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The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years

LISTS - MOVIE LISTS

There's justice, and then there's the Oscars...

Give it back. C'moonnn...

The Academy Awards are defined as “recognizing the excellence of professionals in the film industry, including actors, directors and writers”. Now this may be true, and while most of the films awarded with the prestigious little golden man are indeed excellent, the adjective “best” that goes in front of each award sort of makes you think 'excellent' isn’t always enough.

Here is a list of 10 films, actors, directors and writers that won, they were (mostly) good films, but to deem the “best” that year in their respective categories is a little far-fetched...

10: No Country For Old Men (2008) – Best Adapted Screenplay

No Country For Old Men (2008)

The 2008 Academy Awards saw two non-traditional Westerns go head to head: the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2008). Daniel Day Lewis rightly took home the Best Actor in a Leading Role award for his role of Daniel Plainview, but No Country For Old Men came out on top in every other category, winning for Best Direction, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay - and Javier Bardem picked up a Best Supporting Actor for portraying the chilling assassin Anton Chigurh. It is hard to find any qualms about the film - anyone who has seen it would be brave to argue against the Coen Brothers’ ability to portray an aged but still menacing Old West. But having read Cormac McCarthy’s excellent novel, to propose that it took much work to develop a screenplay from such seamless source material is laughable. When interviewed about the writing process, Ethan Coen explained “one of us types into the computer while the other one holds the book open flat”.

What Should Have Won: There Will Be Blood - what else? Paul Thomas Anderson’s developed a 1927 novel Oil! and not only maintained the important plot elements but also made it relevant to the capitalistic greed that preceded the global economic crisis.

There Will Be Blood (2008)

9: Denzel Washington – Training Day (2001) – Best Actor

Denzel Washington – Training Day (2001)

Denzel Washington had already established himself as a top actor by the time Training Day came out; it’s a shame that since he’s one of those actors you have a level of expectation about, Training Day meets none of them. It’s hard to tell whether he is over-hashing his lines or his lines just aren’t good enough for an actor like Denzel. Training Day bumbles through an average story, celebrity cameos and a car from a Starsky and Hutch-themed orgy adding to the odd cliché dotted here and there.

Who Should Have Won: There was a lot of political and emotional tension surrounding the 2002 Academy Awards, the first since 9/11 and also the first time two actors of African descent picked up the two lead awards (Halle Berry also won for Monster’s Ball (2001)). There may have been nothing in this, and only a cynic would even make that connection, but even if this did hold any influence, and even more so if it didn’t, Will Smith’s performance as Muhammad Ali in the eponymous Ali (2001) should have won hands down. Will Smith marks his transition from bubble-gum rapper and family TV star to a genuine dramatic leading role with an astounding performance of an ego so big that would have certainly flopped if it hadn’t been for an ego equally as big leading the charge.

Ali (2001)

8: Shakespeare In Love (1998) – Best Picture

Shakespeare In Love (1998)

Is this the most forgettable film to win Best Picture? It’s one of those where you say “oh yeah I’ve seen it, no it was....erm...good”. When a film is remembered more for the acceptance speech (you know, that Gwyneth Paltrow moment) you know it isn’t one for the ages. The film ticks almost all British film checkboxes. Period drama? Check. About or involving Shakespeare? Check. Colin Firth? Check. Shakespeare In Love isn’t bad - it’s just not very good. Speech impediment jokes and hilarious gender confusion? The humour feels a little cheap and the plot is supported throughout by the viewer's presumed prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works.

What Should Have Won: Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was a tossup as to whether to include Shakespeare in Love as either most undeserving for Best Picture or Best Direction. Steven Spielberg’s take on the landings at Omaha Beach alone was deserving of a new category of Oscar. The handheld camera and scoreless approach to the scene showed a side of war not seen before in film, and set a new standard that has been much-imitated but not bettered since.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

7: Forrest Gump (1994) – Best Direction

Forrest Gump (1994)

As Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder (2008) succinctly explained, Forrest Gump may have had braces on his legs, but he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong contest. He definitely deserved to become only the second actor after Spencer Tracy in the 1930s to win Best Actor two years running (his first was for Philadelphia in 1993) but it’s rare that a film divides opinions as much as Forrest Gump. The Marmite of Best Picture winners, you either love it or hate it. To some it’s one of the most heart-warming, era-spanning love stories ever told, while to others it is nothing more than soppy melodrama reliant on historical events and figures to keep you watching.

What Should Have Won: Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994). 1992’s Reservoir Dogs marked the almost subdued arrival of one of cinema’s most respected film makers, Mr Tarantino. In 1994, he made his point. Tarantino never went to film school; as he put it “I went to films”. Tarantino’s non-linear, slick-talking criminal masterpiece with a soundtrack to match didn’t rewrite the rule book; it hadn’t even read the rule book. A film that rivals The Godfather (1972), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Casablanca (1942) at the top of most critics’ best-ever lists surely deserved more than the one Oscar it received for Best Original Screenplay. It went up against Forrest Gump for Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), and should have won in at least one of those categories.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

6: Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton (2007) – Best Supporting Actress

Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton (2007)

Tilda Swinton’s turn in the corporate corruption drama, starring George Clooney as the eponymous Clayton, is not a bad performance; in fact it’s quite solid. But aside from a speech-rehearsal scene in the opening 20 minutes and the final restrained confrontation, there isn’t much else to it. Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor award in 1990 for his infamous portrayal of Hannibal Lecter after only 24 minutes of screen time, a record that still stands. While Tilda Swinton’s award was for Best Supporting Actress and not lead, the modest amount of screen time she held can’t help but leave the impression it wasn’t sufficient enough to win.

