Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March of 2010.
Ah yes, the Academy Awards. Never before has such a noble institution been so incredibly off-base. One can’t help but wonder what amazing film or performance won’t get the recognition it deserves in any of the upcoming ceremonies. After all, throughout Oscar history, it has happened many times. Too often, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has bestowed their golden trophy upon someone who perhaps did not quite deserve the honor over one of their fellow nominees. A few such examples will be illustrated here.
Now, in the interest of narrowing down many of the illustrious Academy’s various snubs over the years, I will concentrate solely on acting categories. Additionally, only roles that were actually nominated for the award will have a case made for them. We could be here for days if I were to discuss all the numerous incredible performances throughout the history of filmmaking that weren’t lucky enough to garner an Oscar nomination (John Goodman in The Big Lebowski and R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket are a couple just off the top of my head). Granted, the movie-viewing experience is a subjective one and the majority of Academy voters surely had valid reasons for casting their ballot the way they did. However, I stand by the conviction that these arguments are compelling.
OK, The Pianist is a fantastic film. In fact, I appreciated it almost as much as Schindler’s List, as far as comparative subject matter is concerned. Sumptuously photographed, with harrowing performances from the entire cast, the movie focuses on a renowned Jewish pianist (Brody) who must deal with the Nazi invasion of Warsaw. Furthermore, the film’s director, Roman Polanski, is always a controversial figure, and I applaud the Academy for concentrating strictly on the art in granting Brody the trophy (as well as Polanski, himself) instead of taking outside events into consideration. Of course, his elation after winning and his impromptu kiss with presenter Halle Berry was also amazing. Make no mistake, Brody was tremendous in the part, but there just isn’t any way that he was better than Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. I have always been astounded by how Day-Lewis can truly become a completely different person through his craft, and this role is no exception. He’s utterly brilliant as Cutting, the vicious villain and leader of, the Natives, the most powerful gang in the Five Points district of New York during the Civil War. Day-Lewis, with his bloodthirsty and coldly detached demeanor, as well as his unique way of speaking totally embodied the spirit of this tumultuous time in American history, and while the Academy may have been a bit gun-shy about rewarding such a performance, he certainly deserved the Oscar.
I don’t have anything against Marcia Gay Harden. She’s very talented, with a long list of fine films on her resume. In her defense, I feel like her part as Lee Krasner, the wife and caretaker of troubled painter Jackson Pollock was somewhat of a thankless one that she managed to pull off rather well. However, let’s face it: It was a pretty straightforward role that in my estimation didn’t really present too many challenges. I almost feel like Harden’s Oscar was just a by-product of some stuffy voters’ love for the material, which in all honesty, I couldn’t appreciate. In fact, I thought Pollock was a bit of a borefest. Now, I’m not going to extol Kate Hudson’s virtues as an amazing actress. Lately, movies such as Fool’s Gold and Bride Wars could make one want to cut their own jugular open. However, there isn’t any denying that Hudson’s performance in Almost Famous as the mercurial Penny Lane (a groupie for a fictional rock band in writer/director Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age tale, based on his own experiences, that’s a tribute to rock ‘n’ roll and journalism) is both animated and reined in at the proper moments, as well as being simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. Apparently, many others also felt the same way, as pundits in the business had Hudson as the favorite to take the award, which roughly translated, means she was robbed.
No one should be awarded an Oscar for simply yelling and screaming. It would be a different matter if such bellowing had any real substance behind it, but I can’t escape the feeling that Cuba Gooding, Jr. earned his statue for basically uttering everyone’s favorite catch phrase of the late ‘90s, “Show me the money!” Aside from that, Gooding’s turn as star football player Rod Tidwell in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, about finding love in the midst of sports agency, didn’t really offer much. I was frankly stunned by the nomination, let alone Gooding garnering the award. How could William H. Macy not be rewarded with the prize for his portrayal of pathetic, befuddled criminal Jerry Lundegaard, in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo? As an ineffectual man who’s in way over his head trying to pull off the perfect crime, Macy is brilliant, and while his character may not be very likable, it’s near impossible to not almost feel for him. This was one of the bigger travesties in Academy Award history.
Yes, I know. This one may be a bit controversial, and few people in the world adore Marisa Tomei more than I do. Her recent turns in films such as The Wrestler and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead speak for themselves. Let’s chalk her Oscar up to a lack of real stiff competition that year. There’s even a long-standing Hollywood rumor that award presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name off the sealed envelope, but that’s just urban legend. However, I have to maintain that while Tomei’s effort as inexperienced lawyer Joe Pesci’s smart and sassy girlfriend in My Cousin Vinny is a fun one (and the film is certainly solid), she essentially grabbed her trophy for speaking in a Brooklyn accent and stomping her feet during a fertility joke, which isn’t quite enough. It’s difficult not to feel more for the unmatched Judy Davis as a fickle, fault-finding virago who seems incapable of nailing down what she really wants in Woody Allen’s thoughtful and entertaining indictment of relationships, Husbands and Wives.
I jumped back a few years for this one, but it’s a true snub that’s definitely worth mentioning. Sure, Cat Ballou is an enjoyable (though, uneven) western comedy, and Lee Marvin is a gem as gun-for-hire Kid Shelleen (not to mention evil hitman Tim Strawn, that he also played in a duel role). But honestly, Marvin doesn’t even make an appearance as Shelleen until more than thirty minutes into the film. Furthermore, his portrayal as an aging drunk that’s played for slapstick laughs seems pretty elementary, at least when compared to Rod Steiger’s performance in The Pawnbroker. In fact, Steiger was the odds-on favorite that year, so much so, that while the award was being announced he actually started to stand up from his seat before his name was called. This naturally made him look foolish and presumptuous when he didn’t win. However, he wasn’t wrong. Steiger’s depiction of an embittered and isolated Holocaust survivor earning a living as a pawnshop operator in a Harlem ghetto is so properly restrained, yet still astoundingly sad, resentful and distressing that it’s impossible not to get sucked into the character’s world. The fact that this wasn’t an Oscar-winning effort is an American tragedy. Fortunately, the Academy did seem to realize the error of their ways a couple years later and awarded Steiger the Oscar for In The Heat Of The Night, as a consolation.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own favorite Oscar snub? Let us know.