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Jan 11, 2013

For your commiseration: 10 reasons not to trust the Academy

Every year the public and the media get caught up in Oscars season hullabaloo. But before you get excited about this year's nominees, it's worth remembering that the Academy has a notorious record in making questionable decisions.

Luke Buckmaster — Writer, Critic and The Daily Review Journalist

Luke Buckmaster

Writer, Critic and The Daily Review Journalist

Sandra Bullock

Another year, another Academy Awards, another funny season fueled by the same-old same-olds: studio scuttlebutt, lap-it-up media and rampant predictions from armchair experts about who will win, who will lose, what they’ll wear on the red carpet and, at this crucial juncture in human history, whether Angelina Jolie’s left leg will challenge her right for the spotlight (and subsequent internet memes).

As a collection of people sourced from inside the film industry, there’s little doubt members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have some credibility as voters, unlike the other big awards night of the season: the “dirty little secret” known as the Golden Globes.

But if you look back over the history of the Oscars, it becomes abundantly clear the Academy cannot be relied upon to get even the most basic choices right. So before you get caught up in a tizzy about who should win the 2013 gongs and why, take a moment to reflect on 10 — and this list could go on and on, but you’ve got to snip it somewhere — of the Academy’s most regrettable decisions. Then ask yourself: do I have any faith that they’ll make the right ones?

  1. In 2010 Sandra Bullock, star of Miss Congeniality and Miss Congeniality II, won Best Actress for The Blind Side. In hindsight her strategy was ingeniously simplistic: keep the bar very, very low. Then, when you complete a performance that isn’t absolutely atrocious, it’ll look great by comparison.
  2. Stanley Kubrick, nominated four times for Best Director, never won. The only Oscar to his name is a joint win for Best Special Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which, while deserved, hardly reflects the calibre of one of the most celebrated directors in history.
  3. In 1995 Quentin Tarantino didn’t win Best Director for Pulp Fiction, and the film didn’t win Best Picture. Those awards went to Robert Zemeckis and Forrest Gump, a decision as dim-witted as the film’s chocolate nibbling protagonist.
  4. Alfred Hitchcock didn’t win a Best Director Oscar for Psycho. Or Rear Window. Or Spellbound. Or anything. Instead the master of suspense accepted the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968, aka the ‘We Snubbed You So Many Times It’s Embarrassing’ Oscar.
  5. In 1999 Shakespeare in Love won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench. Dench appeared on screen in the film for approximately eight minutes. During her acceptance speech, Dame Judi more or less said “I don’t deserve this.”
  6. Mickey Rourke’s brilliant comeback performance in The Wrestler (2008) had all the hallmarks of awards night glory. He lost to Sean Penn, who collected his second Oscar for Milk.
  7. Rocky (1976), a thoroughly decent run-up-72-steps-to-prepare-to-win feel good sports movie, is enjoyable but hardly Best Director or Best Picture material. It won in both categories. Competition for Best Picture that year included Taxi Driver, Network and All the President’s Men. Rocky director John G. Avildsen went on to make not one, two but three Karate Kid movies.
  8. Instead of inventing a new category titled Most Nauseatingly Sentimental and Repetitive Song in Motion Picture History and giving it to Phil Collins’ borderline unlistenable You’ll Be in My Heart, which featured in Disney’s Tarzan (1999), the kill-me-now tune was instead awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song.
  9. The Academy has nominated Al Pacino for a number of blistering performances in classic films such as The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and …And Justice for All. The film that eventually scored him a run on the board? Scent of a Woman. Hoo-ah!
  10. How Green Was My Valleynot the best of director John Ford’s work, won Best Picture in 1942. The competition? A little film called Citizen Kane.
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11 thoughts on “For your commiseration: 10 reasons not to trust the Academy

  1. hilary linstead

    Sean Penn deserved the gong for Milk. Not that Mickey Rourke’s performance didn’t deserve praise – it did.

  2. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    The measure of a good film is whether you want to see it again – and I would rather revisit Pulp Fiction than Forrest Gump. The idea of the latter is anodyne nostalgia: to push as middlebrow American Baby Boomer memes as possible. The main character – Gump – isn’t a bad person, but he lucked out on choosing the right Crayfishing trip. Otherwise, he’s probably be working $8.00 a day right now at Wal-Mart.

    And there is morality to Pulp Fuction. Samuel L. Jackson’s character quit his job as a thug, while John Travolta’s role got killed.

  3. mikeb

    Agreed with Patrick re Gump. A great film with a great story and a great moral. Too easily dismissed by the casual, or shallow viewer.
    I really enjoyed S in L – but yeah, hardly deserving of all those gongs.
    Rourke & Penn were both brilliant (although I thouht that Milk was an overwhelming bore). Being Hollywood I guess the Milk story had to win.

  4. sflyons

    “The Artist” winning best picture last year was final proof that the Academy likes nothing quite as much as getting its self-regard massaged. Doubly unfortunate because that film reinforced the myth that non-comedy silent movies were all simple-minded melodramas.

  5. Sally Harbison

    I agree with Tom that Milk and Sean Penn deserved the gong.

  6. Tom Taylor

    Mickey Rourke’s comeback, while rich in sentimentality, was no great wizardry on his part. Penn deserved the nod. Otherwise fair conclusions.

  7. Patrick Jennings

    Thank God (The academy had nothing to do with it, we’re both sure) that the beautiful, timeless, wistful Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction’s cynical, self-important meanness, its cast of characters no one would really want to have as friends

    Pulp is a romp through humanity’s darkest natures played out for cool. (Life is, afterall, all about cool — with some bad ass blood spurts and bullet holes to make it really cool.) While Gump, which was by no means any less clever cinematically than Pulp, well, Forrest said it for me: “I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.” And I know what Goodness is. And I know what Good is.

    Yes, the Academy did make a mistake that year. Uncharacteristically, it picked the right film.

  8. wamut

    The decision that convinced that Oscars results should be taken with a large grain of salt was when Ellen Burstyn missed out for her jaw-dropping performance in Requiem For A Dream. The Oscar went to Julia Roberts instead for Erin Brockovich. I mean, I liked Julia in that movie but Ellen was just out of this world.

  9. Bill

    The academy has long made it clear they they give awards to those whose turn it is, and not the most deserving. Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan because Spielberg had already had his turn (and World War 2 had had its turn) with Schindler’s List. There was always going to be another chance to give it to Randy Newman, but how many more song was Phil Collins going to do?

    If they do make it in time, it’s usually for a relatively unremarkable performance at a time when they think they may not get another chance. Hence Judi Dench. Paul Newman won his for The Colour of Money. If they don’t make it in time, that’s what the “Lifetime Achievement” award is for.

  10. Stephen Rowley

    Have you ever read Danny Peary’s book Alternate Oscars? Worth tracking down. It goes through the major categories and breaks down who should have won, including one year – 1963 – where he argues they should not have awarded Best Picture at all.

  11. paddy

    Agreed there have been some shocking winners over the years. But Sandra Bullock sleepwalking through The Blind Side, beating Gabourey Sidibe in Precious almost takes the cake.

    (I still regard Gwyneth Paltroon trashing Shakespeare and claiming victory over Cate Blanchard as Elizabeth in 1998 as the Academy’s greatest sin.)

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