Who Should Have Won: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby, Gone (2007). Ben Affleck may have become one of the easiest actors to ridicule, yet slowly but surely, he is quietly making his name as an accomplished director. Compared to an episode of The Wire, Gone Baby, Gone is a twisting and turning thriller that burns slow enough to involve you intimately but fast enough to keep you excited. Amy Ryan (who's also in The Wire) features prominently as the mother of the missing child and her performance as the drug-riddled, seemingly unconcerned but ultimately vulnerable mother is astounding. Her dedication to the role was such that she was not allowed passage to the set, as she was mistaken for a member of the crowd by security.

Gone Baby, Gone (2007)

5: Dances with Wolves (1990) – Best Picture

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Dances with Wolves marked the revival of the Western. Other than that, it’s not very good. Kevin Costner’s directorial debut was expertly shot, making the conceptually infinite prairie a forgotten reality and applying a delicate touch of grace to an otherwise historical yarn. But either his insistence at directing himself in the lead role or his reluctance to trim the running time down from 3 hours plus sees this movie slip further down the ranks as the years go by. The term 'politically correct' hadn’t hit the heights of its politically correct madness (you can’t say mad anymore), but this picture toed the line like a police officer on reprimand, lingering on everything and over-empathising with the Native Americans.

What Should Have Won: Goodfellas (1990). Need I say more? Scorsese’s true story of New York mobsters was the first film to further the 'mob' genre since The Godfather (1972), and saw one of the best performances ever captured on screen in Joe Pesci’s sociopathic Tommy. Chuck that in with the superb Robert De Niro, the intensely dark and intriguing Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco’s anguished Karen Hill, and overlooking Goodfellas must be one of the Academy’s biggest regrets.

Goodfellas (1990)

4: Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive (1993) – Best Supporting Actor

The Fugitive ticks every box it should: fast, dramatic and extreme. But Oscar worthy? Tommy Lee Jones does what he does best, taking care of business. He talks fast and orders people around; but other than that? His Samuel Gerard is surely limited at best; a slight tremor of decency in the final scene is the only development his character shows. While this may have been the point of the character - to hunt - and the job certainly was done well, to deem it worthy of an Academy Award is perhaps a touch too far.

Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive (1993)

Who Should Have Won: Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List (1993). Ralph Fiennes on first glance is the archetypal English actor - tall, posh and educated. He’s only out-Britted by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. So why is he not playing incredibly repressed Edwardian homosexuals in cravats? Because he’s actually good, as his recent performances in In Bruges (2008) and even Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series prove. Neither of these compare though to the purposely insane Amon Göth, the SS Commander who is placed in charge of the Płaszów concentration camp. Fiennes is at once remorselessly murderous, insecure and sociopathic. The intensity of his performance was such that one genuine survivor of the concentration camp broke down in terror at the accuracy of his portrayal.

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List (1993)

3: Sean Penn – Mystic River (2003) – Best Actor

Clint Eastwood’s drama became the first film since Ben Hur (1959) almost 50 years before to take home Oscars for both Best Actor and Supporting Actor, with Tim Robbins winning the latter. It’s just a shame that neither were deserved. The film is lacking, the mystery frustrates rather than intrigues, and the characters are device-like in their interactions. Penn does his best to bring life to the character, but still comes up short.

Sean Penn – Mystic River (2003)

Who Should Have Won: Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003). Bill Murray has become known for playing the quick-witted, hapless, loveable scoundrel he is in reality. Rather than pretending this is a coincidence, Lost in Translation acknowledges this. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a successful actor tired of where his decisions have landed him, alone and disconnected from his family. Murray’s vulnerability is obvious, but his demeanour only falters. His frailty and personal depletion is subtle and delicate; he should have won if only by dint of proving that he is capable of much more than wrestling ghosts and ad-libbing the odd one-liner.

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003)

2: Kevin Spacey – The Usual Suspects (1995) – Best Supporting Actor

Kevin Spacey – The Usual Suspects (1995)

A film like The Usual Suspects must be an actor’s dream: to play someone who is lying. If you do it well, great; if you do it badly, then you were doing it badly on purpose to enhance the character. The Usual Suspects is a film that no one really understands; there are some plot holes that aren’t even worth arguing about anymore, and the whole film hinges on a twist that relies on impressing the viewer enough that they forgive or forget any discrepancies. Spacey’s performance is impressively complex, but in a film that deliberately confuses with only cheap explanations.

Who Should Have Won: Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys (1995). Brad Pitt can be filed with fellow A-List nominees Johnny Depp, Will Smith and Leonardo di Caprio. All started as heart throbs but have forged respectable careers in leading dramatic roles. None have won an Academy Award, but all four have deserved one at least once. Pitt deserved his for 12 Monkeys. Think Brad Pitt and think several films that involve him standing round eating and looking cool - no argument there. But in 12 Monkeys Pitt flexed his thespian muscles with a resounding performance as the unhinged hyperactive activist Jeffrey Goines. A role his super-star status would probably prevent him from even being considered for now; but the commitment and dedication on display were surely worth more than just a nomination.

Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys (1995)

1: Babe (1995) – Best Visual Effects

Babe (1995)

Babe was the inspirational masterpiece that touched the hearts of a generation, it’s just a pity the part of the heart it touched was the clogged-up artery of the average bacon fan; and that’s everyone. Who would have thought a few loops of a pig opening and closing its mouth dubbed over and made into a family friendly romp would be so successful? It went on to gross over 250 million dollars worldwide and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, though it garnered only one; it’s just a shame that its main competitor outperformed it in any one scene. Pick one; it doesn’t matter, it’s better.

What Should Have Won: Apollo 13 (1995). Ron Howard’s historically accurate account of the doomed 3rd mission to the moon was nothing short of a masterpiece. The attention to detail whilst maintaining the drama was alone worthy of an Oscar win. If it hadn’t been for the release of Mel Gibson’s face-painting epic Braveheart (1995), it would have won Best Picture without breaking a sweat. As it was, though, the launch-pad scenes and weightless scenes (filmed in genuine zero-gravity on the infamous 'Vomit Comet') deserved the Best Visual Effects award with ease.

Apollo 13 (1995)

See also:

10 times the Golden Globes got it right and the Oscars didn’t

Live Blog: 2011 Academy Awards

Academy Award predictions 2011

Forget the Oscars, here are the Whedon Oscars!

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Comments 

 
#1 Great list, Dominic... Gabriel_Ruzin 2010-12-16 14:45
These kind of lists are always difficult because there are so many snubs to choose from (How Green Was My Valley beating out Citizen Kane for Best Picture in 1941 leaps to mind).

To play Devil's Advocate on a lark, I'll go ahead and disagree with your #10 and #7. No Country and There Will Be Blood were, I think, a tossup. Either could have won and I'd have been satisfied. I saw both and really couldn't pick the better of the two but I was happy with No Country winning because of the Coens directing. hehe

As far as #7 goes, I agree that Forrest Gump was overrated by the Academy, but instead of Pulp Fiction, I'd have personally gone with one of my all-time favs Shawshank Redemption. Talk about a classic that got no love.

So yeah, just a couple slight disagreements, but these kind of lists always attract a variety of 'opinions'. Nice work! :)
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#2 There Will Be Blood Shauna 2010-12-16 14:52
oh yeah, and There WIll Be Blood should've won Best Picture as well... i like No Country For Old Men, but i absolutely LOVE There Will Be Blood!! : )
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#3 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years kevin 2010-12-16 15:01
I still can't believe Goodfellas did not win best picture! But I prefer to view it that way, I don't blame Dances with Wolves or try to discredit it; that is the problem with these lists.
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#4 maybe my first comment didn't go through... Shauna 2010-12-16 15:01
maybe my first comment didn't go through, but that was actually the second comment i sent in, which is why it starts out with an 'oh yeah.'

just thought i should explain why it looks so funny!! : )
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#5 What? Page 2010-12-16 15:24
What a disappointing list! Even when you are right you are wrong, Dances with Wolves"its not very good." "No one really understands" The Usual Suspects. What don't you understand? Plus you even say Kevin Spacey's perfomance was "impressively complex," and you are right which is why he won the Oscar. And then you're number one comes in the category of Best Visual Effects. Gaberiel is right these lists are difficult (though I think How Green Was My Valley is a better film then Citizen Kane) because of how subjective they are but this list doesn't even lend itself to interesting debate.
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#6 Mistake Johannes 2010-12-16 15:25
I just want to point out that the article says it was a tossup whether to include Shakespeare in love for best picture of direction. Actually, it isnt since Spielberg (rightfully) did actually win the academy award for direction.
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#7 Some yes some no Whitaker 2010-12-16 15:36
Will Smith in Ali over Russell Crowe, nope. The peformance was great because he is a great actor. However, a good Ali imitation does not beat Crowe's Nash. This is the first I have heard that said. Dances with Wolves not good? Seriously.... Goodfellas was awesome but unlucky. Could've won it any year but got stuck in a year where another all time great came out. Bad Luck doesn't mean Dances was bad. Also, Brad Pitt over Spacey, that's just ridiculous. Once again, 12 monkeys performance was awesome, Spacey's performance was all-time awesome. BTW, There Will Be Blood not as great as your gushfest described it.
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#8 @Whitaker Martin Anderson 2010-12-16 15:38
Quoting Whitaker:
BTW, There Will Be Blood not as great as your gushfest described it.


