Right Oscar, Wrong Movie

“Few are begrudging Kate Winslet‘s Oscar win,” writes Chicago Tribune columnist Mark Caro, “and yet few contend that her portrayal of former Nazi concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz in The Reader is her strongest work ever.

Winslet’s performances in Revolutionary Road and Little Children, he argues, “were more complex and searing, and she transfixed even in Heavenly Creatures, her 1994 debut.” Caro uses this as a launch into a piece about 10 accomplished artists — Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, Paul Newman, Sydney Pollack, etc. — who won Academy Awards for the “wrong” movie.

I could come up with a few myself, but it’s easier to let HE readers do this and then bounce off their calls in the comments section. Almost all acting Oscars are for a body of work, of course — the performance cited is always deemed worthy, of course, but an acting Oscar is basically a career-capper tribute.

John Wayne won his Best Actor Oscar for True Grit, but it might not have happened if he hadn’t given several verging-on-great performances in They Were Expendable, Red River, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, North to Alaska and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Yes — North to Alaska. It’s perhaps Wayne’s only flat-out comedic performance but he’s just about perfect in every scene, goofing on his tough-cowboy machismo, confident, playing it relatively straight but also having fun at times, always in good spirits, etc.

  • SirGromit

    My favorite example of this would be Russell Crowe winning for “Gladiator” when he should have won for “The Insider”.

  • The Hey

    What comes to mind are two nominations for the wrong movie in the same year.

    John Lithgow was nominated for “Terms of Endearment” but should have been for “Twilight Zone” (1983)

    Dennis Hopper was nominated for “Hoosiers” but should have been for “Blue Velvet” (1986)

  • JChasse

    Fact in my world: Cecil B. Demille was a great filmmaker with an Oscar-worthy reputation.

    Fact in my world: Although “The Greatest Show On Earth” is on my short list of “comfort food” movie when I’m sick, no way did he deserve an Oscar for that.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    Interesting thread…unfortunately, there are just a lot of times when the a person gets the Oscar for the “wrong movie”…and scrolling through their filmography, there just isn’t a “right movie” to be found, at least for me.

    Other than that, Gromit stole my thunder on Crowe…best example I can think of over the past 10 years or so.

  • Rich S.

    Jack Lemmon. Won for Save the Tiger, should have won for Some Like It Hot or The Apartment.

    The most obvious is Jeremy Irons, who, while accepting his award for Reversal of Fortune, thanked David Cronenberg, director of Dead Ringers.

  • Jack South P.I.

    That article is useless because it doesn’t tell you who won the year all these supposed “more worthy” winners should have taken home Oscar. It’s easy to say Pacino should have won for The Godfather: Part II instead of Scent of a Woman. It becomes trickier when you realize Jack Nicholson beat Pacino in 1976 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ignorant barroom debate masquading as journalism. Pathetic.

  • Sabina E

    I know we’re talking about ACTORS, but Martin Scorcese winning an Oscar for “The Departed.” Although that was a fanastic movie, he really should have won for “Raging Bull.”

    and duh, Heath Ledger for THE DARK KNIGHT, when he should have won for Brokeback Mountain.

  • raygo

    Godfather Part 2 beat out Chinatown (my personal favorite) for Best Picture, in 1974 (I think). Neither Nicholson nor Pacino won that year,

  • K. Bowen

    Noah Forest over at MCN did a story like this pre-awards. His point was that Jack Lemmon won is “body of work” Oscar for Saving the Tiger. Which meant that Al Pacino didn’t get it for Serpico. Which meant Pacino won his Oscar for Scent of a Woman. Which meant Denzel Washington didn’t win for Malcolm X. Which meant he won it a few years down the road for the inferior Training Day.

    On the female side, Helen Hunt won for As Good as It Gets. Which meant that Kate WInslet wins it for The Reader. Which means Anne Hathaway did not win it for Rachel Getting Married. Which means she’ll win a decade or so from now for a less-great role. Which means that someone else will lose it that time and need to be given a makeup call somewhere down the line ……..

