Biggest Oscar Mistakes of the Decade so far:
1. Denzel Washington winning over Russell Crowe in Training Day for best actor, 2001
Crowe gave an amazing performance as mathematician John Nash and was considered one of the two front-runners for the best actor award along with Washington . To some extent, Russell was hurting himself. He apparently got really angry and barked at the orchestra conductor for cutting him off at the BAFTA awards when he was giving his Oscar Award Acceptance Speech and his reputation as a jerk was starting to catch up to him. What was truly ridiculous, though, was that Queen-of-Hollywood Julia Roberts said she couldn’t imagine a world in which Denzel Washington didn’t have an oscar. Uh, did she forget about his best supporting actor oscar for Glory? If best supporting doesn’t count in Julia’s mind, I’d like to see her break the news to Sean Connery, Anjelica Huston, Shelley Winters, Joe Pesci, Michael Caine, Judi Dench and the like. Plus, the Oscars had Sidney Poitier as the Honorary Award Winner, so the votes were transparently an effort to make it African-American appreciation night. If the academy was a little more patient in crowning a worthy successor to Sidney Poitier as lead actor winner, it could have waited 3 more years for Jamie Foxx or another possibly another 2 after that when Forest Whitaker takes the lead oscar award this February.
2. Cold Mountain losing best songs and score to Lord of the Rings, 2003
I can’t imagine an Annie Lennox song would ever beat a song written by Sting in a music competition, EXCEPT when a song written by Annie Lennox appears on the end credits of a steamrolling juggernaut like Lord of the Rings while Sting’s beautifully haunting song appears in the film A Cold Mountain which didn’t have as good of a run at the Oscars. In addition, Lennox’s song was just a bland ballot while Sting and Krauss’ song You Will be my Ain True Love as well as the song The Scarlett Tide cowritten by Krauss and T-Bone Burnett, both organically blended into Civil War North Carolina ’s bluegrass setting, which is what a good movie song should do. The artists who contributed music to the film went on a hit national tour that summer “The Cold Mountain Music Tour.” Was there a “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack tour?
My problem with this win was twofold. First, Lord of the Rings’ steamrolling through ever oscar category made for the most boring ceremony I’ve ever seen and nowhere more than the best song (and best score category) was it evident that voters were just penciling in Lord of the Rings for everything rather than thinking about it on a category-by-category basis. Second, movie songs have the potential to be the next biggest category after picture, acting, and directing due to their crossover appeal but not when their credibility is ruined with wins like this. I’m not a rap fan, but even I admit that Eminem’s win in 2002 for 8 Mile and Three Six Mafia’s win for Hustle and Flow were necessary to keep the category relevant for contemporary times.
3. Bennett Miller’s best director nomination and Capote’s best picture nomination, 2005
I have to admit that I am in the extreme minority of film critics (the exact figure from rottentomatoes.com is an incredibly low 9%) in disliking Capote, but I disliked the film for resting too heavily on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance (which failed in my eyes, because it didn’t convince us that he was as exciting of a figure to be around as much as his biographer and the movie needed us to believe). Although Two Towers is a close second, Capote would have to be the least worthy picture of the decade so far. If you take Hoffman’s performance out of the equation, it’s slow and circuitous.
This is made all the worse by considering the competition that year. 2005 seemed to me to be the deepest year of oscar contending films I’ve ever witnessed. Normally, there are about 10 or 11 pictures that have lofty enough ambitions, excellent enough critical praise and sufficient public enthusiasm to vie for nomination honors (i.e roughly 11 for 2003: Lord of the Rings, Big Fish, Lost in Translation, In America, House of Sand and Fog, Seabiscuit, 21 Grams, Last Samurai, Master and Commander, Mystic River, Cold Mountain and 11 for 2004: Hotel Rwanda, Aviator, Closer, Kinsey, Eternal Sunshine, Phantom of the Opera, The Incredibles, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways), but 2005 had over 15: Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Capote, Walk the Line, The Constant Gardener, A History of Violence, Match Point, New World, King Kong, Syrianna, Cinderella Man, Cache, Squid and the Whale, Rent and Pride and Prejudice.
Even worse than a failure to get the best picture nod is that for the first time in 24 years, this just happened to be the year when all five pictures aligned with all 5 directing nominations. If there was a better time to spread the wealth around, I can’t think of a better year. Peter Jackson proved he could do more than nerdy stories about middle-earth and took King Kong and transcended the blockbuster by getting many 4-star reviews and taking it up to 5th on critical top ten appearances for the year. Fernando Meirelles crossed over to the English language and explored a new continent with career-best performances for Ralph Feinnes and Rachel Weicz and a solid adaptation of a John La Carrerre novel in The Constant Gardener. Woody Allen turned in his best work in decades and changed his tone completely in Matchpoint. Terrence Malick had a brilliant return-to-form in The New World and David Cronenberg pleased audiences and critics alike with A History of Violence. Even if you liked the movie Capote, you’d have to be a little worried about the integrity of your category if you’re going to invite someone who’s only previous credit was the ’98 documentary The Cruise and probably just lucked out with a good slate of actors, into that prestigious group of Oscar-nomination directors.
