There, I Fixed It: Worst Oscar Upsets Edition
It wasn’t just this year that Oscar voters got it wrong. These guys have been ruining Academy Awards ballots for most of their history. Below you’ll find the Best Picture race indignities that still make me inordinately grumpy, despite the passage of time.
Ranked in order of my anger:
10. Mad Max: Fury Road > Spotlight (2015)
Spotlight is the safe pick here: great acting and a compelling story. But Mad Max: Fury Road is such a show of energy and visual verve–and it has a flamethrower guitarist. Despite being the fourth film in a decades-old series, it never feels like anything less than a revelation.
9. High Noon and The Quiet Man > The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
This Cecil B. DeMille spectacle is generally considered to be one of the most overrated Oscar winners ever, but it hurts even more to know that it won over these two films. High Noon is a masterful story about a lone lawman defending his town with a suspenseful, almost real-time pacing. The Quiet Man now has some dated gender politics, but it’s a beautifully shot film that ranks among John Ford’s best.
8. Inception > The King’s Speech (2010)
Another safe choice, The King’s Speech is a perfectly well-made movie, but there’s no sense of wonder or innovation. Inception is a marvel of screenwriting and effects that’s always worth a rewatch, but it never skimps on real emotion in its pursuits of narrative complexity and great action sequences.
7. Fargo > The English Patient (1996)
I don’t feel as strongly as Elaine Benes, but The English Patient is at once as Oscar-y as it gets and yet unworthy of its top prize, at least when compared to its competition. It’s overlong and a bit dull at times. Meanwhile, Fargo is a tight film, running less than 100 minutes and packing in plenty of great performances, Coen Bros. dialogue, and gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography.
6. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers > Chicago (2002)
“All That Jazz” may be my go-to karaoke song, but that is the only thing that endures about Rob Marshall’s musical. Meanwhile, Peter Jackson’s Two Towers is a triumph, filled with incredible special effects and an eternally engaging story. Helm’s Deep remains one of the best battle scenes in history. Its loss may have fueled the less-deserving win the next year from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
5. Almost Any Other Movie > Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Sideways, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Kill Bill Vol. 2, The Incredibles, The Aviator, Before Sunset, Shaun of the Dead, Team America: World Police, Hero, Maria: Full of Grace, etc.
4. Citizen Kane > How Green Was My Valley (1941)
How Green Was My Valley is a solid film, deserving in any other year, but: Citizen Kane. That is all.
3. Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption > Forrest Gump (1994)
Pulp Fiction upended traditional narrative structure and spawned a host of imitators. The Shawshank Redemption is the favorite movie of half of America (citation needed). Forrest Gump gave us Bubba Gump Shrimp.
2. Magnolia and Fight Club > American Beauty (1999)
Okay, so neither of these films was actually nominated, which is the first crime, even in one of cinema’s greatest years. Magnolia is a sweeping, interconnected epic that aims for the fences. Fight Club is brutal and smart, at once timely and enduring. As great as it seemed at the time, American Beauty hasn’t aged as well, particularly in its themes and metaphors (aka that plastic bag).
1. Brokeback Mountain > Crash (2005)
This was the only time I’ve actually thrown something at the TV during the awards. And it wasn’t even my TV. Crash has its merits, but Brokeback Mountain is a gut punch of a film that manages to upend both the Western and romance genres, while being technically perfect throughout its running time. Ennis and Jack were robbed.
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