Take back that Oscar!: The least deserving Academy Award winners

By Ryan Berenz, Mike Frey and Stacey Harrison

There are some Oscar winners no one would dispute. The Godfather. Denzel Washington. Meryl Streep. Then there are others that make you scratch your head. And still others that make you want to take those envelopes and rip them into little pieces, then stomp them into the ground until they are all but forgotten.

We’ve compiled some of our nominees for the most egregious offenders over the last two decades, with the hope that we won’t look back on this year’s Academy Awards (Feb. 27 on ABC) — and find more to add to the list:

Best Supporting Actress: Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential), 1998
Considering her body of work (earning her six Razzie nominations), Basinger winning an Oscar for her role as a conflicted call girl in this critically over-hyped noir seems too big of an anomaly. The Academy must be a sucker for hookers with hearts of gold — Basinger beating the much more deserving Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights) was L.A. Confidential’s real crime story.

Best Picture: Crash, 2006
Among the worst movies to win Best Picture, Crash proves that as long as you take on an incendiary subject — such as racist jerks in L.A. — you can win an Oscar no matter how irritatingly and clumsily you deal with it.

Best Actor: Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful), 1999
Look at the crazy Italian guy doing funny stuff in a Holocaust movie! He’s just such a great actor, he makes me laugh during a Holocaust movie! Let’s give him an Oscar so we can watch him do more wacky stuff during the ceremony! Then let’s struggle to name anything else he’s ever been in.

Best Picture: The English Patient, 1997
Elaine from Seinfeld was right. This overblown, windswept romantic epic blustered its way to nine Oscars, and yeah, it looked great, had a fine literary background, but where was the emotion? There was more life and nuance in one scene of Fargo — its closest competitor — than in any part of this by-the-numbers bore whose march to Oscar glory seemed more a matter of rote than merit.

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman (The Hours), 2003
Aside from being perennially overexposed and overpaid — seriously, have you ever gone to a movie just to see her? — Kidman was wildly overpraised for her role as Virginia Woolf. Other than a stern demeanor and a laughable prosthetic schnoz that isn’t even all that accurate, her performance basically consists of her yelling at her husband and writing a novel.

Best Supporting Actress: Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), 1999
This is the standard-bearer of the quality vs. quantity argument. Dench was onscreen for eight minutes during her performance as Queen Elizabeth I, and didn’t do much except look regal and command Shakespeare to write something funny. To her credit, the Dame acknowledged the absurdity of it all in her acceptance speech.

Best Actor: Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman), 1993
There was a time when Pacino didn’t spend every performance yelling at the top of his lungs, eyes bulging, his entire body seemingly disconnected from the words coming out of his mouth. And a time when he never would have done something like 88 Minutes. That was before he won what amounted to a lifetime achievement award for playing a blind ex-colonel who showed an uptight college kid how to have a good time. True, the histrionics started with Scarface, but after this, there was no turning back. Hoo-ah, indeed.

Best Supporting Actor: Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire), 1997

Gooding makes a strong case for Oscars to be given out on a probationary basis. His post-Oscar career got off to a decent enough start, with a role in As Good as It Gets. But the best thing he’s done since is an underwear commercial with Michael Jordan, which we’d gladly watch 100 times before sitting through Boat Trip or Daddy Day Camp.

Best Original Song: “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins (Tarzan), 2000
The original song category is one the Academy often gets wrong. (Because of it, we are all allowed to refer to the movie Mannequin as “Oscar nominated.”) In 1985, Collins’ best solo single, “Against All Odds,” was passed over for Stevie Wonder’s ultra-cheesy “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Here, he left the brilliant “Blame Canada” (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) and Aimee Mann’s “Save Me” (Magnolia) as snubbed contenders in his wake.

Best Picture: Driving Miss Daisy, 1990

The Academy’s street cred took a major hit when it rewarded Daisy for its PG portrayal of race relations while failing to even nominate Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing for Best Picture. Onstage at the ceremony, Kim Basinger did the right thing by taking voters to task for ignoring what she — and many others — felt was the best film that year.

Moments Of Infamy
We all know about Marlon Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather to reject his Godfather Oscar, and David Niven not missing a beat after a streaker interrupted his time onstage. But here are some other oddball Oscar moments that stick in our memory.

1967 — Following a long, lavish presentation of his prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, Alfred Hitchcock responds with a memorable acceptance speech consisting entirely of: “Thank you.”

1985 — When presenting the Best Picture award, Sir Laurence Olivier forgot to read any of the nominees and simply said, Amadeus.

1986 — Upset over a previous Oscar snub, Cher forgoes sartorial protocol and shows up wearing an outrageous Bob Mackie number that went on to be known as the Spider Queen dress.

1987 — Having been turned down by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin for the show’s opening musical number, producers got the next best thing (or not): Telly Savalas, Pat Morita and Dom DeLuise.

1987 — Michael Caine is unavailable to accept his award for Best Supporting Actor … because he’s off filming eventual Razzie winner Jaws: The Revenge.

1989 — Rob Lowe (fresh off a sex scandal involving an underage girl) and Snow White don’t exactly do Tina Turner proud with their version of “Proud Mary.”

1995 — Oprah … Uma! Uma … Oprah!

2000 — South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, supposedly on acid, show up wearing replicas of gowns made famous by Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.

2001 — Björk shows up wearing a swan.

(Originally published Channel Guide Magazine Feb. 2009)

Photo: Björk: Credit: Jerzy Dabrowski/ZUMA Press; L.A. Confidential: (C) 1997 Warner Bros./Monarchy/Regency Ent. Credit: Merric Morton

About Ryan Berenz

Star Wars nerd. Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL). Father of two. Husband of one. I write about sports on TV because I am bad at sports in real life.
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