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The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

on February 23, 2017, 10:00am
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What are award ceremonies good for if not arguing? It’s a time for people to place themselves in the shoes of a critic, to question which films had phenomenal cinematography, which directors worked harder than ever, which films blew them away from start to finish. If each year brought clear standouts, then we wouldn’t feel the need to debate whose work is the true best for each category. But we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by talent day in and day out. So with that comes loss — a lot of it.

Choosing the worst losses in Oscar history is near impossible. The award ceremony has been going on for 87 years at this point, and that means there are over 87 losses for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and everything in between. Hell, even choosing 10 from this current century took plenty of debating.

If you don’t believe us, just scroll through past winners. Remember when Joaquin Phoenix didn’t win Best Actor for The Master because Daniel Day Lewis’ stone-cold biopic performance in Lincoln was too critic-baiting? Or when Martin Scorsese lost Best Director for Gangs of New York to Roman Polanski for The Pianist? Then there was the obvious shoe-in where Jean Dujardin won Best Actor for The Artist even though Brad Pitt went above and beyond in Moneyball.

So join us in looking at the losses that truly devastated us. But most importantly, bring your pitchforks. Award season is all about righting the wrongs, and heaven knows there have been undeserving losses (and even, gasp, undeserving wins) aplenty in the last 17 years. So here’s who the Academy Award really would’ve gone to … if we had our way.

–Nina Corcoran
Senior Writer

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Best Actress: Ellen Burstyn

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

ellen burstyn The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich

We won’t pretend as though Roberts’ Oscar-winning take on the titular real-life environmentalist and legal genius is bad. It’s great. But it’s the test of time that sways us here; Erin Brockovich isn’t even Steven Soderbergh’s best film of the year 2000, and it’s not the first of the Best Actress nominees that comes to mind. Not when Ellen Burstyn’s horrifying portrayal of an amphetamine-addled would-be star is in the mix. Of all the depravity chronicled in Requiem, it’s Sara’s descent into celebrity-fueled madness that gives Darren Aronofsky’s iconic film its most painful and resonant moments. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Reaction to Loss:

requiem The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Director: David Lynch

Mullholland Drive (2001)

lynch mulholland drive The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind

Look, A Beautiful Mind is fine. It’s a perfectly sound drama about an extraordinary genius and exactly the type of prestige fluff that the Academy has wet dreams about every year. But, it’s no Mulholland Drive. David Lynch’s surreal masterpiece is a once-in-a-lifetime film that was born out of chaos and all the better for it. It’s a puzzling spectacle that was likely too intimidating for voters, though the least they could have done was turned that confusion into sympathy, especially after passing on his previous opus — ahem, 1986’s Blue Velvet — for Oliver Stone’s Platoon. If only they had a visit from the Cowboy. –Michael Roffman

Reaction to Loss:

david lynch The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Actor: Bill Murray

Lost in Translation (2002)

lost in translation The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Sean Penn for Mystic River

Some actors only get one shot. Mickey Rourke comes to mind. So does Bill Murray. What do both have in common? They were bested by Sean Penn at the Oscars. Now, some would argue Penn’s turn in Clint Eastwood’s harsh drama Mystic River is a little more complicated than, say, Murray’s very self-referential turn in Sofia Coppola’s outstanding meditation Lost in Translation … but we’re siding with Venkman on this one. Starting with Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, Murray began to really embrace his softer side, opting to take out his manic quirks in lieu of a more resilient exterior that apparently was always there. He delivers a very silent performance in Coppola’s film, but it’s one that demands to be called “nuanced.” How the Academy could watch him sing Roxy Music and not consider him a lock is why this writer will always shake his head each and every year. His reaction following the loss captured what we we all wanted to say… (inaudible whisper) –Michael Roffman  

Reaction to Loss:

bill murray The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

brokeback mountain The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Crash

Paul Haggis’ 2005 Best Picture, Crash, has been maligned over the years for a host of reasons: the delusionally quaint approach to the complexities of racism, the heavy-handed dialogue, that one part where Sandra Bullock learns tolerance by falling down a flight of stairs. But perhaps the biggest reason is that Crash was honored over Ang Lee’s haunting adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about a pair of cowboys in the 1960s American West who find truth and an almost entirely unspoken kind of love in each other. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal do some of their best work here (to say nothing of Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams’ aching performances as the wives dragged into so many lies), and there’s a profound depth of feeling to the film that makes it one of the most stunning modern nominees to miss out on the big prize. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Reaction to Loss:

brokeback mtn The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Actress: Gabourey Sidibe

Precious (2009)

gabourey sidibe The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side

And now, a case study in why every late January is rife with think-pieces about the outdated preferences of the Academy’s voting body. The table was set for Gabourey Sidibe to break out with her wrenching, understated turn as a pregnant teenager desperately trying to build a future under the worst circumstances in Lee Daniels’ acclaimed drama. But even though her costar Mo’Nique took home a Best Supporting Actress statuette, Sidibe lost out to Sandra Bullock’s leading performance in a movie that’s as woefully misguided about the truths of poverty as Precious is honest and candid about them. Bullock does her best with TV movie material, but it’s Sidibe’s work that lingers long after the film ends. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Reaction to Loss:

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Best Picture: The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network

Lost to… The King’s Speech

Which is the story worth telling your kids before bed: a geek finds his dark side and ruins lives so Americans can become social media addicts, or a member of royalty can’t articulate himself well but practice makes perfect in time? When it comes to role models, the latter wins, but when it comes to entertainment, the prior takes the lead. It’s been six years since The Social Network lost to The King’s Speech, and each passing year makes the loss all the more absurd. How does a witty, rapid-fire, well-shot film full of BFF backstabbing and unflattering genius lose? When it runs against a film ripe with bait: British royalty, period-piece drama, disability growth, and Colin Firth. But of course. This is the Oscars, after all. –Nina Corcoran

Reaction to Loss:

social network 1 The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Actress: Viola Davis

The Help (2011)

THE HELP

Lost to… Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady

It’s looking likelier by the day that Viola Davis will finally get her much-deserved Oscar this year for her stirring turn in Denzel Washington’s Fences. (C’mon, she lent gravitas to Suicide Squad. What more does she have to do?) But a golden (heh) opportunity was missed several years ago when she was snubbed for her work as Aibileen Clark, the unlikely figurehead of a major culture shift in 1960s Mississippi. Tate Taylor’s The Help has its issues, but it’s a vastly more engaging watch than The Iron Lady, a hagiographic call for us all to be a little more sympathetic toward Margaret Thatcher. Streep’s excessive turn as Thatcher is far from her most interesting, and it’s the only highlight of an otherwise tedious, by-the-numbers biopic. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Reaction to Loss:

viola davis1 The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Actor: Michael Keaton

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

keaton birdman The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything

Chew on this: How does a film that rests solely on the shoulders of a single actor — creatively, spiritually, and conceptually — win almost every award except for the goddamn actor? Having just picked up a Golden Globe, not to mention a handful of other outstanding nods, Michael Keaton was looking good going into the 87th Academy Awards. Here was a comeback story for the trades! Oh, but how could we forget, those voters worship an enchanting biopic, especially if it’s even remotely about the enduring human spirit (and the life of Stephen Hawking certainly is), which is why it was a fool’s game to think anyone but Eddie Redmayne was going to win. Still, Keaton’s loss makes little sense given the other top-tier awards to Birdman — even though one might argue the Academy was more fixated on it from a technical standpoint (sh’yeah right) — and the image of the veteran actor dutifully putting away his speech continues to give this writer the worst fucking heartburn. –Michael Roffman

Reaction to Loss:

keaton The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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Best Director: Richard Linklater

Boyhood (2014)

boyhood The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

Lost to… Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Alejandro G. Iñárritu isn’t a bad director. He managed to rope together a film of wins over critics and casual moviegoers alike, even with some excess weirdness. But truth be told, Birdman stands out because of the camerawork, the long pans, and the characters’ ability to snap with emotion. Boyhood, on the other hand, captures what it means to be a director because, good god, the guy worked with this crew for over a decade. Richard Linklater wasn’t just a director on the set of Boyhood; he was a father figure for people transitioning through dramatically different stages of life onscreen and off. To push your cast to stay in the mindset of their role, to embrace angst and depression, and to meet up time and time again over the course of their life takes strength. Linklater wasn’t just good at following a calendar. He connected with this crew on another level and strung together a story that, like life itself, takes empathy and detail to bring to life. –Nina Corcoran

Reaction to Loss:

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Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone

Creed (2015)

CREED

Lost to… Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies

Okay, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the Oscars don’t care about comeback stories. Otherwise, Murray, Rourke, and Keaton would have “Oscar-winning actor” above their names on every current trailer. But, something felt different for Sly going into the 88th Academy Awards. For one, his competition was tough, but not that tough. Christian Bale’s turn in The Big Short was Mid-Level Bale, Tom Hardy was better in Mad Max: Fury Road, Mark Ruffalo was OK in Spotlight, and who didn’t snooze through Mark Rylance’s performance in Bridge of Spies? Well, the Academy for one. Sure, Rylance is the strongest part of Spielberg’s sleepy, forgettable historical drama, but Stallone brought an unforeseen shine to a well-established icon. Watching the aging hero of the OSCAR-WINNING Rocky wrestle with feelings of mortality and loneliness was a weight no one thought Stallone could bench press at this age. But he did. And considering he never took home any trophy for his story back in 1977, one would have thought the Academy would throw in the towel. Alas, they’re as mean, cold, and incorrigible as Ivan Drago. –Michael Roffman

Reaction to Loss:

rocky creed The 10 Worst Oscar Losses of This Century

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