Just Keep Swimming

Revisiting the Collective: The Biggest Upsets at the Academy Awards

(CS: Oscars are this weekend, so seems like a great time to repost this piece from 2013 on Collective Publishing.)

The 85th Academy Awards are this weekend, and many are expecting Argo or Lincoln to walk away with the Best Picture statuette. (CS: It was Argo) I’m hoping that the heartwarming underdog picture Beasts of the Southern Wild pulls off a huge shocker by being declared the best of 2012. There is a small chance that the monumental upset can occur, because Oscar history shows that sometimes the completely unexpected can go down. (CS: The unexpected would happen a few years after this with Moonlight beating La La Land, but a lot of what happened with that win was very unexpected)
Here are some of the biggest upsets in Academy Awards history, and gives me a little hope for the small and endearing arts film. 
Kathryn Bigelow wins Best Director over James Cameron (2009): Cameron had directed the highest grossing film of all-time, and it was expected to be a formality that he’d pick up the Best Director award for Avatar. In a delightful surprise, Bigelow, with her modestly budgeted Hurt Locker became the first ever female director to win the award, and it was even sweeter by toppling her ex-husband for the victory. (CS: Kind of interesting that just 12 years ago the smaller independent movie beating out the big blockbuster was considered shocking, and now a big blockbuster even getting nominated is now the shocking thing.)

Adrien Brody wins Best Leading Actor over a heavyweight field (2002): Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day Lewis, Michael Caine, and Nicholas Cage all had formerly won an Oscar and at the time were highly regarded actors (Cage hadn’t hired a stuffed monkey as his agent yet). (CS: For shame, 2013 Christopher, because Cage rules. Always has and always will) Brody was a relative unknown that most assumed should have just been happy he was nominated for The Pianist. Adrien had an incredible performance that earned him the right to be the first actor under 30 to win, and he punctuated that win with an equally memorable kiss with gorgeous presenter, Halle Berry. 

How Green Was My Valley defeats Citizen Kane for Best Picture (1941): This may not have been seen as a massive upset at the time, because John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley was critically acclaimed and is still considered a classic. Now, the American Film Institute recognizes Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time. Yet it couldn’t even be acknowledged as the best film of its year, which makes the result a big shocker now. 

The 6 Mafia beats Dolly Parton for Best Original Song (2005): The voting committee is known to be a collection of old white men, which isn’t usually the demographic for rap. It seemed safe to believe friendly country music icon Dolly Parton would be a lock with “Travelin’ Through” for Transamerica. It was a massive jaw dropper when the rappers took home the award for their song “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp” for the film Hustle & Flow. For a whole 5 minutes, the Academy Awards almost resembled something hip. (CS: Acknowledging rap by 2005 may not quite translate to being cutting edge)

Robert Redford wins Best Director over Martin Scorsese (1980): Raging Bull is widely considered the best film of the 1980s and near the top of the list of almost every film critic’s best films of all time. Unfortunately, this fact wasn’t enough for Scorsese or his film to defeat actor turned director Robert Redford and his film, Ordinary People. It appears actor directors were Scorsese’s kryptonite as 10 years later he and his film, Goodfellas, lost to Kevin Costner and his film, Dances with Wolves. One of the greatest directors of all-time finally won Best Director in 2006 for Departed (which also won Best Picture). It is hard to believe that it took so long for the legendary Scorsese to get the recognition and for one of his films to also win an award. (CS: Departed is great, but both Goodfellas and Raging Bull losing Best Picture seems like evidence that the Academy can be out of touch with what they feel is the best, especially if a movie is gritty and controversial)

Rocky knocks out Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President’s Men for Best Picture (1976): Rocky is the ultimate underdog story about a down and out boxer going toe to toe with the heavyweight champion of the world. This film did even better in real life by taking on three critically lauded pictures and actually coming out the champion. Rocky is still fondly remembered today, but the other three films are held in the highest regard by film critics and buffs. It is still surprising that a feel good sports film overcame thought provoking and culturally relevant pictures. (CS: Scorsese didn't lose to an actor turned director this time, but Sylvester Stallone did do the screenplay. Also, feel-good defeating gritty and tough movie is way more common than I would have been willing admit in 2013).