I agree. It's better. There Will Be Blood was THE film of 2008. Like getting Kubrick back from the dead.
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#9 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Violet 2010-12-16 15:44
Um..No Country For Old Men will go down as one of the top three winners of the past 20 years and you put it in top 10 of the worst? That's ridiculous. There are far worse wins. There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men will both go down as two of the greatest films of recent times. One may favor one over the other, but at the end of the day both are masterpieces. If There Will Be Blood wins, you would have people complaining about No Country's loss. But there could only be one winner.
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#10 Are you serious? John Z. 2010-12-16 15:45
Outside of Shakespeare in Love's win (which didn't win Best Director, Spielberg did), this is probably the most unobservant analysis of underserved Oscars that I've ever seen. If you really want to make a list like this, how about Slumdog Millionaire's butt-kissing two years ago that completely overshadowed the not-even-nominated The Dark Knight or how about Renee Zellweger's make-up Oscar for the drab and lifeless Cold Mountain or Titanic's win over so many more deserving pictures that year? This is really an unobservant list. Babe's effects were groundbreaking, Zemeckis hit a new stride with directing, No Country was a masterpiece and Kevin Spacey was wonderfully complex in The Usual Suspects. I'm surprised that with all your contempt for 1995, you neglected to include Braveheart's wins.
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#11 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Martin Anderson 2010-12-16 15:47
Quoting John Z.:
If you really want to make a list like this, how about Slumdog Millionaire's butt-kissing two years ago that completely overshadowed the not-even-nominated The Dark Knight -


Had to stop reading at that point.
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#12 Correction... Gabriel_Ruzin 2010-12-16 15:49
#10 has been changed, per author's request. No Country for Old Men's entry should have been for 'Best Adapted Screenplay', not 'Best Picture'. We apologize for the error.
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#13 Spacey vs, Pitt JT 2010-12-16 16:07
Saw both movies. Spacey deserved it.

I agree with most of the others, Fiennes and Ryan though the biggest disappointment was Murrays loss for Lost in Translation.

And you forgot to mention discussing Training Day how Tom Wilkinson got ripped off for Hollywoood PC
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#14 the usual suspects: SPOILER ALERT Bill Paige 2010-12-16 16:11
maybe my take on the usual suspects is wrong, but i get the feeling this guy didn't quite grasp the concept of the ending in the usual suspects. after spacey's character is let go, the detective turns around and realizes that he invented the whole story using names and ideas he got from newspaper clippings on the wall. this signifies that all of, or at least parts of, the story that spacey has been telling the whole movie has been complete lies. therefore, the audience is left to speculate on what is true or false. so you can't really claim there are plot holes because we don't know what actually happened. as for the oscar, i actually agree and would have picked brad pitt if i was a voter.
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#15 Esq. John N. 2010-12-16 16:12
A good list overall. I have to disagree with you on Tilda Swinton & Denzel Washington. Tilda Swinton's performance is good in so many ways because she accurately portrays how a career climbing woman would act in the corporate law field. Having worked in that field, it is an accurate portrayal as someone who will supress their conscience when it gets in the way of their career goals. Amy Ryan is good, but Swinton is better.

As for Denzel Washington, I do agree that it is not his best performance and the Academy may have been giving him a make up Oscar for dismissing his "Malcolm X" performance. However, his potrayal of a morally corrupt cop is also one of the best and most accurate potrayals of a police officer who has so much power that he believes any action can be done with impunity.

I guess we will have to agree to disagree on Will Smith. I mean you are kidding right? While it was a decent performance, his best acting took place long ago in "Six Degrees of Separation". Other than that film, none of his performances can ever equal any of Denzel Washington's work.

Other than those two instances, I would say you are right on with the list. Thanks and happy holidays!
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#16 Plot Hole Dominic Ladden 2010-12-16 16:20
Quoting Bill Paige:
maybe my take on the usual suspects is wrong, but i get the feeling this guy didn't quite grasp the concept of the ending in the usual suspects. after spacey's character is let go, the detective turns around and realizes that he invented the whole story using names and ideas he got from newspaper clippings on the wall. this signifies that all of, or at least parts of, the story that spacey has been telling the whole movie has been complete lies. therefore, the audience is left to speculate on what is true or false. so you can't really claim there are plot holes because we don't know what actually happened. as for the oscar, i actually agree and would have picked brad pitt if i was a voter.


I'm not going to reply to the rest of these comments, as it is only opinion after all. But the major plothole I take objection to in The Usual Suspects is the name Kobayashi; just before Spacey leaves, someone comes in to say that a lawyer just posted regarding the ship explosion. His name is Kobayashi. About 2 minutes later, you see all the names on the walls etc. and Kobayashi is on the bottom of a cup. If he's just made that up, then how has a lawyer posted with the same name?
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#17 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years MSE 2010-12-16 16:23
Mostly agreed, except "No Country for Old Men" was well deserved.

My number 1, however, would be "Crash" - an obvious film which heisted the close from "Magnolia." "Brokeback Mountain" should have taken the Oscar hands down.
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#18 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years PG 2010-12-16 16:34
Pretty solid list and agree with pretty much everything except #10 and #9.

No Country and There Will Be Blood were both great films that year so to pick one over the other shouldn't be a knock to the one not picked. I do also favor There Will Be Blood, but both movies are essentially 1-A and 1-B.

As for Denzel, I thought he was great and deserved the award; however, since Training Day there have been many characters he's played that mirror his role in that movie, which maybe has taken some of the luster out of Denzel's acting skills.

Lastly, I think you missed one on this list: Best Picture 2007, The Departed!! That was a sympathy award for Scorsese after all those years of snubs, as The Departed was a shoddy remake of a superior film, Infernal Affairs. Then during the announcement of the award at the Oscars, the announcer gets the country of origin wrong for Infernal Affairs. Deplorable.
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#19 Missed a big one! timtom 2010-12-16 16:45
Julia Roberts as best actress? I suppose that one could be it's own full article.
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#20 agree with all but number 3 justin 2010-12-16 16:47
Your article is very good and I have shared many of these same points. Although I was rooting for denzel on oscar night the subsequent years have shown me it was not an oscar worthy performance.

