3 min

Three historical Oscar injustices

Disagreeing with Oscar voters is nothing new, as film, like most art, is completely subjective. After Marisa Tomei won Best Supporting Actress in 1993, critic Rex Reed was so floored he created controversy by implying that presenter Jack Palance had read the wrong name. But does anybody remember who “should have” won over Tomei? 

As a precursor to tonight’s ceremony, here are three historical Oscar injustices, where everyone remembers who should have left the ceremony dipped in gold.

Crash winning Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain

The 78th Academy Awards of 2006 were dubbed the “gay Oscars” as Brokeback Mountain, Transamerica and Capote received numerous nominations in the major categories. When Crash was named Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain, gasps of surprise from the live audience reverberated through the Kodak Theater.
Ang Lee had taken to the stage to accept the Best Director award moments earlier, and his win signalled that Brokeback would take the top award. Of the 85 films that have won Best Picture, 62 also won Best Director.

The New York Times speculated that Crash won because the film is set in Los Angeles, where the large majority of Oscar voters reside.
Los Angeles Times writer Kenneth Turan wrote that homophobic Oscar voters who were turned off by Brokeback voted for Crash, which comments on race and class, so they could still feel like good liberals.

Annie Proulx, the author of the short story on which Brokeback Mountain is based, was particularly venomous, calling Crash “trash” and writing in The Guardian:

[Academy voters are] living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city.

Whichever film you prefer, Crash’s win will forever be viewed as one of the biggest Oscar injustices of all time.

Brokeback Mountain

Julia Roberts winning Best Actress over Ellen Burstyn

I challenge any reader to watch Requiem for a Dream and Erin Brockovich back to back and tell me Roberts deserves her Oscar.
Burstyn’s portrayal of an elderly woman descending into addiction is so powerful that, according to the trivia section on IMDb, in one scene the shot drifts off centre because her performance brought the cameraman to tears, while Roberts’ role can be summed up as “a wannabe lawyer in a push-up bra.”

Many have speculated as to why this injustice occurred in 2001. Some say it is because Burstyn had already won for 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Other factors bandied around include that actors playing real people always get an unfair advantage and that Academy voters reward trendy actresses over substance (which is why many say Jennifer Lawrence will win tonight over octogenarian Emmanuelle Riva).

The latter rationale seems to be apt as the last few decades show: older, seasoned male actors always win and, conversely, younger actresses come out on top.

Whatever the reason, Roberts’ self-congratulatory, longwinded acceptance speech infuriates me to this day. Her black-and-white Valentino dress may go down in history as the best Oscar dress of all time, but in my book, she is also the least deserving Best Actress Oscar-winner ever.

Ellen Burstyn’s Requiem monologue

A Beautiful Minds Best Adapted Screenplay win over Ghost World

This final injustice isn’t as widely debated as the first two entries on this list. I admit that Ghost World is one of my favourite films of all time. I saw this tale of teenage ambivalence the year I graduated high school and it spoke to me on a personal level.

Based on Daniel Clowes’ comic book of the same name (the film is the first movie based on a comic ever to be nominated for an Oscar,) Ghost World was shut out of every other category except Best Adapted Screenplay for Clowes and Terry Zwigoff.

Many were stunned when Steve Buscemi’s portrayal of Seymour, a middle-aged music geek, was not recognized with a Best Supporting Actor nom. Likewise, star Thora Birch received several awards, including the Best Actress award from the Toronto Film Critics Association, but was passed over for an Oscar nod.
All these factors led me to believe Academy voters would reward Ghost World’s razor-sharp script with a statue as consolation.

As Seymour says in Ghost World, “All it takes to make most people happy is a Big Mac and a pair of Nikes.”

Giving Akiva Goldsman an Oscar, for his derivative treatment that is A Beautiful Mind at the 2002 awards, shows that sometimes Oscar voters choose winners that are comparable to cheap shoes and bad food.

A scene from Ghost World

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