By John H. Foote
There have been so many, narrowing it down to ten was a nightmare, but I felt rather do a massive extended list I would practice discipline and stick with 10. Yes it was difficult, yes I could have done a list of thirty.
Here are the greatest travesties of the Academy Awards, winners that had no business being such and made a mockery of the Academy. Their wins were almost forgotten at once, barely remembered the following year. An Academy voter, after Gandhi’s eight award domination of 1982 stated, “We goofed, the wrong film won. We forgot we were honoring a movie and not the man.” He could not have been more correct.
So, based on my opinion and only my opinion, here are the 10 greatest travesties of the Oscars. And of course, there are way more. Wait for a part two.
1. BEST ACTOR – ROBERTO BENIGNI IN LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1998)
This hyperactive babbling organ grinder’s monkey bested Edward Norton in American History X, and Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. He took his blabbering nonsense to Hollywood and charmed everyone, and they were equally blindsided by his irresponsible film. I have never gotten over his win and the blinding stupidity of it all. Insulting to say the least, trivializing the Holocaust.
2. BEST PICTURE – THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952)
In trying to honor Cecil B. DeMille, not knowing his next film The Ten Commandments (1956) would be his greatest, the Academy gave Best Picture to his circus soap opera The Greatest Show on Earth. Giving the Oscar to this film saw to it better films such as High Noon and The Quiet Man (which won Best Director for John Ford) were passed over. They have endured, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was not anything of the kind, has become a joke.
3. BEST PICTURE – AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956)
One of those “spot the star” movies the entire world could have done without. Watching it only seems like it is happening in real time, 80 days. Painful. Did people actually believe David Niven was a good actor? The Searchers was the year’s best film, but it was not nominated. Of the nominees, the best was The Ten Commandments, which would have been a more suitable way of honoring DeMille.
4. BEST PICTURE – SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)
I have asked this before, but how does the best directed, best shot, best sounding and best edited film NOT win Best Picture? This was the case with Saving Private Ryan, which opened in the summer and was still the odds on favorite. When Harrison Ford strode onstage to present Best Picture, the shock on his face when he read the three words that were not Saving Private Ryan was stunningly clear. Now I like Shakespeare in Love, it is a lovely romp, but it is not for the ages, and frankly that is what a Best Picture should be and that is precisely what Saving Private Ryan is.
5. BEST PICTURE – CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
I remember howling in rage when Warren Beatty’s Reds lost Best Picture to this very British film. Beatty had just won Best Director and Reds had won two other Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography. But with 12 nominations one would think it might have won a few more on the way to Best Picture. Warren Beatty claims he knew they were cooked after losing a couple early awards. Too bad, Reds is a masterpiece, but where is Chariots of Fire?
6. BEST PICTURE – GANDHI (1982)
As previously stated, did the Academy forget they were supposed to be voting on a film and not the man? Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi played like a Gandhi’s Greatest Hits, nothing but good, no sign of anything controversial, which Gandhi certainly was. Even Attenborough stopped to speak with Steven Spielberg, telling the younger man the Oscar belonged to him and his wonderous film E.T. – The Extraterrestrial. True. A second choice far ahead of Gandhi might have been Tootsie, the greatest American comedy ever made.
7. BEST ACTRESS – GRACE KELLY IN THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954)
Judy Garland gave a performance for the ages, certainly the best of her career, an absolutely knockout performance in A Star is Born and yet somehow this happened. Miss Kelly was beautiful but never much of an actress. Good thing she got out of Hollywood before anyone noticed. Garland deserved this, she was spectacular. It is to the eternal shame of the Academy they did not give it to her.
8. BEST ACTOR – ART CARNEY IN HARRY AND TONTO (1974)
What? Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown and Dustin Hoffman in Lenny and the winner was Carney? A wonderful TV actor, immortal as goofy sewer worker Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, he was not even the fifth choice as the year’s Best Actor. This one belonged to Pacino, in every way.
9. BEST PICTURE – CRASH (2005)
Watch the reaction of presenter Jack Nicholson when he announces the winner of Best Picture, expecting like everyone else in the building the winner to be Brokeback Mountain and instead it was Crash. Crash? How the hell did that happen? Homophobia within the Academy? Likely. Brokeback Mountain wins Best Director but not Best Picture, shameful.
10. BEST ACTRESS – JUDY HOLLIDAY IN BORN YESTERDAY (1950)
I have never understood this one. Gloria Swanson gave the performance of her lifetime, a performance for the ages as a deranged former silent screen star slipping into madness in Sunset Boulevard. Norma Desmond was one of the greats until the sound era, and now she wanders her mansion waiting for a call to do a film. She has even written her own comeback. Swanson took a risk with the film that paid off. The only thing smearing her luminously dark performance was Holliday winning the Oscar.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.