However, Sean Penn's heart-broken gangster in Mystic River was by far the best performance of that year. Bill Murray was as I see it Bill Murray in Lost In Tanslation, a man who doesn't really care about the world around him but is interested in attractive young women. Penn's delivery of "is that my daughter in there" still chills me to the bone today.
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#21 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Willie 2010-12-16 17:04
Ok, Titanic!!!!!! No way was that worthy of best picture!!!!! The dark knight not even given a nod?!?! The departed also given best picture was because the Academy screwed Scorsese for decades!!!! I do agree with a lot of the list though, some calls are a little close to call.
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#22 Most Undeserving Best Picture Ever Mick 2010-12-16 17:15
I can't believe Gladiator was left off this list, which has to be the most undeserving Best Picture, as well as the most undeserving Best Actor for Russel Crowe--moreso than either of your entries. No one ever saw Gladiator and thought to themselves, wow that movie deserves awards. Gladiator winning would be like giving Oscars to Armageddon or 300.
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#23 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Vin 2010-12-16 17:40
Pretty good list. The two that stand out with me (amongst a lot over the years) are The Departed, which I thought was a terrible film-I mean best editing? That film has two of the most laughable editing bloopers of all time in it, and the other really undeserving one was Traffic. The cinematography was headache inducing. I totaly agree on Mystic River's mystery being "frustrating rather than intriguing", but I thought Penn & Robbins were very good, easily the best parts of that film. Please note these are just my own opinions.
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#24 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Dave 2010-12-16 18:31
Will Smith getting an Oscar for best actor? Don't make me laugh. He doesn't have the ability to play Ali convincingly and that's blatantly obvious throughout the film.
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#25 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Peter1 2010-12-16 18:39
Too bad your time span doesn't cover one of the worst atrocities in Oscar history. Yes, I am referring to Apocalypse Now losing out for best picture to Kramer vs Kramer.

Jebus, what were they thinking?
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#26 no country screenplay deserved it jaspar 2010-12-16 21:39
i don't know, i think the no country for old men adaptation deserved an oscar and deserves ongoing attention. if there was ever an adapted screenplay class, this should be one of the main texts to study-- the novel and screenplay side by side. the choices that the coens make of what to KEEP THE SAME as the novel, despite those decisions leading to what some have called non-cinematic or confusing story telling processes, were just brilliant. when i read the book (which i did after seeing the movie), i was thrilled , with the movie still fresh in my head, about how great it was for movies that the coens kept this thing this way, accented the tension or humor of dialogue by moving this line up, this line over, but maintaining the exactitude of the scene in the novel. i think it's a stunning adaptation, and a stunning exercise of discipline and of making the things you can't adapt fully work. (for example, bell's ending portion of the book, and the hitchhiker girl, who winds up merely offering beer by the motel pool). i think the adatption's brilliance went not only into the screenplay, but, i guess unavoidably, into the direction, with how the film was scored (or lack of score) musically, to how it was performed, cut, filmed... everything was perfectly adapted, to serve the story, and to serve intelligence in cinema. oh, and i agree about bill murray, he was brilliant and subtle, and brilliantly blatantly amazing as well. sean penn yelled a lot and shook while he cried in a messy movie. what a weird movie, that mystic river is. just pandering and oddball.
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#27 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years bobdelany 2010-12-17 00:45
Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys? A performance so bad it almost ruins an otherwise fantastic Gilliam film. I enjoy Brad Pitt but that performance may well have been his worst.
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#28 Finally... Steven Flores 2010-12-17 05:00
Someone who was right about Sean Penn. I really wanted Bill Murray to win as well. Nothing against Penn but he should've won a long time ago for "Dead Man Walking". Plus, he had a better performance in "21 Grams" that year.

I felt so sorry for Bill that night. I wanted to give him a hug. He is still the best actor for me and in being THE BEST FILM EVER MADE!!! (well, from my point of view)
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#29 One huge omission Johannes 2010-12-17 06:26
I also want to highlight one of the worst snubs ever. How in the hell did Ellen Burstyn lose for Requiem for a Dream to Julia Roberts. Ellen Burstyn was nothing short of breathtaking in that film!
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#30 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years C138 2010-12-17 08:12
How about Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture in 2008? That sucked.

Despite being in the minority here, I'm gonna say it anyway: Shakespeare in Love is a better movie than Saving Private Ryan. Do I think Shakespeare in Love was the best movie of 1998? No, I would give that to The Thin Red Line. But let's face it, people only like SPR for the battle scenes. Other than it's technical wizardry that wowed audiences (and I'll even admit still holds up today), the film is exactly like old World War II movies such as "Kelly's Heroes" or "The Guns of Navarone".

Anyways, I do agree that Denzel Washington shouldn't have won for Training Day. As entertaining as that movie and his performance was, I thought Russell Crowe gave a much better performance in A Beautiful Mind.
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#31 You missed A LOT of worse ones Edward Copeland 2010-12-20 04:42
1990: Whoopi Goldberg wins for Ghost over Annette Bening in The Grifters, Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas and Diane Ladd in Wild at Heart.