  • erniesouchak

    Martin Scorsese for “The Departed.”

  • scooterzz

    wells — i believe ‘mclintock!’ is wayne’s only real flat out comedic performance…much more broad than ‘north to alaska’…

    and, while ‘north to alaska’ is probably a better film, ‘mclintock!’ is probably more popular (because of the o’hara reteaming)…..

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    “and duh, Heath Ledger for THE DARK KNIGHT, when he should have won for Brokeback Mountain.”

    Well, the obvious difference is supporting and lead…not exactly the same award.

    Plus, PSH won that year for Capote…not sure that makes it a “duh” situation?

    I’ve accepted TDK backlash, but what’s with Heath-as-Joker backlash? He was fantastic, and his performance is easily the heart & soul of that movie (even if you hated it).

  • Jack South P.I.

    Duh. I said Godfather II when I meant Dog Day Afternoon.

  • raygo

    I’m sorry we won’t be able to debate Heath Ledger in the future, I think there would have been more “career best” performances as he got older … he had a certain gravitas … much like Paul Newman.

  • Jack South P.I.

    K. Bowen hit the nail on the head and shows why this debate is pointless.

  • raygo

    Sean Penn’s award for Mystic River was a career achievment award of sorts. Now he has two.

  • MikeSchaeferSF

    raygo: indeed, one could argue that Penn’s “Mystic” Oscar was a career award, while “Milk” was an award for actually giving a terrific perf. I’d compare that to Hanks winning for “Philadelphia” (combination of overdue actor/socially conscious role) and then doing better work the following year in “Gump” (I hate the movie but love the acting) for which they simply couldn’t deny him.

  • Sebguts

    Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. She was barely in that fucking movie. That was a pity win for her snub in Mrs. Brown.

  • Discman

    Well, Eddie Murphy SHOULD have won an Oscar for “Dreamgirls,” a nice performance capping a career dominated by strong comedic work early in his career — the type of work the Academy almost never recognizes.

    But I heard that some blogger made a big stink about how Eddie’s a bad guy, and how THAT should be the determining factor. Maybe that made the difference in Murphy’s defeat.

  • Jeremy Fassler

    A couple that come to mind…

    Denzel Washington winning for Training Day when he should have gotten it for Malcolm X.

    Russell Crowe for Gladiator is the perfect example. And not only should he have won for The Insider, he should have also been nominated for L.A. Confidential.

    Paul Newman definitely. He should have absolutely won hands-down for The Verdict.

    Dustin Hoffman for Kramer Vs. Kramer in spite of his brilliant work in Lenny, Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate.

    Warren Beatty as best director for Reds. Total consolation.

    Whoever said John Lithgow hit the nail on the head. Same with Dennis Hopper. Now I’d like to know who thinks Downey should have been nominated for Iron Man over Tropic Thunder.

    And one more from this year: I agree wholeheartedly with Wells’ take on Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button. He made me laugh hysterically as the idiot in Burn After Reading–why couldn’t he have been nominated for that instead?

  • /3rtfu11

    Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. She was barely in that fucking movie. That was a pity win for her snub in Mrs. Brown.

    She has Kathy Bates’ 2nd Oscar.

  • va

    here’s a variation on the Denzel/Crowe comments above —- pulling Insider, Malcolm X out of the equation —- Denzel should have won for “Hurricane” over Crowe and Gladiatior, and Crow should have won the next year for “Beautiful Mind” (regardless of whether the film should have been Best Picture) over Denzel for “Training Day.”

  • Sabina E

    CitizenKaned, don’t get me wrong, Heath Ledger was PHENOMENAL as the Joker, but many people say that this Oscar win was more like a “goodbye” award, some kind of a death tribute for Heath, along the line of “sorry you didn’t win for Brokeback and we’ll miss you” award.

    and I agree about Denzel Washington’s win for TRAINING DAY, when he should have won for Malcolm X and other better movies.

