- The 92nd annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 9.
- In preparation, Insider looked back at the most glaring missteps in Oscars history.
- The 14 movies listed here did not deserve at least one of their golden men.
- Some are radically whitewashed or include problematic characters and storylines.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
For every well-deserved award earned at the Oscars, there’s another tiny golden man sitting on the wrong shelf.
Each and every year, much is said and written about which movies didn’t deserve their Oscar nominations or trophies. But hindsight is a much more accurate indicator of whether an awarded film belongs amongst the greats.
Here are 14 of the most glaring missteps in Oscars history.
“The Shape of Water” won best picture in 2018.
Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” was instantly beloved amongst critics and Academy members. It was the most-nominated film at the 2018 Oscars and won four out of 13 awards, including best picture and best director.
While the strange and sometimes wonderful film doesn’t deserve its slanderous reputation as “the fish-sex movie,” it also didn’t deserve to beat masterfully topical, instant classics like Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” or Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”
As Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson noted at the time, “The Shape of Water” simply seems like “a safe choice for an industry that wants to signal its values.”
“The Imitation Game” won best screenplay in 2014.
“The Imitation Game” was excellently acted and conceptually intriguing, but screenwriters made some frustrating choices. The biopic followed the story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a British war hero who decrypted German intelligence codes during World War II. He was also a queer man who eventually died by suicide because of the British government’s homophobic laws – a fact the film bizarrely refused to portray.
“It’s especially galling that this movie specifically won for its screenplay,” writes Complex’s Matt Barone, “which is half Benedict Cumberbatch saying ‘Eureka!’ and half British government officials spouting typical World War II dialogue.”
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” won best picture in 2015.
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” racked up nine Oscar nominations in 2015 and won four. It certainly deserved its best picture award over “American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game,” or “The Theory of Everything” – especially since the performances from stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone are all excellent.
But, as Insider’s Jacob Shamsian pointed out, “it’s pretty clear that ‘Boyhood’ was the best movie of 2014 and should have won best picture, best director, and best screenplay instead.”
As more and more time passes, this feels truer and truer. “Boyhood” has been hailed by countless critics and publications as one of the very best movies of the entire decade – including Insider, where we ranked “Birdman” at No. 39 and “Boyhood” at No. 3. Carter Thallon described the latter as “exceptional,” “one of a kind,” and praised its 11-year filming period as “a herculean filmmaking achievement.”
Jared Leto won best supporting actor for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2013.
Matthew McConaughey’sOscar-winning performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” is about the only part of this movie that still feels praise-worthy (despite the apparent straightwashing of his character, who was reportedly queer in real life).
The straight, cisgender actor should never have been cast as Rayon, but the way the character is written makes this offensive misstep far worse. The film depicts trans women as shallow and romantically tragic, which serves to undermine the real danger these women face.
As Time’s Steve Friess wrote, awarding Leto was “another moment when liberals in Hollywood, both in the industry and in the media, showed how little they understood or empathized with the lives of a minority they imagine they and Leto are honouring.”
“Argo” won best picture in 2013.
“Argo” was generally an interesting and enjoyable film, but hindsight tells us that we should have cast a more critical eye on its blatant whitewashing.
White actors Ben Affleck and Clea DuVall both play inspiring, real-life people: CIA agent Tony Mendez, who’s half-Mexican, and Cora Lijek, who’s Japanese-American.
The characters were written to be white, so there were no offensive accents, stereotypes, or makeup mishaps in the film. But the sin in “Argo” is exactly what Emma Stone’s role in “Aloha” has been repeatedly criticised for. Somehow, Affleck and DuVall – not to mention, most unsettlingly, the reputation of “Argo” – have carried on unscathed.
“The Artist” won best picture in 2011.
“The Artist” is simply a fine yet forgettable film. It was characterised as an unlikely frontrunner, thanks to its shtick as a black-and-white film without dialogue, but it’s also a tribute to the power and glory of cinema, which the Oscars habitually love to honour.
“The King’s Speech” won best picture in 2010.
“The King’s Speech” is the perfect example of a film that seemed to make Oscar-winning sense at the time, but doesn’t carry intrigue over time. Nobody is in a rush to re-watch this too-long retelling of King George VI’s public-speaking woes.
As Business Insider’s Jason Guerrasio points out, the film’s best picture award is especially frustrating when you consider how “The Social Network” should have won, another of the decade’s top 10 films that has aged spectacularly well.
“Crash” won best picture in 2006.
We hardly needed hindsight to tell us that “Crash” is an overhyped and condescending film. Despite its star-studded cast, noble social message, six nominations, and three wins at the 2006 Oscars, The Atlantic named it “the worst movie of the decade” in 2009.
Roman Polanski won best director for “The Pianist” in 2003.
In 1977, Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor after he was indicted by a grand jury on six criminal counts, including sodomy, sex with a minor, and rape by drugs. He then fled the country before his official sentencing and has never returned.
Whatever your feelings on “separating art from the artist,” the seven Oscar nominations for Polanski’s 2002 film “The Pianist” certainly did not need to include its nomination – or subsequent win – for best director, an explicit celebration of Polanski himself.
“Chicago” won best picture in 2003.
The Oscars tend to obsess over stylish musicals with ensemble casts, but “Chicago” is the most unfortunate winner in this category. Unless you have a friend who’s a Broadway aficionado, can you think of one person who’s watched this film in the last 16 years?
“The Last Emperor” won best picture in 1988.
Did Bernardo Bertolucci’s basic biopic truly deserve a clean sweep, winning nine out of nine nominations at the 1988 Oscars? Probably not. It’s visually gorgeous, yet rarely remarkable in other ways.
Additionally, as The New York Times noted, the film is concerningly propagandist.
“It seems to accept the official Chinese Communist version of the facts,” Richard Bernstein wrote at the time. “Based largely on the approved autobiography of Pu Yi himself, and filmed from a script formally sanctioned by the Chinese Government, ‘The Last Emperor’ glides smoothly through one of the most horrific episodes of recent history, the effort to remake wayward individuals by remolding them through education and labour in vast, northern prison camps.”
“Gandhi” won best picture in 1982.
Ben Kingsley as Gandhi is one of the most egregious – and celebrated – instances of brownface in cinematic history. His makeup sessions reportedly took seven hours each, which is plenty of time to realise how wrong it is. Many have seemed to accept the casting decision since the British actor is part Gujarati, but by no account was an Indian actor even considered for the role.
The biopic was also peppered with obvious inaccuracies and ignored problematic reports about Gandhi, including that he was reportedly a vocal anti-black misogynist and allegedly forced underage girls to sleep next to him naked in order to test his own impulses.
“Lawrence of Arabia” won best picture in 1963.
Alec Guinness portrays Prince Faisal in “Lawrence of Arabia,” yet another example of Hollywood’s radical whitewashing.
“David Lean’s film is one of the greatest films ever made, but despite a prominent subplot about the rights of an indigenous people to govern their own region, some politically questionable casting decisions were made,” IndieWire’s Jessica Kiang writes. “Guinness is terrific, but it’s hard to ignore that Obi-Wan is in brownface here, not to mention that Mexican actor Anthony Quinn also plays an Arab.”
“Around the World in 80 Days” won best picture in 1956.
Despite its big budget and intricate filming schedule, “Around the World in 80 Days” is widely considered one of the worst best picture winners in history. At the time, its massive cast and 13-country backdrop was impressive. But, to the modern eye, it leans hilariously hard on cameos and dramatic spectacles that never quite pay off.
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