1992: Al Pacino wins for Scent of a Woman over Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, Stephen Rea in The Crying Game and Denzel Washington in Malcolm X. Even Pacino look embarrassed.

1998: Roberto Benigni beats Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters, Nick Nolte in Affliction and Edward Norton in American History X.

1999: John Irving wins for butchering the adaptation of his own great novel The Cider House Rules while the scrips for Election, The Insider and The Talented Mr. Ripley lose.

2007: Marion Cotillard is nominated AND WINS for bad acting and lip-synching as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, especially against Julie Christie's magnificent work in Away From Her.
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#32 Denzel TommyT 2010-12-20 14:39
Two more I'd add to this list:

Unforgiven for Best Pic. I thought it was boring. It was another dull offering from a director who's somehow gotten heaps of praise for directing films that are one Hollywood cliche after another. Then you have Malcolm X, an exciting biography of a civil rights leader (who was often rightly critical of American society) losing to a standardized western. What was clear is that the Academy simply didn't like Spike Lee - and they still don't.

Al Pacino for Best Actor - he got it b/c he'd been snubbed for over 20 yrs. And for yelling. NOT for playing a blind man who could tango in a dinner club. Denzel Washington, by comparison, showed nuance in a controlled performance that still leaves me astounded to this day.
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#33 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years satchfan 2010-12-21 06:55
Cuba Godding Jr. won best supporting actor 1996 (Jerry Maguire) for yelling "show me the money" comparied to Ed Norton's stellar performace in (Primal Fear). This is a complete injustice. Cuba's only Oscar worthy performance was in (Boyz n da hood).
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#34 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Tomas 2010-12-21 10:23
One wonders why "The Reader" is not on this list. Any film (or book) which seeks to evoke sympathy for someone who participates in an act of genocide is simply disgusting, regardless of the reason. Might as well have given Birth Of A Nation an Oscar as well.
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#35 The Reader Martin Anderson 2010-12-21 10:27
Quoting Tomas:
One wonders why "The Reader" is not on this list. Any film (or book) which seeks to evoke sympathy for someone who participates in an act of genocide is simply disgusting, regardless of the reason. Might as well have given Birth Of A Nation an Oscar as well.


IMO the message of 'The Reader' was not about forgiving monsters, but about the human capacity for forgiveness and compassion. Ralph Fiennes was the real subject of the film, and the message of compassion even towards the 'unforgivable' was one which echoed the best, and not the worst of many of the world's religions. But that's just how I took the film, I guess.
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#36 Excellent list, one omission... John 2010-12-21 16:54
Big thumbs up to this list and I couldn't agree more about TWBB v. No Country for Old Men. The only omission- and this is just me- was "Crash" winning best picture. What should've won? Any other movie released that year besides "Crash".
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#37 Mystic River Derek 2011-01-02 06:12
You seem a little harsh on Mystic River. I think its a very good movie and both Penn and Robins were very impressive.
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#38 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years FactCheck 2011-01-06 19:35
Crash for Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain? Yeah, right. No agenda there. And Children of Men wasn't even nominated.
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#39 The oscars... thomrob 2011-01-21 09:01
...have been a joke for decades. Maybe forever.
I try not to pay them any attention unless I feel like annoying myself.

Just social propaganda and agendas by the hollywood industry. Almost never really related to artistic merits.

The last thing that won an oscar and was actually good that I can recall was No country.

Blood was an equally amazing movie, but I agree with the first post that there was no "robbery" there.
One of them just had to win.
But both one of them deserved praise.

Almost everything else on that list I found over rated. Some decent ones, but not worthy of an award that meant anything.

Except Pulp Fiction.
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#40 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Mike Delicious 2011-02-09 02:00
I highly disagree with your choice as a replacement to The Fugitive Tommy Lee Jones for Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List performance. I'm disagreeing with your replacement choice, Leonardo Dicapros portrayal in Whats Eating Gilberts Grape was magnificent.
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#41 rjchristian rjchristian@ 2011-02-10 19:24
the greatest travesty of all was 2010
Hurt Locker when Avatar was clearly an epic academy award winner.

1977 when the wonderful Annie Hall won, but Star Wars was revolutionary and epic cinema worthy of the big prize, just as Alien was in 79.
Sadly Sci Fi is not rated by the academy members it seems. A sci fi picture has never won the big prize. .
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#42 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years khan 2011-03-13 20:21
I agree with SOME of your views, but can't say much on the others as I have not seen the films in question; but I have to disagree with Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Spacey - they were the BEST things in the movies they were nominated for!

You failed to note that Apocalypse Now lost to Kramer vs Kramer.