  • bluefugue

    Crowe gives a better character-actor turn in The Insider, but I have a lot of respect for his work in Gladiator. It’s a true star turn — perfectly cast in that role, a man’s man for the new millennium, seems totally appropriate in an ancient Roman world, and elevates a mediocre movie somewhat by his mere presence. Certainly he’s the only reason I’d ever watch it again beyond the opening battle sequence. Well, maybe some of Joaquin Phoenix’s work too…

  • DavidF

    Props to Discman for taking us back in time.

    Can we start a thread on what a mistake it was for The Departed to skip Toronto?

    Is Marissa Tomei a case of this scenario in reverse?

    The win for Vinny seems to be one of the more baffling awards and yet she’s really bounced back with some great work the last couple of years.

    Anyway, this isn’t news- the Oscars are not objective measrues of quality. Crowe is a good example but, for my money, Pacino and Scorcese are particularly glaring examples of people who did AMAZING work and then won for lesser efforts (particularly in Pacino’s case).

  • stillwater

    Denzel was pretty great in Training Day but he absolutely deserved if for Malcom X., which for my money is one of the top 5 leading performances of the last 25 years.

    Nicole Kidman winning for The Hours is wrong on many levels, and one could argue that she deserved the award for Moulin Rouge (for which she was nominated) or moreso for To Die For (for which she was not).

  • Hakken

    Boyle for Trainspotting

  • /3rtfu11

    Nicole Kidman winning for The Hours is wrong on many levels

    She’s the best thing about that damn movie aside from its cinematography.

  • berg

    Kate for Romance & Cigarettes … Cate for Coffee and Cigarettes

  • MindlessObamaton

    raygo:

    I’m sorry we won’t be able to debate Heath Ledger in the future, I think there would have been more “career best” performances as he got older … he had a certain gravitas … much like Paul Newman.

    MO responds:

    Right you are. To be honest, the first time I saw BM, I honestly thought that Newman, if he had been younger when it was made would’ve killed as Ennis. I personally felt that Ledger had it in him to b one of th great movie stars, old school and noew all at once.

    I’m a fan. Always. HL in BM, along with DDL in TWBB: the 2 best performances of htis decade.

  • stillwater

    “Nicole Kidman winning for The Hours is wrong on many levels

    She’s the best thing about that damn movie aside from its cinematography.”

    1. The movie was a piece of shit.

    2. It was a supporting role.

    3. She sucked.

    4. Juliane Moore was the best thing about the movie.

  • DeafBrownTrashPunk

    I know we’re talking about ACTORS, but Martin Scorcese winning an Oscar for “The Departed.” Although that was a fanastic movie, he really should have won for “Raging Bull.”

    and duh, Heath Ledger for THE DARK KNIGHT, when he should have won for Brokeback Mountain.

  • Doug Pratt

    Russell Crowe couldn’t even maintain an American accent in The Insider and you want to give him an Oscar for it?

    On the other hand, how about Jerry Goldsmith ‘winning’ for The Omen

  • http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/files Scott Feinberg

    If anyone knows this guy, would you please pass along my thanks to him for stealing the article I wrote within the last week?

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/files/2009/02/being-a-member.html

  • /3rtfu11

    1. The movie was a piece of shit.

    I don’t care for.

    2. It was a supporting role.

    So. It was the kind of performance they have this damn awards shows for.

    3. She sucked.

    Might I suggest Batman Forever to see a sucky Kidman performance.

    4. Juliane Moore was the best thing about the movie.

    I love JM and she should have an Oscar win by now.

  • qwiggles

    This is an illogical debate for me because it implies the nominees are competing against their own past performances, and an undeserving one of the five took it home. This is simply a gross mischaracterization of how awards work: Martin Scorsese’s nomination for The Departed was not nominated against his work in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. It was nominated against Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Queen, and United 93. And in my opinion, it was the best work of the five. You may disagree, of course, but then that would be the debate — not whether he won for the wrong film, all those years ago.

