BY MICHAEL MUSTO | The Academy Awards get a lot of things right, but there are times when you wonder if Oscar was high that year. As the annual awards approach on March 27, it’s time to start a whole new awards presentation—The Gaffies—for the 10 worst mishaps (or gaffes) in the major categories. The Gaffies go to….
WORST SNUBBING OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC | At the Oscars for 1941’s films, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley beat Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane for Best Picture, and it was not necessarily shocking, but it was definitely wrong. Kane is a dazzling, textured and innovative look at the hollow glory of an American publishing tycoon. But William Randolph Hearst—who it was all based on—went on a campaign against the film, and it didn’t end up being what you would call a box office smash; in fact, it lost a bundle. Valley—an earnest look at Welsh miners, with way too much narration for my taste—was a safer choice. But looking back, which one have you viewed again? And again?
AND YOU THOUGHT THE SARAH SIDDONS AWARD WAS BAD! | The year 1950 brought us two great divas magnificently playing aging actresses in searing dramas with darkly comic elements—Bette Davis as stage star Margo Channing in All About Eve and silent film diva Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Many expected Swanson to finally win for her comeback role as an actress seeking a comeback role. (Davis had already won twice, and besides, her “Eve”—Anne Baxter—was also placed in the same category, though I never felt Baxter would have copped that many votes, as good as she was.) Well, the reality is that the two great stars having breakdowns obviously canceled each other out and the winner was Judy Holliday as Born Yesterday’s dumb blonde who turns out to not be so dumb—a part she had already done to perfection onstage. Truth be told, Oscar loves anointing a younger babe and besides, Holliday was extraordinary in the role. And while Gloria was on a whole different level and should have won, I’m more OK with Judy winning than most gays are. But what a year!
BIGGEST SHOCK | In 1953, Cecil B. DeMille’s campy big top melodrama The Greatest Show on Earth beat High Noon—a riveting drama about a retiring marshal’s last-minute crisis, told in real time—for Best Picture. Suggesting that Greatest really wasn’t the greatest, the film only won one other Oscar (for writing). Presenter Mary Pickford was stunned as she announced the winner, and the cameras had a hard time even locating Cecil B. DeMille in the audience because nobody thought that hokily entertaining opus would clobber a true work of art. DeMille later admitted that he was sure the award would go to either High Noon or The Quiet Man. And to this day, no one can figure out what happened. Can you?
WORST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: WHORE BEATS STOOLIE | Moving on to the next year: From Here to Eternity‘s Donna Reed absurdly beat Pickup on South Street‘s Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress. Donna played a hardened hooker that Monty Clift falls for, and the Oscars adore a prostitute, especially if played by an actress formerly relegated to “nice” roles. (Reed paved the way for squeaky clean Shirley Jones’ similar Oscar for Elmer Gantry.) But Ritter, one of the great character actors, was superb as a stool pigeon named Moe, walking away with the film, as she was wont to do. What happened is that Eternity was sweeping Oscars that night—it won eight, including Best Picture—and as for Ritter, they probably figured they could award her some other time. But while this was her fourth out of six nominations, Thelma tragically never won.
WORST INSULT TO GAYS | Nominated for Best Actress for 1954’s A Star is Born, Judy Garland was in the hospital, having just given birth to her son Joey Luft, when she learned that she had lost to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. This caused gay shock waves—and still does—but here’s the deal: Judy and Sid Luft were not loved by Hollywood, her messy behavior caused budgetary problems, and the studio panicked when the high-octane musical romantic tragedy came out, so they swooped in to remove 90 minutes of footage that was never seen again. Voters must have felt it would be hard to give such a film Oscars, even though Judy’s brilliance reigned supreme despite it all. (The film lost all six categories it was nominated for.) In comes Kelly, who was also in big hits Dial M for Murder and Rear Window the same year, and she was a golden starlet for Oscar to elevate—and she conspicuously drabbed down for The Country Girl. It’s sad, but at least Judy got a son that night. And though Judy Garland never won a competitive Oscar, Renee Zellweger won Best Actress in 2020 for playing…Judy Garland.
