The top ten most undeserved Oscars of the last 20 years
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
There's justice, and then there's the Oscars...
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
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.
9: Denzel Washington – Training Day (2001) – Best Actor
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.
8: Shakespeare In Love (1998) – Best Picture
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.
7: Forrest Gump (1994) – Best Direction
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.
6: Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton (2007) – Best Supporting Actress
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.
5: Dances with Wolves (1990) – Best Picture
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2: Kevin Spacey – The Usual Suspects (1995) – Best Supporting Actor
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.
1: Babe (1995) – Best Visual Effects
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.
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