5 Biggest Oscars Upsets (Nominated But Lost)
3.) Fargo losing to The English Patient
This isn’t an example of years of hype changing people into hipsters toward it. This film had a reputation for being slow back when it came out. “Seinfeld” did an episode at the time about finding it boring and just wanting the main character to just get on with it and die which was hilarious. Now like others on this list, “The English Patient” is a very well-made film. It’s certainly well-acted. However, I distinctly remember checking my watch multiple times and thinking as an editor how much this could be cut down when I first saw this in my film appreciation class. After only a few years, the only things I can honestly remember are the image of a burnt Ralph Fiennes in a bed and Willem Dafoe getting his hand cut off. Don’t ask why that was happening, I honestly couldn’t even tell you if he was a good guy or bad guy.
Compare this with another film nominated that year, “Fargo.” Now I’ve also only seen the film all the way through once or twice. I’ve seen plenty of clips in documentaries or on YouTube in the years since, but still the point being is I can fully remember that film and not just for all the spoofs. It’s a film that doesn’t leave you easily after seeing it. I think it’s fair to say this is still the Coen Bros best film. Sure I may personally like their remake of “True Grit” more, but there’s no denying “Fargo” is their masterpiece, their iconic work. It’s one of those films many can quote tons of lines from even though they haven’t seen it. This is a classic example of the power of producer Harvey Weinstein with the Oscars. Now while I love and defend some of his other movies that may fall into this category like “The King’s Speech,” this guy comes at filmmaking more on how to sell a film to the awards season. Actual merits of the film be damned.
2.) Haliee Steinfeld for Best Supporting
This is unique in these entries due to it’s not so much who she lost to as how bad this whole situation was. Haliee Steinfeld was in the recent remake of “True Grit.” Specifically she was Mattie, THE MAIN CHARACTER. It is her character that sets the whole story into motion and it is her perspective that we follow and never deviate from in both the book, the original John Wayne version, and this remake. And like the rest of film she is fabulous in the role. The Coen Bros did a great job finding a wonderfully talented young actress for a deceitfully difficult role to play. So when the nominations came out that year we were all glad to see her recognized… until we saw she was being nominated for Best Supporting Actress. WHAT?! Again, I cannot overstate this…SHE PLAYS THE MAIN CHARACTER! It would be like if they had nominated Al Pacino for Best Supporting Actor for “The Godfather.” What really brought it home was that Jeff Bridges got a nomination for the film as Best Actor. Yeah I could consider him a co-lead with Mattie, but honestly as much of a scene stealer Rooster Cogburn is in the books and films I personally consider him more of a supporting character.
So why was this? Well a thing to remember is that the Academy actually doesn’t pick the nominees or at least what they’re nominated for. Basically how it works is that the studios decide that then send a For Your Consideration to the Academy with their films and what they think they should be nominated for. Then, the Academy itself decides which of those to nominate. Then, the members (all the actors, directors etc.) vote and that’s how it works in a very basic way. With that in mind, it is my belief that Paramount Pictures did this as a form a strategy. The buzz around that time was that it was Natalie Portman’s year for her performance in “Black Swan.” Of course those aren’t always true, but rule of thumb is that’s a good indicator. Sensing that Natalie seemed to have it in the bag and the fact Academy does not normally recognize child actors except in rare circumstances, I’m betting they thought if they put her up for Best Supporting Actress (which had no odds-on favorite that year) she would have had a better chance of actually winning the Oscar. Now personally as impressive as Portman was in “Black Swan,” I thought Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” was far more deserving. It was just a really solid year for young female performances in 2010. Still, I’d personally rather see someone lose on their own merits in their proper category than this failed strategic move. Although the same thing actually happened this past year with Viola Davis in “Fences.” She asked to be nominated as Best Supporting even though she’s by ANYONE’S definition the co-lead of that film. Well it worked for her so I guess the theory can’t be faulted at least.
1.) Raging Bull losing to Ordinary People
This is probably one of the biggest classic examples of Oscars upsets and one of the few I completely agree with. A thing to remember is that hindsight is 20/20. But even still this is crazy. Again, “Ordinary People” is a very good movie deserving of its praise. Judd Hirsch probably gives his best performance and really all of the actors give it their all. It’s also directed by acting legend Robert Redford as his debut film in directing. It’s certainly an impressive first film to direct although again if we’re talking Robert Redford movies, there are some I like much more like “The Milagro Beanfield War.” It’s one of those films it’s hard to really talk about other than yeah it’s pretty good. What you heard is true.
It’s just that it gets beaten to a bloody pulp by Martin Scorsese’s greatest film “Raging Bull.” Remember “Raging Bull” is the reason we still have Scorsese with us. He really got into the drugs back in the day and was practically on death’s door both health-wise and just giving up. It was Robert De Niro who brought him the script that gave him the motivation to hold on, to clean himself up, and bring this story to the screen. And he threw EVERYTHING he had of himself into the film. What can be said about the film that hasn’t already been said hundreds of time before? It is a nearly perfect film. Pick some aspect and this film does it amazingly well. The acting, the visuals, the editing, and taking a well-worn genre like boxing films and making it feel wholly original. It’s a film that often appears on the greatest films (sports or otherwise) list all the time. Sometimes “Ordinary People” will be on there too, but normally towards the bottom while “Raging Bull” is often towards the top. The only thing I can figure is that at the time of release it was too dark for the voters to handle. However, time has been kind to it and aged the film like the best kind of wine. In my heart “Raging Bull” has all the Oscars it was nominated for.