#2. The Academy Hates Political Relevance: Best Picture (1989, 2005)
Accusing the Academy of making decisions for political reasons isn't necessarily a critique. Movies are cultural events. If the zeitgeist makes an "issue movie" more relevant, there's no reason that shouldn't be factored into the equation. The problem is how bad the Academy tends to fuck up the math.
Do The Right Thing is generally considered one of the most potent American films about race. It's one of only five movies ever to be selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry during its first year of eligibility.
And these guys really dug it.
The film's climactic race riot came three years before the entire city of Los Angeles followed suit. At the time of its release, Spike Lee's film was a wakeup call. Sure, racism still existed in 80s movies, but only as a setup for snappy one liners from the darker half of a buddy cop duo.
The Academy's choice for Best Picture in 1989 was Driving Miss Daisy, an ode to the quiet dignity of a black servant (Morgan Freeman) who spends the majority of his life eating the shit talked by a wrinkled sack of racism in a sundress. Daisy was 48 Hours for the art house set-which meant the film has less pulse than a bowl of oatmeal. Daisy got the award for being a palatable examination of race, an issue that was on people's minds that year. It just happened to be on people's minds because Do The Right Thing, which wasn't even nominated, had sounded the alarm.
Morgan Freeman is 170-years old
Proving that the Circle of Ineptitude can extend to issues as well as actors, in 2005 the Academy's Best Picture winner Crash was a ridiculous fairy tale about race relations in Los Angeles that most people had already forgotten by the time the Oscars rolled around. Two far better and more politically relevant movies, Brokeback Mountain and Capote, were both overlooked, presumably for splitting the pro-homo vote.
#1. The Academy Loves Irrelevant Studio Politics: Best Picture (1998, 1942)
With their track record of fuck-uppery, you'd think Hollywood would take the Oscars with a grain of salt. When the barometer for artistic success in your industry doesn't even really care if you're all that good at what you do, then why should you? If you took such an innocent attitude into an Oscar race against the Weinsteins, you'd wake up the morning of the Oscars wearing a necklace made from the teeth of the Chinese dignitary whose murder they'd framed you for.
Throughout the 90s, Miramax's entire business plan was built around creating films specifically tailored to the Academy's delicate sensibilities, banking on the added exposure a win would bring. This plan was put to the test in 1998, when Miramax's Shakespeare in Love was nominated alongside Saving Private Ryan, which spent the summer making every war film that had ever won an Oscar look like a high school play. It was a foregone conclusion Saving Private Ryan would win. And then the campaign started.
The month leading up to the Academy Awards are like an especially petty high school election, if high school students had access to the money cannon that made Transformers 2 possible. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, "Miramax spent an estimated $16 million (about $2,700 for each academy member) on its Shakespeare (in Love) campaign." Miramax also leaned on journalists to criticize Private Ryan for being historically inaccurate, a ballsy maneuver when you consider that Ryan's storming of Normandy made veterans of that battle shit their theater seats, and Miramax's film turned Shakespeare's creative process into a gender bending romantic comedy.
Didn't matter. On the night of the Awards, Shakespeare in Love shocked everyone by winning Best Picture award out from under the Citizen Kane of modern war films.
Which brings us to the Citizen Kane of all films: Citizen Kane. Anyone who cares a little too much about movies swears Orson Wells's 1942 film is the best thing ever projected onto a silver screen. And it's not like people didn't realize it at the time: It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and was widely expected to win most if not all of them. Then William Randolph Hearst, the publishing giant whose life Kane is loosely based on, started a smear campaign that focused on director Orson Wells's contempt for Hollywood. On the night of the Awards, the audience of Academy members actually booed every time Wells's name was mentioned. The most influential film of all time lost Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley, a film that archeological records indicate nobody gave a shit about even then.
That'll show him to question Hollywood's integrity.
The passage of time reveals a movie's true quality, not the number of gold statues it won. Citizen Kane didn't win the Best Picture, neither did Raging Bull, or Dr. Strangelove, or Rear Window or Star Wars. Keep that in mind while you're watching the circus, and you'll have a better time all around.
For more on the Academy Awards, check out 5 Great Careers Destroyed By The Post-Oscar Curse and 6 Cheap Acting Tricks That Fool The Critics Every Time.
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