WORST BEST ACTOR SNUB | One of the screen’s most indelible performances was given by Anthony Perkins as the paranoid schizophrenic Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho. Perkins managed to capture Norman’s nervous charm, as well as his scary dementia, and he was so good at all of it that he played the same role—or variations on it—for the rest of his life. Norman Bates was not your typical Oscar role, but Fredric March had won for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so it certainly wasn’t out of the question. But while his victim, Janet Leigh, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Perkins ridiculously came up empty. Burt Lancaster won for Elmer Gantry, and he was remarkable, but Perkins should have been in the running. In fact, he should have been up for both Best Actor and Best Actress!
THE “WTF?” AWARD | Marisa Tomei was fun as a gum-popping big mouth in the broad 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny, but was it really an Oscar-worthy turn? No, which is why jaws dropped when she won over such hoity toities as Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End), and Miranda Richardson (Damage). Election fraud? Well, some cynics do still swear that the wrong name was announced, for whatever reason (though it wasn’t Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway doing the announcing this time, lol). But the truth is that, while I feel Judy Davis should have won, all the esteemed women with accents obviously canceled each other out and left the gum popper holding the gold. Tomei ended up having the last laugh, though; she followed this surprise win with two other nominations (for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler), proving she’s truly got it.
THE “BLINDSIDED” AWARD |I love Sandra Bullock, but I felt her 2009 smash The Blind Side was less potent than it could have been. Still, the movie was loved across the boards and people wanted to award Sandra for being so stellar in general. Better choices were the also nominated Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, Carey Mulligan for An Education, Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia, and Helen Mirren for The Last Station, but Sandra went home with the Oscar. Whatever.
SECOND WORST INSULT TO GAYS | The 2005 tragic gay period piece Brokeback Mountain was expected to cop Best Picture, but word got out that some homophobic voters were squeamish about even watching the screener. As a result, it won Best Director for Ang Lee, while Crash took the Best Picture prize, to the dismay of many onlookers. I wasn’t that upset about the choice, because I didn’t like Brokeback as much as other critics (I’d had enough of gay doom on screen), but it did gall me that people who vote on a liberal medium, which is filled with LGBTQs, should be so hideously biased.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR | I was never so sure of an Oscar prediction as when I declared that Glenn Close would win Best Actress for 2017’s melodrama The Wife. After all, it was Glenn’s seventh nomination and it was about time they gave it to her—plus she had won a Golden Globe and a SAG award for this film, a trajectory that seemed to reflect the movie itself. Just like her character comes out of the shadows of her husband and starts demanding her due, I honestly felt Glenn was finally stepping out of Meryl Streep’s shadow and getting the big award. Besides, The Favourite’s Olivia Colman was playing what could arguably be called a supporting role, though she was brilliant as the dizzy queen (and had also won a Globe). Well, Olivia won, leaving Glenn to just sit there as one of Oscar’s most snubbed nominees. Glenn later got another nomination, matching Peter O’Toole’s record for an acting non-winner, but since it was for the widely lambasted Hillbilly Elegy, it wasn’t such a blow when she lost that one. Next time, I’m sure, is the charmer. No, really! And maybe she’ll get it for the Sunset Boulevard musical film currently in development. In true Zellweger style, this could make up for (or maybe rub in) Gloria Swanson’s loss.
BONUS WEIRDNESS | Lauren Bacall was expected to win Best Supporting Actress for 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces, but I felt that was mainly based on good will towards her legendary status; that movie wasn’t much. When she wound up losing to Juliette Binoche for The English Patient, it was an upset to millions, but totally fine with anyone who really loves the art of movies. I don’t think this was another case of Oscar gravitating toward a younger winner; it was more about voting for quality over nostalgia. More crushing to me is the fact that Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole never won a competitive Oscar, and Marilyn Monroe was never even nominated! Anyway, see you on the 27th. Hopefully, they’ll get it right and the winner will be La La Land. Whoops!
Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work regularly appears on this website as well as Queerty.com and thedailybeast.com, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, which made its debut in April of 2021. Follow Musto on Instagram, via musto184.
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