Here are the biggest Oscar mistakes of the decade thus 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 scar. 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 three more years for Jamie Foxx or another five years after that for Forest Whitaker.
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. 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 the film’s setting of Antibellum North Carolina. That summer, the “Cold Mountain Music Tour,” comprised of all the musician’s who contributed to the film’s score, was a big success. 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
Capote would have to be the least worthy Best Picture nominee of the decade so far. If you take Hoffman’s performance out of the equation, the film is awkwardly paced and circuitous.
Even worse than Capote taking a Best Picture nod away from many other worthy contenders is the fact that for the first time in 24 years, this just happened to be the year when all five pictures aligned with all five 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 transcended the blockbuster genre with “King Kong,” which was the 5th highest-rated film for the year on metacritic. Fernando Meirelles crossed over to the English language and got career-best performances out of Ralph Feinnes and Rachel Weicz with his solid adaptation of John La Carrerre’s novel “The Constant Gardener.” Woody Allen turned in his best work in decades and changed his tone completely in “Match Point.” Terrence Malick had a brilliant return to form in “The New World.” David Cronenberg’s intense thriller pleased audiences, critics, and his fan base 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. 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 won more awards that year. That way, wouldn’t have dominated the Oscars so heavily over the next two years and taken 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.
5. 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. He was more shades of gray underneath a veneer of democracy.
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 perennial Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn attracts more attention than Beckinsdale’s Ava Gardner, who had never won one. The Academy could even have decided to avoid “The Aviator” altogether in this category and found better alternatives in National Board of Review winner Virginia Madsen for “Sideways” or Laura Linney for “Kinsey.”
6. 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 really felt a need to award an oscar to someone, why not Rene Zellweger? 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 imbued Roxy Hart with glitz and glamour underlied by emotional vulnerability.
7. Chocolat’s best picture nomination, 2000
According to Damien Bona’s book “Inside Oscar 2”, Chocolat tested very well with audiences and critics nationwide but led many studios to cry foul on the Weinsteins. I’ve only seen about a third of this film, but from what I gleamed, the film seems incredibly wispy and its incredibly transparent theme of chocolate as a metaphor for joy and freedom from class oppression almost seemed like a parody of the heavier themes that Oscar films usually contain.
8. 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 can 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 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 for gradually working his way to stardom in character parts in “Scent of a Woman”, “Talented Mr. Ripley”, “Big Lebowski” and “Boogie Nights.” That might have explained the urgency to give Hoffman an award right then and there.