It’s that time again. This Sunday, February 22, the 81st Annual Academy Awards will air on the ABC network. Every year one thing’s for certain, some nominees will take home a gold statue, while others will leave empty handed, which basically means someone will be disappointed. Any and everything that happens before the winners are announces means nothing once someone has a little gold man to hang on to. And yet people still talk about the “woulda, shoulda, couldas” of the night, especially when the sure thing, loses to the unexpected.
As much as everyone likes to bag on the Academy Awards for being stuffy and predictable, every once in a while you get thrown a curve ball. Sometimes it’s a refreshing surprise and other times it’s an complete snub. Over the eight decades that the Oscars have been awarded they’ve had their fair share of surprises and upsets that continue to be talked about years down the line.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane, and look at some of the greatest upsets in Oscar history.
10. Adrien Brody vs. The Veterans (2003)
In a sweet surprise Adrien Brody beat out Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage, Sir Michael Caine, and Daniel Day-Lewis for the Best Actor Oscar for his tender portrayal in 2002′s The Pianist. Brody was the only Oscar newbie in his category as all the other nominees were previous winners. With the kiss that was heard around the world, Brody was given a standing ovation as he walked to the podium to accept his award. That night at the age of 29, he became the youngest actor to win the Best Actor trophy.
9. Three Six Mafia vs. Dolly Parton (2005)
Talk about coming out of left field. Three Six Mafia nabbed the Best Original Song Oscar from projected winner Dolly Parton. Their song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was produced for the MTV film, Hustle & Flow, while Parton’s “Travelin’ Thru” was from Transamerica. The group became the second rap artists to receive the Oscar, behind Eminem who won for the 8 Mile anthem “Lose Yourself”.
8. Cuba Gooding, Jr. vs. Edward Norton (1996)
Nothing against Cuba Gooding, Jr. but I was genuinely shocked when he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar over Edward Norton. Granted Gooding did a great job in Jerry Maguire, but how can you deny the versatility Norton showed in Primal Fear? It was Norton’s first feature film role, and he received an Oscar nod straight out the gate. Either way Gooding won, I guess that’s what happens when you “show them the money”
7. Dances With Wolves vs. Goodfellas (1990)
Really? Goodfellas lost to Dances with Wolves? I don’t mean to take away from Kevin Costner or the film itself, but really? I chalked this one up to the longstanding dislike the Academy had for Martin Scorsese.
6. Grace Kelly vs. Judy Garland (1954)
I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest Grace Kelly fan. I don’t deny her talent, but she just doesn’t do it for me. In 1954 Kelly won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Country Girl. Judy Garland was nominated in the same category that year for A Star is Born. Both were talented actresses, but only one could take home the gold. In this case it was Princess Grace.
5. Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
In 2005 the catch phrase of the year was “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Apparently the Academy knew how, and they did. The underdog Crash won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out the cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain.
4. Rocky vs Everybody (1976)
In 1976 Sylvester Stallone’s boxing tale was the little engine that could at the Academy Awards. Up against heavy hitters Network, All the Presidents Men, Bound for Glory, and Taxi Driver, Rocky was not an obvious choice for Best Picture. Newcomer Stallone, starred and wrote Rocky into cinematic history with his debut underdog story that introduced the world to the “Italian Stallion.” You can’t deny the significance Rocky carries in American film and pop culture. It’s a classic.
3. How Green Was My Valley vs. Citizen Kane (1941)
We all know how much Citizen Kane is shoved down our throats as the greatest film of all time, yet Orson Welles passion project didn’t win Best Picture when it was nominated in 1941. Perhaps Kane was one of those films that gained appreciation with time, because it was overlooked that year for the John Ford coal mining piece How Green Was My Valley.
2. Marisa Tomei vs The Royal Shakespeare Company (1992)
You knew this one would be somewhere at the top of this list. In 1992 Marisa Tomei astounded the audience in the auditorium and at home when she took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny. Her competition included acting royalty Vanessa Redgrave, and the widow of Sir Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright. Bristish actress Miranda Richardson and Australian born Judy Davis rounded out the nominees. I’m still at a loss for words.
1. Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan (1999)
Here’s another one from the personal vendetta books! I guess Steven Spielberg needs to get real comfortable with the Oscar he received for Schindler’s List, because it might be a while until he gets another one. How in the world did Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture?! In the words of Peter Griffin that win really “grinds my gears.” I’m not a Spielberg fanboy, but I don’t think it was a fair decision. Yet, if the Oscars were always fair would I have been able to compile this list?
Was your biggest Oscar upset on the list? If not what/who did I miss?