The Academy Awards are like Hollywood's Super Bowl (what with the betting pools, the bean dip, the coma-inducing length) but with one important difference: Super Bowl rings are actually awarded on merit.
You can't say the same about the Oscars. In an effort to shade the pageantry with a modicum of perspective, we'll be taking a look at the Academy's playbook of fuck-uppery. This is a gentle reminder to you, the discerning reader, that if you treat the Oscars as some sort of authority on what makes a film great, you're doing it wrong.
The Circle of Ineptitude: Best Actor (1974, 1992, 2001)
In 1974, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson were in their prime, and turned in two of the most iconic performances in the history of American cinema--Nicholson as J.J. Gittes in Chinatown, Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. That year's Best Actor Academy Award was the acting equivalent of Magic versus Bird in the '84 NBA Finals.
But your prime isn't necessarily a good place to be in the eyes of the Academy. No matter what it says on the statue, most Oscars are at least partially lifetime achievement awards that factor in things like how "due" you are, and how likely you are to die before ever getting nominated again.
Of course, anyone who's gambled on little league baseball or participated in a record breaking gang bang can tell you, trying to give everyone a turn only penalizes the people with talent. The Academy proved this point by giving Best Actor to Art Carney for playing an old fart on a cross country trip with his cat in a movie called Harry and Tonto. This is the acting equivalent of the NBA giving the'84 MVP to Kurt Rambis.
To be fair to the Academy, De Niro edged out the cat for best Supporting Actor.
Now we wouldn't begrudge an old man his moment of recognition if the Academy didn't operate in something we'll call "The Circle of Ineptitude."
See, skipping Pacino in 1974 meant that come 1992, he was "due." So 18 years after the initial screw up, the Academy gave Pacino the Oscar for doing a Yosemite Sam impression in Scent of a Woman. This, in turn screwed over Denzel Washington for Malcolm X, who then had to be given a make-up Oscar in 2001 for his role in Training Day that's mostly memorable for the Chappelle Show sketch it inspired.