The 9 Most Shocking Oscar Results Of All Time
The least worthy winners and losers in the Academy's history.
BY SAM PARKER | Feb 27, 2016 | Film & TV
They say the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
Similarly the greatest trick the Oscars ever pulled was convincing the world they pick the best movies.
Time and again the (approximately) 6,000 Academy Award voters have put their ticks next to films and performances that are forgotten a year later, while ignoring classics that will outlive us all.
With no further ado, then, the award for most shocking Oscar results of all time go to...
1 | Loretta Young beats Rosalind Russell - 1948
The third of His Girl Friday icon Rosalind Russell's Oscar snubs (she eventually clocked up four) was perhaps the most shocking. Her brilliant performance as Lavinia in family drama Mourning Becomes Electra was considered a shoo-in to such an extent that, on the night, she even rose out of her chair before the winner was announced.
She quickly converted the cringe into a round of applause for her opponent, but it must have been through gritted teeth: the name on the card was Loretta Young, the former child star nominated for a lightweight role in a comedy called The Farmer's Daughter.
2 | An American in Paris beats A Streetcar Named Desire - 1952
It was the role that launched Marlon Brando's movie career, but it wasn't quite enough to win him an Oscar. Still, at least he lost out to Humphrey Bogart. The film in question, meanwhile – one of the all-time great Hollywood dramas – lost out to a Technicolor musical.
Nothing against Technicolor musicals, of course (actually that's a lie we hate them all), but Streetcar – in dreary old black and white – is still a standout film. As a New York Times critic put it at the time: 'inner torments are seldom projected with such sensitivity and clarity'. An American in Paris on the other hand had Gene Kelly dancing through some smoke machines.
3 | Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tie - 1968
Six times the Academy voters have proven incapable of choosing one nominee over another, and easily the most controversial was when Hepburn tied on 3030 nods for her solid work in The Lion in Winter with a 26-year-old Striesand, for her all-conquering turn in Funny Girl.
Perhaps even more famous than the shock result was Barb's reaction. Since Hepburn was otherwise engaged, she accepted the award herself with an inspired speech that began with her addressing that statue "Hello, gorgeous" – her line from the winning film.
4 | Rocky beats Taxi Driver - 1977
Now look, we love Rocky as much as the next man. Probably more so given we pretend to be him every time we run up a staircase. And the original Rocky, lest we forget, suffered none of the formulaic clichés that dogged the (still brilliant) sequels. It was, is, a great film.
But man – Taxi Driver?! The decades that followed Scorsese's shock defeat has confirmed it as his second best De Niro collaboration (after Raging Bull) and one of the most iconic movies of all time; a powerful, peerless portrayal of loneliness and moral decay with more stand out scenes than any film except, well, Goodfellas…
5 | Dancing With Wolves beats Goodfellas - (1990)
Poor Marty. First Taxi Driver. Then Raging Bull loses out to Ordinary People in '81. Then, nine years later, Goodfellas losses too. That's his three best films – make that three of the best films full stop – all snubbed. He didn't actually win an Oscar until 2006's The Departed, by which point it felt more like a mercy vote than genuine awe for a what was a so-so picture by his standards.
Anyway, we digress. Costner's Native American drama was well-meaning, worthy and mildly cheesy. Fine, in other words. Goodfellas? Goodfellas gave us The Sopranos. There is nothing new to say about Goodfellas. There is never a bad time to watch Goodfellas. It should have been a made guy. The fact it wasn't is criminal.
6 | Shakespeare in Love beats Saving Private Ryan – 1999
The Americans love a British costume drama don't they? Everyone knows the Americans love a British costume drama. And my God, did the Americans love Shakespeare In Love at the Academy Awards in 1999.
Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress - even though she was onscreen for fewer minutes that Gwyneth Paltrow was on stage giving her now-immortal acceptance speech for winning Best Actress. It also won best original screenplay, which seemed fitting. But the night's real surprise was that even a stone epic about that other thing America loves – the military – wasn't enough to beat it to the Best Film gong. Spielberg had done his best work for years with Saving Private Ryan – the opening Normandy landing sequence alone was ground-breaking. But hey, the accents weren't posh and absolutely no one wore a ruff.
7 | Crash beats Brokeback Mountain – 2005
One was a landmark depiction of homosexuality. The other was an exploration of race. Both, in other words, catnip for the Academy, the difference being that Brokeback Mountain was a genuinely great movie whereas Crash was patchy as hell, both in narrative structure and quality.
Also – no one saw it coming, not when Crash flopped at the Golden Globes nor on the night when Jack Nicholson opened the envelope with a 'Woah!' that pretty much captured the mood.
8 | Birdman beats Boyhood – 2015
In a sense this barely counts as a shock: why wouldn't the Academy vote for a film that was essentially about themselves? Alejandro G. Iñárritu's showily-filmed Keaton-reviver took a long (long) look at acting and actors and was, occasionally, very funny about doing so, even if it didn't know when or how to just-end-already.
But the film it beat? A story that tackled everything beautiful and difficult that happens in life, took eleven years to make and reshaped the scope of filmmaking forever. A masterpiece about the profound experiences of normal people robbed by a inconsistent muse on fame: the Oscars in a nutshell, you might say.
9 | Alfred Hitchcock never winning Best Director – 1941-1960
The biggest Oscar shock of all remains that one of the most influential and admired directors in history had such a miserable record with the Academy: fifty nominations in all categories and only a solitary win (Best Picture for Rebecca in 1940). Even more shocking is that he was nominated for best director, and lost, five times – for Rebecca, Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960).
Perhaps out of embarrassment, they did give him the relatively meaningless Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968, an honour he collected with quite delicious froideur (see above). But just to clarify: that's Alfred Hitchcock, never winning a single Academy Award for Best Director. Not even for Vertigo. Which is why, ladies and gentlemen, we really shouldn't pay too much attention to the Oscars.
Published in Esquire UK.