Now that the Oscar nominations are out, we all have an excuse to rummage through our vast knowledge of Academy Awards minutiae. For instance, what are the most blatant cases of Oscar make-goods? You know, instances where the Academy tried to make up for a previous error in judgement. It never works, as you’ll see.
JAMES STEWART IN “THE PHILADELPHIA STORY” (1940)
Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors, but he just didn’t deserve the Oscar for lead actor in 1940. He was great in the part, as a news reporter sent to cover a society wedding and getting in over his head, but he wasn’t even the lead actor in his own film – Cary Grant was. Plus, Henry Fonda gave a terrific performance in “The Grapes of Wrath” the same year. Most likely, Jimmy got the nod because of the previous year, when he didn’t win for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Shucks.
ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN “BUTTERFIELD 8” (1960)
By most accounts, Liz was a lock for the best actress Oscar in 1960 because she’d taken seriously ill just before Academy members did their voting and she got lots of sympathy support. She’d certainly been in better movies than this one, about a woman who sleeps around and pays emotional consequences. In particular, there was “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 1958.
PAUL NEWMAN IN “THE COLOR OF MONEY” (1986)
It bordered on criminal that Newman hadn’t won an acting Oscar before “The Color of Money,” where he revisited the character of Fast Eddie Felson from “The Hustler.” You had “HUD,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” and “The Hustler” itself in previous years. Not only that, but just one year earlier, Newman had received an honorary Oscar for his body of work. When it came to Paul Newman, the Academy never got the timing right.
AL PACINO IN “SCENT OF A WOMAN” (1992)
This is the example most people remember, because it was so ridiculous. Seriously? Pacino gets best actor for his blind Army officer in “Scent of a Woman,” rather than for “Godfather II” or “Dog Day Afternoon”? Clearly, this was a bid to honor Pacino’s entire career. The problem is, it robbed another fine actor, who would need a make-good Oscar of his own in our next example…
DENZEL WASHINGTON IN “TRAINING DAY” (2001)
Back in 1992, when Pacino was chewing up the scenery in “Scent of a Woman,” Washington was earning raves as the lead in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” Washington lost that Oscar race, obviously. Several years later, he lost again despite a great performance in “The Hurricane.” So along comes the less ambitious “Training Day,” and he wins. Although I liked “Training Day” very much, I thought the Oscar here was a sentimental choice.
MARTIN SCORSESE FOR “THE DEPARTED” (2006)
Don’t get me wrong. “The Departed” is a good film and Scorsese deserves to have a directing Oscar. But no one in their right mind believes “The Departed” is a better film than “Raging Bull” or “GoodFellas.” This was just a matter of course correction.
So those are my Oscar make-goods. What are yours?