On the eve of one of the most stacked Academy Awards in history, The Michigan Daily’s Film staff was asked to list their favorite and least favorite moments from the entire history of the show. When was the Academy right on the money? When did they screw up? Read on and find out!

BEST: “The Silence of the Lambs” sweeps 1991

If ever the Academy did something right, it was bestowing on “Silence of the Lambs” the big five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Jodie Foster’s tortured performance as Agent Clarice Sterling, Anthony Hopkins’s commanding screen presence as Hannibal Lecter and Jonathan Demme’s flawless direction all combined seamlessly to create one of the most harrowing, pulse-pounding, brilliant films of all time. And despite an overall strong year, with entries including “Thelma and Louise,” “Bugsy” and “JFK,” there was never really any competition. “Silence of the Lambs” made history at the 64th Academy Awards, and deservedly so.

WORST: “Chicago” wins Best Picture in 2002

I have nothing against musical films, but I can’t stand when fanfare somehow wins out against incredible feats of artistic vision. Sure, “Chicago” is a good enough film, but it does not compare to the underrated masterpiece that is Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” one of the dirtiest, most cynical and most imaginative pieces of his filmography, or the claustrophobic nightmare of Polanski’s “The Pianist,” a powerful tale of the lonely journey of a Polish Jew desperate to survive the Nazis in occupied Warsaw. Spectacle is one thing, but heart, mind and soul should always win out — the Academy dropped the ball on this one.

– Jamie Bircoll

BEST: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” sweeps 2003

I’m still absolutely amazed that the film tied for the most awarded film in Oscar history is a fantasy film; not to mention the third film in a blockbuster franchise. “Return of the King” swept the 76th Oscars, winning 11 awards and becoming the first and only fantasy film to win Best Picture. Granted, 2003 was a fairly lame year for Oscar movies (who in the hell remembers “Seabiscuit?”). Still, the gap in typical Oscar-bait fare that year allowed the Academy to recognize “Lord of the Rings” as the decade-defining, bar-setting fantasy film series it was. My friends, “Return of the King” bows to no one.

WORST: “Kramer vs. Kramer” beats “Apocalypse Now” for Best Picture in 1979

I get it. Dustin Hoffman. Meryl Streep. Divorce was a much more controversial issue in the ’70s. I don’t care. “Apocalypse Now” losing to “Kramer vs. Kramer” at the 52nd Academy Awards was the worst Best Picture snub in history. “Apocalypse Now,” combining the frameworks of “Heart of Darkness” with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, framed the darkest horrors of war in a revolutionary cocktail of blood, drugs and nihilism. As time goes on, and Coppola’s psychedelic war epic nears the top of more and more critics’ “Greatest Films of All Time” lists, the decision to give the award to “Kramer” seems dumber and dumber.

– Jacob Rich

BEST: “Annie Hall” wins Best Picture in 1977

Heralded by and large as the best comedy of the last 40 years, Woody Allen’s 1977 film “Annie Hall” nabbed Best Pic at the 50th Awards, elbowing out “Star Wars” and a much lesser rom-com, “The Goodbye Girl.” Allen’s movie did for filmmaking what FX’s “Louie” does for someone too young to have ever heard of Allen: when standup transparency coexists with real-time absurdities and caricatures. In “Annie Hall,” we live just outside Allen’s mind in Alvy Singer, yet close enough to see his childhood house under a theme park wooden coaster, the subtitle-accompanied dialogue between he and Keaton, and, most vital, his onscreen verist romance with Keaton. Still, and I can’t help it, my favorite bit of this film, the arteries to the living whole, is Alvy’s backbone: his carriage in spite of his physical makeup, the way he asks Annie for a kiss before dinner so they can “digest their food,” or how he speaks his mind just the way New York likes it.

WORST: “The Imitation Game” nominated for Best Picture in 2014

The only Best Picture nominees that arguably don’t merit their spot are “American Sniper,” saved by a fat Bradley Cooper, “The Theory of Everything,” saved by Eddie Redmayne’s able mouth, and “The Imitation Game,” which could have been saved if the script did more than waltz around the homosexuality and wonky math. The “big” reveal happens between Turing and one of his workmates at party, as if to say, “Tada! He’s gay. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.” It plays a surface role in the film during a time when these inclinations were a criminal offense. The film in essence is about cracking a code, but what’s problematic is that we, of course, reach this moment by way of epiphanous glee, in some Buckinghamshire pub no less. It’s structured like Oscar bait with an on-point Cumberbatch, a score scored for goosebumps, a pretty lady, and a near-victory denouement. A final scene with Cumberbatch sleeping beside his machine, his love, is a sample of the emotive engine this film should have manufactured.

