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The most controversial Oscar wins of all time

For some people, the best part of the Academy Awards is chewing on some salty popcorn and watching the inevitable controversy unfold. In the run up to the 90th Academy Awards this Sunday, let’s look back at ten of the most controversial Oscar wins of all time.

The most controversial Oscar wins of all time

For some people, the best part of the Academy Awards is chewing on some salty popcorn and watching the inevitable controversy unfold. Questionable Oscar wins are an essential part of the ceremony – as important a tradition as the bloated (often cringe-worthy) speeches and audience shots of slightly sozzled celebrities grinning through their misery during the seven-hour ceremony. In the run up to the 90th Academy Awards this Sunday, let’s look back at ten of the most controversial Oscar wins of all time.

Shakespeare in Love: Best Picture (1999)

Blowing a big, fat Shakespearean fart in the face of Steven Spielberg & Roberto Benigni was John Madden’s period rom-com Shakespeare in Love. The movie was favored over World War Two dramas Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful for reasons otherwise unknown. However, if you want to be salty about it, you could speculate Harvey Weinstein’s aggressive campaign for the movie might have played a strong hand in its win.

Crash: Best Picture (2006)

Paul Haggis’s overblown, virtue-signaling drama about U.S. racism was such a controversial win that people are still talking about how much the movie didn’t deserve the Oscar. Not only was it unworthy of the accolade, it also managed to beat highly-acclaimed movies like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence.

Astonished by the win, the Los Angeles Times speculated whether it was simply an ego-boosting move by the Academy voters: “For people who were discomfited by Brokeback Mountain but wanted to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel as if they were good, productive liberals, Crash provided the perfect safe harbour.”

Avatar: Best Cinematography (2010)

Should a movie created almost entirely using computer software still be considered for a cinematography award? That was the question in 2010, even when Avatar was only nominated for the Oscar. However, the discussion deepened after the movie eventually won.

The argument got so heated in the film community that Jim Emerson wound up writing an in-depth two-part article for Roger Ebert which reconsidered how we approach cinematography and whether computer generation sequences should even qualify for such an award.

Driving Miss Daisy: Best Picture (1990)

Bruce Beresford’s dramedy starring Morgan Freeman (Se7en) & Jessica Tandy (Fried Green Tomatoes) managed to beat other Best Picture nominees like Do the Right Thing, Dead Poets Society, and Born on the Fourth of July.

Not only is the movie average – and especially not the best movie of an entire year – but critics also argued it harbored a “subtext that summons up a longing for the good old days before the civil rights movement.” Do the Right Thing director Spike Lee has continued to criticize the movie and its win ever since.

Casey Affleck: Best Actor (2017)

There’s no denying Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea was pretty phenomenal. However, many took issue with the fact Affleck was even nominated after two women filed sexual harassment suits against him. Brie Larson (Room), who presented the award to Affleck, notoriously refused to applaud his win on stage, while actors like Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) argued Affleck’s nomination and win perpetuated sexism in Hollywood.

The King’s Speech: Best Picture (2011)

Tom Hooper’s prestige drama about a Prince (Colin Firth) overcoming the ultimate life adversity of a minor stutter was definitely not the best film of 2011. It probably wasn’t even the best film during its week of release, but the Academy apparently thought different.

The King’s Speech inexplicably won Best Picture over David Fincher’s The Social Network, the Coen brothersTrue Grit, and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, which perhaps proves the Oscars aren’t the best barometer for good movies.

Ordinary People: Best Picture (1981)

There’s no denying Robert Redford’s haunting family-drama Ordinary People is a powerful movie about savage, emotional honesty. But in the 36 years since it won Best Picture, can we all safely say it deserved to beat David Lynch’s seminal The Elephant Man? Or Martin Scorsese‘s Raging Bull? Absolutely not.

Rocky: Best Picture (1977)

Look, we all love Rocky. But in a toss up between Sylvester Stallone’s inspiring boxing drama and Scorsese’s harrowing masterpiece Taxi Driver, there’s no competition. Taxi Driver should have knocked Rocky out of the Oscar ring with one clean, effortless swing.

Chicago: Best Picture (2003)

In 2003, the Best Picture competition was between two movies: Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (a controversial choice in itself) and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Little did everyone know Rob Marshall’s big-screen adaptation of classic stage musical Chicago starring Renée Zellweger (Cold Mountain) & Catherine Zeta-Jones (Entrapment) would be the one to win instead. It’s a fun musical with some killer choreography and great performances, but Best Picture? Come on.

The English Patient: Best Picture (1997)

The Academy may as well have tossed the 1997 Best Picture statue into a wood chipper as Anthony Minghella’s indulgent, sleepy drama won instead of the Coen brothers’ Fargo. If you don’t understand why this was controversial, Film Daily urges you to watch both movies back-to-back immediately to see which one holds up best.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

amy@filmdaily.co