And the Oscar goes to … the wrong person


I have an Academy Awards fantasy. This Sunday, when the presenter opens the envelope for Best Achievement

in Directing, I envision audible gasps, then stunned silence and,

finally, thunderous applause when un-nominated Kasi Lemmons benefits from a secret write-in campaign

and wins for Talk to Me.

And then, for the hell of it, Sarah Polley

wins an Honorable Mention for Away From Her.

I suspect, however, that one

of the actual nominees will win. (I’m pulling for Jason Reitman

Juno.) But this does not change the sad

truth that sometimes the best movies and performers do not get nominated,

and sometimes the absolutely wrong performers and movies win.

It can

be pretty tough to figure out the logic. For example, my brother noted

that the longest — read poorly edited — movies often win Best Editing.

(As he elaborated, “All 28 hours of The English Patient beat

in 1997.) And the acting nominees sometimes reflect the most

offensive scenery-chewing.

Of course, my brother and I are not the only

ones to spew righteous indignation about the state of Academy Awards

affairs. I recently read a pretty good list of the Worst Oscars Ever, some of which I agreed with and some

of which I disagreed with. And this led me to compile my own list of

Academy Awards Travesties — the performers and movies that stole the

awards that should have rightfully gone to more deserving others.

Best Picture

Travesty — Crash (2006)

Sometimes, perhaps even frequently,

the Academy gets it right. A personal high for me was when The Silence of the


beat JFK in 1992.

And whether or not it was really

the best movie of the year, Shakespeare in Love

made me very happy when it knocked out Saving Private Ryan in


But sometimes the Academy gets

it very, very wrong. Dare I mention A Beautiful Mind

over In the Bedroom in 2002, Gladiator over Traffic

in 2001 and Braveheart over Babe in 1996. (And my brother

still wakes up screaming because Dances With Wolves

beat Goodfellas in 1991. What is so compelling about the crappy

epics?) But the most obvious, most egregious and most morally and criminally

wrong was Crash over Brokeback Mountain in 2006. Crash

was entertaining in a manipulative, simplistic, overbearing way. (People

are capable of both good and bad. Who knew?!) And, of course, the women

were quite lovely.

(I also had an adolescent crush

on Matt Dillon back in the day.)

But Brokeback was compelling

enough to turn the “gay cowboy movie” into a mainstream hit. It

featured subtle, engaging performances, a mesmerizing story and breathtaking

cinematography. Fie on you, Academy members, for this travesty.

Best Actress Travesty —


It makes me quite happy that

I don’t have a nominee for this category. Had I been consulted, I might

have handed out a few statuettes to different winners over the years,

but I can’t find any that trigger outrage. And I can name many that

make me very happy: Charlize Theron

for Monster. And, most important, Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry.

That was possibly the best

performance in a movie ever. Ever.

I do, however, wonder why there

are so few travesties here. Thinking about it leads me to a depressing

hypothesis, namely that there are so many fewer meaty roles for women, so the few who get the opportunities almost always shine.

Best Actor Travesty — Denzel

Washington (Training Day,


There are, of course, many

roles for men and many corresponding opportunities for them to overact

or be overrated. I could go on at length about Mel Gibson and

Russell Crowe
and Tom Hanks — all of whom bore me to tears

— but I don’t feel like blathering on about the boys. I will simply

take a moment to note that Tom Wilkinson delivered a perfect,

understated performance in the best movie of 2001, In the Bedroom.

And he lost to bombast personified, Denzel Washington.

Best Supporting Actress

Travesty —
Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted — 2000)

And speaking of bombast, I’m

going to commit the cardinal lesbian sin of criticizing Angelina Jolie.

She wasn’t bad in Girl, Interrupted, but her character and her

performance were both over the top. Contrast that with Chloë Sevigny, who created a believable, complex

person that same year in Boys Don’t Cry.

I know others would

argue that the biggest Best Supporting Actress Travesty is Whoopi Goldberg beating Lorraine Bracco in 1991, and I suppose that’s a fair

argument. But that doesn’t pain me as much as the triumph of bombast

over understatement.

On the flip side, the Best

Supporting Actress category was the source of my favorite Oscars moment.

I haven’t seen The Piano, so I don’t know if Anna Paquin

deserved the win, but her acceptance speech was priceless.

Best Original Song Travesty

— “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”

(Hustle and Flow, 2006)

This was the other travesty

of 2006. I don’t actually have any feelings about “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” but Dolly Parton‘s “Travelin’ Thru” deserved to

win. And that’s not just because I love Dolly. It’s also because the

song helped create the warmth and heart of Transamerica.

There are many runners-up in

this category, though. Particularly egregious was when the stupid

Phil Collins song beat “Blame Canada” from South Park

and “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2.

Best Director Travesty — Kimberly Peirce not being nominated in 2000

I’m not upset that Sam Mendes

won in 2000American Beauty

was an excellent movie. But the fact that Kimberly Peirce was not even

nominated for Boys Don’t Cry tells me that the Academy that year

was full of extremely sexist or extremely stupid people.

The Cider House Rules

and The Insider were both perfectly good movies, but neither

was as gripping or as powerful as Boys Don’t Cry — which means

that neither was as well directed.

In the history of the Academy

Awards, I can find one ray of hope in the Best Directing category. I

firmly believe Sofia Coppola

would have won in 2004 had it not been the predetermined year for

Peter Jackson
to win for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I could keep going, but I’ve

gone on far too long already. What Academy Awards — or omissions — trigger

your righteous indignation?

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