– Andrew McClure

BEST: “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” wins Best Original Song in 1939

“Over the Rainbow” ’s swooning melody and fluttering instrumental background are almost like a lullaby, rocking you to sleep where dreams can finally flourish. This song hits on all the necessary criteria to be a classic. Within the context of the film, it captures every character’s driving motivation: to be able to live their fantasy lives. But it’s not just true for these characters. Soldiers adopted it as a symbol of the United States during World War II. Countless films, books and musicians have paid homage to it. “Over the Rainbow” has endured from its black-and-white film days, brought into color by Pink’s 2014 Academy Awards performance. It’s only fit that such a sweetly optimistic beacon of hope win “Best Original Song.”

WORST: Julia Roberts beats Ellen Burstyn for Best Actress in 2001

“What have I got, Harry?” Ellen Burstyn cries out, and we dread the answer, because suddenly we’re reminded of our inevitable future. Her iconic monologue in “Requiem for a Dream” inflames our fear of age. Potential and beauty long gone, life rendered useless once her kids are all grown up, and Sara Goldfarb and her gripping psychological breakdown propel the film’s sense of desperation forward. Julia Roberts was good in “Erin Brockovich,” but nothing can compare to the ravenous despair in Burstyn’s eyes every time she acts out a panic attack. Is it some kind of sick joke that Burstyn, whose character aches to accept a contest win on camera, never gets the award? Because I’m not laughing.

– Vanessa Wong

BEST: Heath Ledger wins Best Supporting Actor in 2008

Heath Ledger’s posthumous win for Best Supporting Actor at the 81st Academy Awards was one of the best decisions the Academy ever made. Ledger’s win for his role in “The Dark Knight” was the first major award for a superhero-based film, and it’s easy to see why: his performance as the Joker inspires uneasy laughs and genuine terror, and he fits in perfectly for a movie about something deeper than surface-level cartoonish villains trying to destroy the world.

WORST: “Brave” beats “Wreck it Ralph” for Best Animated Feature in 2012

The Academy’s preference for “Brave” for Best Animated Feature at the 85th Academy Awards was a huge mistake. “Brave” may have been a decent animated movie that showcased mother-daughter relationships, but “Wreck it Ralph” was the most fun I’d had watching an animated movie in years. It has countless references for video game geeks, a number of genuinely hilarious lines, a constant explosive array of bright colors and, most of all, a whole lot of heart. What’s not to like?

– Benjamin Rosenstock

BEST: Elizabeth Taylor wins Best Actress in 1966

In her Oscar winning performance in the 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Elizabeth Taylor harnessed the full power of her talent. As the alcoholic, middle-aged Martha, Taylor embodied the vengeful and bitter nature of a woman seeing the world through the prism of a poisonous marriage. At the time, Taylor was one of the most beautiful women in the world, but gave up her looks to gain the strength of the chain-smoking and caustic harridan. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was meant originally for the stage, but Taylor infused the film with the life that let it translate into success.

WORST: Bob Fosse beats Francis Ford Coppola for Best Director in 1972

The Academy Award’s choice of Bob Fosse for Best Director for his work on “Cabaret” over Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful directing of “The Godfather” was an unjust jettison and a disservice to one of the classic films of our time. The American epic, flowing thick with love, anger and blood, beautifully illustrates the complex structures of the Corleone crime family. Fosse’s “Cabaret,” a fun version of the Broadway musical, is not comparable to the subtle genius of Coppola’s “The Godfather,” which has since inspired countless audiences and filmmakers alike.

– Rebecca Lerner

BEST: Colin Firth wins Best Actor in 2010

By far the best decision the Academy ever made was to give the 2010 Award for Best Actor to Colin Firth. His portrayal of King George VI in “The King’s Speech” beat out a cold-blooded, Aaron Sorkin-fueled Jesse Eisenberg from “The Social Network” in addition to defending-Best Actor Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart” and “True Grit,” respectively), the co-host of the 2010 Oscars, James Franco (“127 Hours”), and Javier Bardem, for “Biutiful.” The field was stacked, yet Firth was the clear choice. Firth adopted a convincing stammer to tell the story of a King’s fear of public speaking. He made intimate the life of a person in one of the least relatable positions imaginable. His work complemented fellow 2010 Oscar winners, director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler. A truly great performance in a truly great film.

WORST: “The King’s Speech” beats “Toy Story 3” for Best Picture in 2010

“Toy Story 3” should’ve won that shit.

