The 12 biggest ever Oscar travesties

One of the biggest upsets from the 2015 Oscars – aside from John Travolta’s generally distressing behaviour – was Boyhood losing out to Birdman for Best Picture and Best Director.

It was undoubtedly a great film, but ultimately it was a film about actors and Hollywood, whereas Linklater’s drama offered much richer, life-affirming rewards.

Films tend to mature like fine wines, so only time will tell whether their decision was justified. Here are 12 outrageous Oscars decisions that look more ridiculous with every passing year.

How Green Was My Valley – Best Picture, 1941 – Should have won: Citizen Kane

Orson Welles’ innovative directorial debut has achieved near mythical status since its release over 70 years ago, topping countless ‘Best Film Of All Time’ lists including five consecutive Sight and Sound critic polls and two American Film Institute lists in 1998 and 2007.

With the passage of time, it’s clear that the Academy dropped a massive ball when it chose to honour John Ford’s fine but largely forgotten Welsh mining drama over Welles’ groundbreaking masterpiece.

Forrest Gump – Best Picture, 1994 – Should have won: Pulp Fiction

It’s probably a bit unfair to suggest that Robert Zemeckis’ epoch-spanning drama didn’t deserve its Oscar. It still bears up to repeat viewings, but 1994 was a vintage year and history would suggest the Academy chose the wrong film to win.

The jigsaw structure of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is still being studied in film classes around the world and the snappy dialogue is still being quoted to this day.

Art Carney, Harry and Tonto – Best Actor, 1974 – Should have won: Al Pacino, Godfather Part II

Al Pacino was nominated 7 times by the Academy before he ultimately won for Scent of a Woman in 1993 (more on that in a minute), but missing out on the top trophy for The Godfather Part II is the one that sticks out as the biggest oversight on the Academy’s behalf.

Carney – who would late appear in the Star Wars Holiday Special no less – won for his performance in Harry and Tonto a road movie about an elderly widower who travels cross-country with his pet cat. We’re sure he’s great in it, but c’mon – this is Al Pacino’s best performance in the greatest sequel of all time.

Crash – Best Picture, 2005 – Should have won: Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee’s poignant cowboy romance was front-runner to pick up Best Picture on the night, but there was an audible gasp from the audience when presenter Jack Nicholson announced Paul Haggis’ film as the winner instead.

The race drama has since been named “Worst Winner of Best Picture Oscars” by Film Comment, with many critics at the time suggesting Academy voters decided to go with the “safer” option rather than honouring Lee’s gay drama. Since the whole ‘Crash’ debacle there haven’t been any major Oscar upsets of note, indicating perhaps that the Academy has learned its lesson.

Dances With Wolves – Best Picture, 1990 – Should have won: Goodfellas

It was slim pickings in the Best Picture race for 1990, with Kevin Costner’s Western jostling with ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Awakenings’ and ‘The Godfather Part III’ for the top honour.

The appeal of Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic has endured a lot longer than the eventual winner, which has faded into relative obscurity. It would be 16 years years before the Academy atoned for their sins by giving the Best Picture Oscar to Marty for ‘The Departed’.

Titanic – Best Picture, 1997 – Should have won: LA Confidential

Few can dispute the box office appeal of James Cameron’s romantic epic as it was the highest-grossing film of all time when it won the Best Picture Oscar, but can you hand-on-heart say it was empirically the “best” film released that year?

Hammy dialogue and a hokey love story didn’t keep the punters away, but it should have put off the Academy voters at least. The far superior LA Confidential has gone on to be recognised as a true genre classic while the initial acclaim for Titanic has diminished with time.

Shakespeare In Love – Best Picture, 1998 – Should have won: Saving Private Ryan

Shamed Oscar campaigner Harvey Weinstein has often been credited as the puppetmaster behind this famous Oscar upset. His firm Miramax reportedly spent “at least $5m” on its Oscar campaign for Shakespeare In Love in a bid to beat its nearest rival Saving Private Ryan, as well as throwing a dubious party for Academy voters in clear violation of the Oscar rules.

At the Academy Awards after-party Weinstein is rumoured to have congratulated Spielberg for his nomination, to which the Jaws director is said to have responded with a cutting “you’re welcome”.

Kramer Vs Kramer – Best Picture, 1979 – Should have won: Apocalypse Now

Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Kramer vs Kramer is a brilliant film. Robert Benton’s divorce drama is an out and out classic, but its cultural impact pales in comparison to Francis Ford Coppola’s anti-war masterpiece.

Despite its initially muted critical reception, Apocalypse Now is now rightly considered to be one of the greatest movies of its era, and indeed of all time. In 2009 the London Film Critics’ Circle voted it the best film of the last 30 years. I love the smell of redemption in the morning.

Sean Penn, Mystic River – Best Actor, 2003 – Should have won: Bill Murray – Lost In Translation

The irascible comic seemed destined to be honoured by the Academy for his performance in Sofia Coppola’s ‘May-To-December’ rom-com, but in the end he lost out to Sean Penn.

Murray’s unselfconscious, self-parodying turn is still considering a career best for the Ghostbusters star – can anyone else even remember Penn’s?

Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman – Best Actor, 1992 – Should have won: Denzel Washington – Malcolm X

This win for Pacino reeked of the Academy making up for not honouring the actor the first 7 times he was nominated. Pacino got his Oscar but it wasn’t for his best performance which is a huge shame, particularly when there were plenty more fine actors vying for the same trophy that year.

Denzel Washington should probably feel the most aggrieved for missing out in Malcolm X, but the Oscars would make amends later awarding him the best actor prize in 2001 for Training Day.

Phil Collins: ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ from Tarzan – Best Song, 1999 – Should have won: Randy Newman: ‘When She Loved Me’ – Toy Story 2

Unless you’re a hardcore Disney fan I’d wager you’d find it impossible to whistle a single tune from Disney’s Tarzan, but it still managed to bag itself an Oscar for Best Song.

Randy Newman’s Toy Story 2 tearjerker is one of the most memorable musical moments at the movies in recent years, so the fact his amazing song was overlooked in favour of Phil Collins is particularly galling.

Ordinary People – Best Picture, 1980 – Should have won: Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese’ boxing biopic is considered to be the last great movie to come out of Hollywood’s amazing 1970s revival, however it missed out on the Best Picture Oscar thanks to one of the era’s other big winners, the Sundance Kid himself.

Robert Redford also won Best Director for his directorial debut, but history would suggest that Scorsese should feel particularly aggrieved for this snub. Still, the Academy made it up to him by giving him the Oscar for his work on The Departed, so that’s all right then.

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