4. Big Fish’s snub in pretty much everything, 2003
Big Fish was the first victim in what perhaps could be a very long line of victims from the movement of the Oscar ceremony back a month early. It was a rare Oscar contender that scored big numbers in the box office and nearly beat out Lord of the Rings: Return of the King during its January opening (initial box office reports deemed it 1st for the weekend) aside from being considered a high-water mark in Tim Burton’s career. But with Oscar season ballots being due a month or two sooner, it had little chance to be viewed by anyone and only earned one nomination: best score. The same thing happened to Terrence Malick’s brilliant The New World (only shown in an uncut version in 2 theaters nationwide on December 29th and 30th before opening in wide release in mid-January and similarly only earned a single nomination in the cinametography category) a month later and it could easily happen this year with late entries this year such as Letters of Iwo Jima or Pan’s Labrynth, although the extreme build-up of films in the last two weeks of the year isn’t a good thing.
5. Lord of the Ring: Two Towers ’ Nomination for best picture over Far From Heaven, 2002
Even though I liked A Beautiful Mind and felt it worthy of the best picture award, I kind of wish that Lord of the Rings won, or at least it won a few awards that year, just so it wouldn’t dominate the Oscars the next two years and take so many worthy awards away from other films. Considering this was the second in a trilogy and voters could’ve easily waited for Return of the King to atone for Fellowship’s loss, which they were planning on doing anyway, this was a complete waste of a perfectly useful best picture nomination on another worthy film. Far From Heaven, widely considered to have been sixth in line for the nomination, was a well-crafted homage to the Douglas Sirk movies of the 1950s and would have been far more widely remembered today if it had a best picture nomination to give it a longer shelf life.
6. The Aviator’s supporting acting snubs: Alan Alda over Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett over Kate Beckinsdale in the Aviator, 2004
Alec Baldwin’s part was a meatier one than fellow nominee Alan Alda and required far more range. He displayed a little bit of a different tone as the standard tough guy role that he usually plays and that he was nominated for the previous year in The Cooler. An astute observer might have seen that it was an equally worthy performance as The Cooler and possibly more worthy. His character in The Aviator wasn’t completely ruthless, it was more shades of gray. He was ruthless underneath a veneer of diplomacy.
In chosing between the love interests of Leo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes for an oscar nomination, the academy also got it wrong. Kate Beckinsdale was more deserving of a nomination than Cate Blanchett, in my opinion. Blanchett probably got the nomination because of her higher profile and because she played perennial Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn, while Beckinsdale played Ava Gardner, who had never won one. If you take out the factor of who the two were portraying, you’ll find that Beckinsdale played the more interesting character and had more meaningful moments in her scenes with DiCaprio. Blanchett’s win in a crowded category that included National Board of Review winner Virginia Madsen for “Sideways” and Laura Linney for “Kinsey” was an even greater injustice.
7. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ win over Meryl Streep in the best supporting actress category in 2002
Aside from the fact that Streep had the best performance in the category and one of her best in years, Zeta-Jones’ win was flat-out illogical for the fact that she didn’t really resonate past the singing and dancing of the performance. It was clear the Oscar committee felt the need to reward the ensemble effort of Chicago with an acting oscar of some sort. Aside from creating an ensemble category which would really make sense in these situations, if they felt a need to award an oscar to someone, I would have gone for Rene Zellweger, who, for my money, was deserving of an oscar in her category anyway. While Kidman in “The Hours” and Moore in “Far From Heaven” were both carefully studied portraits that were deserving as well, Zellweger was the heart and soul of Chicago and infused a surface that was all about glitz and glamour with emotional vulnerability.
8. Chocolat’s best picture nomination, 2000
I read the book Inside Oscar 2 which had the backstory on the oscar race and apparently it did test very well with audiences and critics nationwide. I saw about a third of this picture so I’m not really in a position to comment on it but it seemed incredibly lightweight and its incredibly transparent theme of chocolate as a metaphor for joy and freedom from class-mandate oppression almost seemed like a parody of the heavier themes that Oscar films usually contain.
9. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s extreme front-runner status for Capote, 2005
I don’t think Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s win for Capote was a ridiculous choice, so much as I thought it was ridiculous how much of a leg up Hoffman had over the competition. Hoffman did a spot-on impression of iconic author Truman Capote, but so did co-nominees Joaquin Pheonix and David Strathain. Pheonix’s channeling of Cash’s repressed anger in “Walk the Line” was downright disturbing and should have given him serious consideration for an oscar in any given year, and Strathain’s ice-cold subtleties as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night and Good Luck” was very affecting. While Strathain didn’t have the opportunities for the intense moments that Hoffman or Pheonix’s parts came with, you appreciate the magnitude of Murrow’s presence when he’s debating the real-life Senator McCarthy (taken through archival footage) and looks convincing doing it. It seemed throughout the oscar race, that Hoffman was a certain winner from the start, and I just found it disappointing that not even a few of the critics’ awards went Strathain or Pheonix’s way and that there wasn’t much debate about it.
As opposed to Joaquin Pheonix who managed to find his place in top billing roles pretty early in his career, Hoffman has gotten a lot of love from his peers and hard-core fans for doing good work in small roles in films such as Scent of a Woman, Talented Mr. Ripley, Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights which might be part of the love that Hoffman is always receiving.
10. Paul Newman’s loss to Chris Cooper for best supporting actor, 2002
It was a hard decision with five worthy candidates, simply put, so I don’t think it was a great Oscar injustice. In this case, I just disagreed with who was best, although Chris Cooper’s win could have been compensation for co-stars Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage not being able to win their respective categories. Newman was sublimely delightful and out of his element in the film. Like Denzel Washington in Training Day, it was a riveting transformation to the dark side for Newman, whose screen persona has never stretched that far over to the evil side yet.