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Keith Lofthouse argues that the Academy Awards has got it wrong several times over the years, sending Oscars home with the wrong choice of nominee, whether influenced by guilt, sentiment, politics or even religion.  And this year, it continued ... with Nicole.

Four-time Oscar winning composer, Andre Previn defined the fatal flaw in Oscar voting in 1991 when he reasoned: “I accept that I am not equipped to vote on the niceties and details governing the prize for set decoration or film editing, and conversely, I am not prepared to put too much credence on Sylvester Stallone's opinion of (musical) composition.” 

In 1970, when George C. Scott refused an Oscar nomination for his belligerent blast of militaristic egomania as General George S. Patton, he was like an uppity private expressing contempt for rank.

"Life isn’t a race"

“Life isn’t a race,” he huffed, “it’s a war of survival and there are many who get crippled and injured on the way. And because it isn’t a race, I believe that choosing a best actor or a best picture is a farce.”

Scott was scorned by Oscar’s patriarchs for being “churlish” and “ungracious” but the actor had already revealed his distaste for the face race a decade earlier when he declined a nod for Best Supporting Actor in The Hustler. Even then the Great Academy was indignant and dismissed the actor’s objections with a terse telegram stating that the nomination was for “Mr Scott’s work and not Scott himself.”

Scott, in fact, was one of the first to catch Oscar at his lie, because he knew then what we all know now that the award often has little to do with meritorious work, is prone to misjudgment and can be swayed by issues to do with guilt, sentiment, politics, popularity … and even, dare we say, religion.

Consider that of the 5739 members (according to latest sources), only 50 percent can be relied on to vote and a large proportion of those voters are believed to be Jewish. It’s more than coincidence then, that after 20 years of making the best films in the business, director Steven Spielberg (himself Jewish) failed to impress voters until 1993 when he made a film about the Holocaust (Schindler’s List).

Similarly in 1947, with postwar sentiments still churning, Gentleman’s Agreement, a facile, melodramatic and almost forgotten film about anti-Semitism, was awarded Best Picture, out-pointing such films as Great Expectations and Miracle On 34th Street, which are now regarded as classics. 

In 1997 Spike Lee estimated that he had little chance of an Oscar for his documentary Four Little Girls because the eventual winner, The Long Way Home, was “a film about the Holocaust and one of the producers is a rabbi.” (Ed: A comment that tends to confirm the view that great many Academy members are Jewish.)

"a backlash against his boorish behaviour"

Denzel Washington and Halle Berry became the first black Americans to scoop the Best Actor awards last year not only because black recognition was long overdue but for a combination of factors that have influenced Oscar voting over the years. Russell Crowe was the loser as the result of a backlash against his boorish behavior… and because he had already won for a lesser film (Gladiator) …and perhaps because John Nash, the real life genius he played in A Beautiful Mind was apparently a bi-sexual anti-Semite, matters that were conveniently overlooked in the screenplay. 

It seems that Oscar got it wrong again ... and not for the first time, as our list of the most glaring Oscar oversights indicates, nor, most likely, for the last time. 

Best Picture 1941. The winner was How Green Was My Valley…ahead of the Best Picture That Ever Was, the politically unpopular Citizen Kane.

Best Picture 1944. The winner was Going My Way ... sweet, sentimental, sickly and a “safer” vote than Double Indemnity, now regarded as the pantheon of film noir.

Best Picture 1952: The winner was The Greatest Show on Earth. High Noon lost because writer Carl Foreman would be blacklisted for failing to testify at the communist witch-hunts. The Greatest Musical On Earth (Singin’ In The Rain) wasn’t even nominated.

Best Actress 1954: The winner was Grace Kelly (The Country Girl). Grace was deglamorised to rather drably portray the long-suffering wife of an alcoholic, blinding Oscar to Judy Garland’s blistering performance as the long-suffering wife of an alcoholic in A Star Is Born. The votes, ironically, went against Judy, because the role was calculated to woo Oscar. It was, but Judy is still cheese to Kelly’s chalk. 

Best Actor 1955: The winner was Ernest Borgnine (Marty) for his nice exercise in nice-guyism as a plump Italian butcher. Oscar frowned on Robert Mitchum, who not only had spent time in prison but played a monster so malevolent in Night Of The Hunter that even the voters were spooked.

Best Picture 1958: The winner, Gigi, was a tedious piece of romantic fluff; a complete contrast to Orson Welles’ sleazy masterpiece, A Touch Of Evil, which so unsettled Oscar voters that it wasn’t nominated.

"the despised outsider"

Best Actress 1960: Elizabeth Taylor was the despised outsider after stealing Debbie Reynolds’ husband Eddie Fisher, but all was forgiven when she came knocking on death’s door in a London hospital after a bout of pneumonia and a tracheotomy. Jean Simmons gave the performance of her life as the sinner-saving evangelist in Elmer Gantry, but Liz snatched her nomination. 

Best Actor 1968: It was a toss up for the sympathy vote between Cliff Robertson as a mental retard in Charly and Alan Arkin, who was named Best Actor by the New York Critics as the lonely deaf mute in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Robertson won, after waging an expensive and shameless campaign in the trade papers but only Arkin’s shattering performance lives in the memory.

Best Actress 1973: The winner was Glenda Jackson, more for the body of her work than for any apparent excellence in the low-key comedy A Touch Of Class. For all of Linda Blair’s head-spinning in The Exorcist, it was Ellen Burstyn as her distraught, teary-eyed mum who gave substance to the sensational.

Best Picture 1981: Chariots Of Fire? Not everyone thought so: “a hymn to the human spirit as if scored by Barry Manilow,” said one critic. “Patriotic claptrap,” said another, with painted backdrops (at the Olympics!), pretentious slo-mo and an insipid Vangelis score that supposedly gave it some class. Who wouldn’t rather see Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or the sublime Atlantic City that year? 

Best Supporting Actor 1982: Louis Gossett Jr was only the third black actor to win for An Officer And A Gentleman, but James Mason deserved the judge’s nod for The Verdict while Richard Dreyfuss, who wrenched the heart pleading for the right to die, was unfairly ignored in a film too small, Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Best Supporting Actor 1993: Tommy Lee Jones won for tracking down The Fugitive, as we knew he would, but there was nothing predictable and nothing that emulates 19-year-old Leonardo Di Caprio’s paralysing performance as Johnny Depp’s retarded brother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. But Leo, of course, hadn’t yet “paid his dues.”

Best Actor and Best Actress 1998: Roberto Benigni for the artificial Life Is Beautiful and Gwyneth Paltrow for the overrated Shakespeare In Love won on default. They simply couldn’t shower any more Oscars on dual winner Tom Hanks, for Saving Private Ryan, or perennial nominee Meryl Streep, for One True Thing, even though their labors are equal to any they’ve done.

"voters have short memories"

Best Actress 2003: Nicole Kidman has won the Oscar for The Hours, but the work of her co-stars Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore is even more impressive, so why single Nicole out? For singular perfection, Diane Lane should win for Unfaithful but Unfaithful came out too early in the year and voters have short memories.

Published April 3, 2003

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Nicole Kidman in The Hours


Singin' in the Rain

A Touch of Evil

Elmer Gantry


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