  • Yuval

    Winslet’s best work, by far, was Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. I think she knows it herself.

  • qwiggles

    Agreed, Yuval. And my main objection this year is that Winslet got a career Oscar for a comparably (and for her, uncharacteristically) weak performance in a strong category. Hathaway, Leo and Streep all could’ve easily won if Winslet was not seen as overdue.

  • DeafBrownTrashPunk

    CitizenKaned, don’t get me wrong, Heath Ledger was PHENOMENAL as the Joker, but many people say that this Oscar win was more like a “goodbye” award, some kind of a death tribute for Heath, along the line of “sorry you didn’t win for Brokeback and we’ll miss you” award.

    and I agree about Denzel Washington’s win for TRAINING DAY, when he should have won for Malcolm X and other better movies.

  • D.Z.

    “”and yet few contend that her portrayal of former Nazi concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz in The Reader is her strongest work ever.”

    I didn’t bother seeing the movie, just the trailer, which suggested she was just playing a collaborator. But now that I know the details, it sounds like a feel-good remake of those Ilsa movies.

  • drbob

    David F: Have you seen Vinny lately? Tomei totally kills in the role. She is absolutely the equal of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. I’m all in favor of more comedy roles winning these things.

  • Jonah

    “CitizenKaned, don’t get me wrong, Heath Ledger was PHENOMENAL as the Joker, but many people say that this Oscar win was more like a “goodbye” award, some kind of a death tribute for Heath, along the line of “sorry you didn’t win for Brokeback and we’ll miss you” award.”

    Jesus Christ. Who are these “many people”. What’s your opinion? Before Heath had died I was reading stories about how brilliant his performance was. Did dying help him win? Maybe. How many actors have won posthumous Academy Awards? Two. Okay, maybe it didn’t help him.

    “and I agree about Denzel Washington’s win for TRAINING DAY, when he should have won for Malcolm X and other better movies. ”

    It’s the performance, not the movie, that counts. Denzel was at his best in Training Day. He, like Sean Penn, should have three or four Oscars by now.

  • Noiresque

    Meryl Streep was the rock of THE HOURS, and Toni Collette and Jeff Daniels gave the strongest supporting performances.

    I don’t get the hate for Marisa Tomei in My COUSIN VINNY. That category belonged to Judy Davis (that year belonged to Judy Davis). But was a pithy, non-campaigning Australian going to win for a Woody Allen film just as the Soon Yi controversy was at its height? The nomination was deemed enough for her. Tomei gave one of the best comic performances of the 90s. She was frankly better than Redgrave’s and Plowright’s dithering in their respective roles, and on par with Miranda Richardson’s scene-stealing in DAMAGE. The fact that Tomei was a 28-year-old American babe against 4 established, theatre trained giants is why she gets so much flack for her Oscar win.

  • Krazy Eyes

    I think one could devote an entire thread to just “films Winslet is better in than her performance in The Reader.” The fact that one of those films was released last year too is especially problematic for The Reader win. I can’t really complain though — I love Winslet as an actress and I hope to see her continue her nomination streak even after she’s finally won one of those damn statues.

  • great scott

    Ron Howard should have won Best Director for Apollo 13. They gave it to him for A Beautiful Mind, meaning Peter Jackson lost for Fellowship of the Rng. Jackson won for Return of the King, meaning Eastwood lost for Mystic River. Eastwood won for Million Dollar Baby meaning Scorsese lost for The Aviator and had to wait two more years to win for The Departed. Wonder who David Fincher will rob of Best Director two or three years from now.

  • purelyfilms

    As always, Kate should take the trophy home. Like a peach, she makes any movie sweet. I can’t help it, great movie that need more assistance in the editing room, not the acting. And those who want to be in the editing room or any part of the film industry should train on similar projects at http://www.filmconnection.com