P.S. Goodfellas was NEVER going to win - it was a flop and was regarded as good but very same old - same old from Scorsese at the time. Oh and Saving Pvt. Ryan was overrated shite. The Thin Red Line was superior in every way.
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#43 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Mike 2011-03-30 16:19
I agree with most of this list. Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas and Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan are the most obvious oscar travesties. I slightly disagree with There Will Be Blood over No Country For Old Men, those two films are equally good and the closest thing to a toss up the academy had ever seen. I personally find No Country For Old Men more entertaining. I only disagree with you on Denzel Washington and Sean Penn. Although Denzel should have won for The Hurricane, I feel that his performance in Training Day is brilliant. I ultimately pardon you on this one because Will Smith is also quite brilliant as Ali, even though moments of Will sneak in. I violently disagree with you about Sean Penn. Maybe its just me, but I dont see what people like about Lost In Translation. It's a bore, mostly due to Bill Murray's boring performance. "Bill Murray has become known for playing the quick-witted, hapless, loveable scoundrel he is in reality. Rather than pretending this is a coincidence, Lost in Translation acknowledges this." This statement even states that he is essentially playing himself, which should never be oscar worthy.
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#44 Kim Bassinger in L.A. Confidential Carl 2011-03-30 16:30
I must be missing something. I barely remember her in the film. I'm willing to doubt myself because I've not heard anyone else ever question her win. Perhaps her performance was too subtle and slipped by me, I will admit that I was distracted by Russell Crowe's controlled intensity.
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#45 Ryan vs. Swinton SFFilmBuff 2011-04-08 17:09
I think Tilda Swinton is a terrific actress, and I suspect that the award might have been given to her as a sort of lifetime-achievement-insufficiently-recognized prize. I found Amy Ryan's performance to be just astounding. I wept for the lost person still alive underneath the bad luck and worse choices that had brought her to that station in life, because Ryan showed her to us.
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#46 Disagreements MuckrakerAP 2011-04-16 05:05
I have beefs with a few of these items. But beyond that, I'm just not sure that it's really relevant. It's self-evident that most of the time, the "best" nominee (or non-nominee) isn't going to win. It's like putting up a list of "Most Undeserving Election Winners." Elections don't always produce the best results, but they tend to be relatively fair. It's not that I necessarily disagree with your choices, it's that I don't agree that the winners in these categories deserve some sort of historical mark of shame.

10. "No Country For Old Men." I haven't read the book. But it's a great screenplay, no matter what the source. "There Will Be Blood" was great too, but it was uneven.

9. Denzel Washington: I'm surprised this is even controversial. It was a great performance, and it deserved the Oscar. One of the great villain roles of all time--despite the weak dialogue.

8. Shakespeare in Love: OK, I agree with this one.

7. Robert Zemeckis: Yeah, you're right, but so what? Like I said, the award winner in normally going to be a generally non-controversial film that garners the most votes. It's even possible that a movie that everyone thinks is the second-best will win the top award. Yes, Zemeckis should have lost to Tarantino. Probably, Tarantino should have lost to someone else that year, maybe Krzysztof Kieslowski. Believe it or not, I think "Forrest Gump" is somewhat underrated, because 17 years later everyone's decided that it was just a fluff farce. It's better than that--although I still would have voted for Tarantino.

6. Tilda Swinton: I've seen Amy Ryan, and I've seen Tilda Swinton, and I'd vote for Swinton. Ryan's role in GBG was great, but I think people are mistaking the accent, swearing, and histrionics of the role for acting chops. Swinton's role in Clayton was understated. Again, whatever difference there is here is more of a difference of opinion, not some sort of epic robbing.

5. Yeah, probably

4. Ralph Fiennes is a great actor, and he certainly would have deserved the award that year. But that doesn't mean that Lee Jones was less deserving. Jones' performance was a great example of transcending a genre piece.

2. Again, this mistakes the volume of a performance for the value of a performance. Brad Pitt was great, but so was Spacey.

1. Yeah, I would have voted for Apollo 13, but I also won't dismiss the impressive technical achievement of "Babe." The seamless CGI effects to simulate moving and talking animals--so well that you barely notice it--was something truly revolutionary at the time.

So, to sum up, with a history of ridiculous Academy Awards, you managed to pick a list of sort-of-debatable awards and crap on a lot of great performances. Meanwhile, the true highway robberies of Oscar history are left unscathed. What about Ian McKellan v. Roberto Beningni? Citizen Kane losing out to "How Green Was My Valley?" "Gladiator" winning, period? WTF?
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#47 enigma Paul Nicholson 2011-05-13 23:27
Not a bad list but I'd definitely add Gosford Park over A Beautiful Mind. The latter was quite dull, and the ending was silly. Don't agree about There Will Be Blood but no argument over your views on Pulp Fiction or Goodfellas. Unbelievable that they didn't win a stack of Oscars.

How about Patrick McGoohan not even getting a nomination for that totally untruthful piece of nonsense Braveheart. He was far and away the best thing about it.
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#48 Blanchett/Paltrow/Portman amon 2011-06-08 16:51
Blanchett should have won for Elisabeth in 99 instead of Paltrow. Blanchetts performance was absolutely incredible...

and when she actually won in 2005 for Aviator the Award was more deserved by Portman for her performance in Closer.
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#49 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Bill 2011-06-08 23:08
Quoting khan:
I agree with SOME of your views, but can't say much on the others as I have not seen the films in question; but I have to disagree with Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Spacey - they were the BEST things in the movies they were nominated for!

You failed to note that Apocalypse Now lost to Kramer vs Kramer.

P.S. Goodfellas was NEVER going to win - it was a flop and was regarded as good but very same old - same old from Scorsese at the time. Oh and Saving Pvt. Ryan was overrated shite. The Thin Red Line was superior in every way.


Re: "Apocalypse Now" and "Kramer vs. Kramer" - Both films were released in 1979, which falls outside of "the last 20 years". This accounts for their omission from the article.

