to see this award come and it was well-earned. The film is cut in a very crisp and thrilling matter, with the multiple storylines and characters all being handled perfectly.

The 85th Academy Awards

Wrong: Life of Pi wins Best CinematographyLife-of-Pi-Richard-Parker

This is the problem with certain films tending to dominate the tech categories. Life of Pi is a great film which looks amazing and does deserve credit for a lot of aspects, but cinematography? Most of this film is shot on a green screen. It’s not the cinematography that makes it all look so great, it’s the computer generated imagery. This would have been a good time to finally honour Roger Deakins for Skyfall, but there were other beautifully shot films which weren’t even nominated like Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Master.

Right: “Skyfall” from Skyfall wins Best Original Songff2173a4673f7e01f70d3ce1e52f7e52

As a James Bond fan, it was pretty cool to see Skyfall so represented at the Oscars. In retrospect, it probably didn’t deserve to be seen as such a vast leap for the series, but this is one award it definitely deserved. Adele’s performance of “Skyfall” is awesome and in truth the series was long overdue for an Oscar for Best Original Song.

The 86th Academy Awards

Wrong: Gravity wins Best Cinematographygravity_clooney_bullock_tether.jpg.CROP.original-original

Same deal as Life of Pi. Gravity is an incredible technical achievement, but most of it was created on green screens. Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners, or 12 Years a Slave were much more photographically accomplished.

Right: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture12-years-a-slave-trailer-2

Tonight may mark one of the rare occasions where the Best Picture winner is also my favourite film of the year. Interestingly enough, this is exactly what happened last year when Steve McQueen’s excellent portrayal of American slavery, 12 Years a Slave, won Best Picture. To be sure, the film is not an easy watch. It’s a harrowing depiction of one of the darkest chapters in American history. However the film is something of a must see not only for historical importance, but also for the masterful filmmaking on display. This is clearly the work of a director at the height of his prowess, not only getting the best work out of everyone involved, but also making some bold decisions which pay off in big ways.

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