– Conrad Foreman

BEST: Robin Williams wins Best Supporting Actor in 1997

It probably isn’t the pick that immediately comes to mind when talking about this movie, but Robin Williams’s ‘Best Supporting Actor’ win for his performance in “Good Will Hunting” is a personal favorite. Williams was nothing short of magnificent in his role as a widower with a troubled past who uses his life experiences to motivate and support an errant genius to help him realize his true potential. The scenes between Damon and Williams are pure gold, with the latter famously improvising several key lines of dialogue in order to add humor and depth to the characters. Who can forget the “swan fetish” monologue by the lake and Williams’s character explaining what true love feels like? There’s a very real sense of honesty that permeates through the performance, lending credibility to the role and the actor. This performance is unforgettable and is immortalized thanks in no small part to the honor that was deservedly bestowed upon it.

WORST: “Shakespeare in Love” beats “Saving Private Ryan” for Best Picture in 1998

One of the worst and certainly most shocking Oscar picks of all time has to be 1998’s Best Picture pick. “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan” to get the prize, leaving moviegoers everywhere surprised and, in my case, disgusted. Don’t get me wrong, “Shakespeare in Love” was a good movie, but was it good enough to pip Spielberg’s gritty and intense war drama? I really don’t think so. Everything about the movie screamed “Best Picture”; it’s just a pity that The Academy was deaf to it.

– Mayank Mathur

BEST: “Good Will Hunting” wins Best Original Screenplay in 1997

While not a shocking win after seeing the film, watching Matt Damon and Ben Affleck pick up the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with “Good Will Hunting” can’t be categorized as anything less than wholly satisfying. I mean, winning an Oscar for a solid and good-hearted script you wrote with your best friend is basically the stuff all film students’ wet dreams are made of. Beating other tenured writers such as Woody Allen for “Deconstructing Harry,” or Paul Thomas Anderson for “Boogie Nights,” Damon and Affleck’s script appeared just as wholesome as they were. Although the two went on to separate careers, Damon’s role in “Good Will Hunting” setting him up to become a critically-acclaimed actor, with Affleck’s individual success eluding him for a few more years, the duo to this day shines as the ultimate ambition of young screenwriters.

WORST: ”Beasts of the Southern Wild” not nominated for Best Original Score in 2012

Although recognized by the Academy in several other categories, I’m still in awe that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” wasn’t even put on the ballot for Best Score at the 85th Academy Awards. Forgotten in lieu of countless swelling, repetitiv, and predictable movie soundtracks that bring drama to already dramatic moments in films like “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln,” the “Beasts” soundtrack manages to transform an impoverished southern community into a fantasyland where somehow even an old pickup floating through a flooded neighborhood seems triumphant and overwhelming. Where other noms had an entire orchestral suite to reinforce what was being shown on screen, “Beasts” somehow reworks our imagining of the entire film with a few strings, a washboard and a lone, victorious trumpet.

– Lauren Wood

BEST: Kathryn Bigelow beats James Cameron for Best Director in 2009

Remember the winter of 2009-2010? February, March, snow days, the Yemen embassy. I don’t really remember either, but what does come back is the media campaigns launched in the lead up to the Oscars, the constant “battle of the exes” text framing the Best Director category. This was the winter Kathryn Bigelow went toe-to-toe with James Cameron as the brawl between “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar” got bloody. In one corner: an Iraq War drama that manages to be both poignant and raise stakes in the way only a ticking bomb can. Staring it down: “Dances With Wolves” With Blue People With Giovanni Ribisi With 3D Without Kevin Costner. It takes a special kind of filmmaker to manage spectacle, but a better one to hold our breaths on wire’s edge because they’re making a resonant statement about war. Bigelow standing on that stage was a triumph for impactful storytelling.

WORST: “Dances With Wolves” beats “Goodfellas” for Best Picture and Best Director in 1990

“I just want to make the team I want,” says Kevin Costner tearfully. He’s playing the beleaguered General Manager of the Cleveland Browns in “Draft Day” and, being a few hours away from Draft Day, Costner heaves every bit of his out-of-shape, soggy-around-the-center emotional face wringing at the script. The resulting splat is kind of like the sound that keeps exploding through your head when watching “Dances With Wolves,” the film that earned Costner both a Best Picture and Best Director trophy. The movie is a four-hour trudge through white-people-meet-Native-Americans-then-feel-embarrassed, and honestly, it doesn’t even matter what other, more deserving bit of cinema Costner bitch slapped out to get his suntanned hands on the Oscar. Really, trust me, it doesn’t matter. I’m telling you, it doesn’t make any difference. Who cares? *cough* “Goodfellas” *cough* Now just spend the next several centuries picturing Kevin Costner beaten to death by Martin Scorsese in the shine box scene.

– Akshay Seth

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.