Re: "Goodfellas" - The film grossed $46.8 million in the U.S. on a $25 million budget. Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. gross was about $87.26 million in 2011 dollars. It wasn't a blockbuster, but it was the 26th highest grossing film in the U.S. in 1990, as a September release. In the U.S., most professional critics highly praised the film at the time of its release, not just in retrospect many years later. Although many critics noted that Scorsese was covering territory familiar to him, few, if any, called "Goodfellas" a retread for him.
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#50 Ordinary People dario 2011-07-23 11:45
This film was so boring, timothy hutton is and was a bad actor.
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#51 Titanic Who Knows... 2011-07-25 00:12
The fact that this movie won best picture is the reason why it's hard to take the academy awards seriously. Add to that the fact that Avatar was taken seriously as a contender and you have to shake your head. They just weren't really great movies. And no, I'm not a Cameron hater. He has tremendous skills as a film director as Terminator and Aliens have proven. In fact, that (Aliens) is a film that should have at least been nominated for best picture.

Actually, awards for the best film of any year should be given ten years after the fact. Maybe then so many boneheaded awards that are presented because a film is popular or because "it's time" a particular person won wouldn't be given out.

Anyhow, although this list only covers 20 years (and it's just a so-so list) I'll throw in 3 movies that should have at least been nominated for Best Picture and weren't : King Kong, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner.
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#52 The Dark Knight Jmanorama 2011-09-12 16:13
My vote for number one: The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger should have won so many of the awards that year.
Instead, Slum Dog Millionaire slipped in last minute, and stole them. Slipping in that late in the year, I feel it should have gone on the next years ballot.
But the greater crime in this, is that The Dark Knight is a true classic. 20 years from now, The Dark Knight will still be talked about as one of the best movies of all time. The only time Slum Dog Millionaire comes up in conversation, is when the conversation is about how The Dark Knight should have won most of the awards at the Oscars.
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#53 I would... Jason R 2011-11-03 23:44
I would definitely add the following:

- Renée Zellweger won. Shohreh Aghdashloo should have. Hands down.
- Sandra Bullock won. Either Gabourey Sidibe or Carey Mulligan should have won.
- Julia Roberts won. Without a doubt, Ellen Burstyn should have won. She gave one of the most haunting performances on record.
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#54 Avatar should have won Best Picture 2009! William Derbyshire 2011-11-07 22:06
I haven't seen Hurt Locker and a lot of people that I've read about has said that it wasn't worthy of the award and the judges messed up big time. Sure, Avatar's plot had a few similarities to other films but if you think about it - Star Wars is basically a boy-saves-princess-from-forces-of-evil story (not that I have anything against SW, I love it as much as you guys do!) - but I felt every, and I mean, EVERY genuine emotion seeing Avatar for the first time - happiness, anger, bewilderment, sadness and cried tears of happiness at the end - and I felt I was part of it seeing it in 3D, I could almost touch the trees and feel the seeds of the Holy Tree floating down towards me (I know it's all sci-fi and everything but to me, it was real). To me, they picked the wrong film that year and should have known better.

Anyway, that's just my opinion.

Will
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#55 Dances With Wolves Brian Hiebert 2012-06-04 04:28
An interesting take on Dances With Wolves which does seem more and more dated, but in my opinion Costner outdid himself with Open Range, the best Western in a long, long time. I would like to see more Westerns from Costner on the basis of Open Range.
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#56 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years Iceman2012 2012-12-04 05:12
Cuba Gooding Jr was great in Boyz in da Hood, but winning best Actor for saying "Show me the money" in Jerry Meguire was shamefull. He won over Edward Nortion in Primal Fear!!!!!!!!!!! !!!
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#57 What ?! Rogerio 2012-12-09 01:12
Saying that Tommy Lee Jones performance in the Fugitive is astonishing, is almost as terrifiyng as saying that Avatar is a great film ! I am sorry, but whoever says this, knows nothing about cinema in all its aspects !
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#58 Hmmm... sarah 2013-10-02 15:19
Don't agree with #2, 3 and 9. I'd say those were pretty deserving. But Ralph should have definitely won for Schindler's List. Goodfellas too.
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#59 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years chris 2013-11-20 12:25
Brad Pitt? Really. He just gurned for that role.
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#60 RE: The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years TruthTeller63 2014-01-27 04:28
Quoting Mick:
I can't believe Gladiator was left off this list, which has to be the most undeserving Best Picture, as well as the most undeserving Best Actor for Russel Crowe--moreso than either of your entries. No one ever saw Gladiator and thought to themselves, wow that movie deserves awards. Gladiator winning would be like giving Oscars to Armageddon or 300.


Speak for yourself. I saw the movie several years after it premiered -- my thought was: "Wow -- this is one of the best movies I've ever seen. For once, the Academy got it right." I seriously doubt that I was alone in that opinion.
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#61 wrong about training day Will 2014-03-22 06:39
Training day was definitely the best film in 2001, and one of the best if not the best film of the 2000s. It should have won best picture in 2001, and the fact that it wasn't even nominated for best picture was a travesty.
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#62 Training Day Dissension 2014-03-24 10:03
Quoting Will:
Training day was definitely the best film in 2001, and one of the best if not the best film of the 2000s.


The first half was excellent. After that it becomes an incredibly dumb movie. I'd still watch it up to the 1-hour mark though.
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