12 Of The Most Surprising Oscar Wins

Best Actress Academy Awards | © Cliff/Flickr
Best Actress Academy Awards | © Cliff/Flickr
Photo of Nina Starner
8 January 2017

Every year the Academy Awards bring their fair share of controversy. Here’s a list of some of the craziest, most confusing Oscars wins yet.

‘Pulp Fiction’ Loses To ‘Forrest Gump’

While Forrest Gump was generally lauded, the 1995 Oscars caused a stir by ultimately choosing it as Best Picture of the year. It was up against Tarantino’s groundbreaking Pulp Fiction, which arguably changed what filmmakers were able to do with non-linear storytelling. Though history remembers Pulp Fiction as a game-changer, it was Forrest Gump that walked away with the prize.

‘Shakespeare In Love’ Beats ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Definitely a shocking win: 1998 was the year Harvey Weinstein flexed his muscles and made sure his pet project came out on top. Saving Private Ryan was originally the favorite to take home the top prize, thanks to its heavy subject matter and director Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood pedigree. Instead, Weinstein’s baby, Shakespeare in Love, took home awards for Best Picture and acting awards for lead Gwyneth Paltrow and supporting actress Judi Dench, who was only on screen for eight minutes.

Marisa Tomei Wins Best Supporting Actress

Though many believe that the award was incorrectly handed out in this case (which has been denied by the Academy), Marisa Tomei beat out Judy Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Plowright, and Miranda Richardson to win an Oscar for her performance in the Joe Pesci comedy My Cousin Vinny. This was certainly a surprising win, but a well-deserved one, as Tomei was phenomenal in the film — but comedic performances are not usually rewarded by the Academy.

‘Crash’ Beats ‘Brokeback Mountain’

Oddly enough, it seems like nobody was much a fan of Crash, the 2006 winner for Best Picture, but it took home the top prize that night anyway. This decision faced quite a lot of backlash after the ceremony, as that was the same year that Brokeback Mountain was released, and many who believed that it was the superior film accused the Academy of homophobia for not choosing it.

‘Rocky’ Beats… Everything

Very much like its main character, Rocky was certainly the underdog in a heated Best Picture battle that included highly rated films like Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, and Network, the latter of which picked up several awards for its actors — but Rocky was to reign supreme that night, defeating the competition just like the boxer himself.

Anna Paquin Wins An Oscar

Anna Paquin is an excellent actress, so it should come as no surprise that she’s an Oscar winner. The surprise here is how old she was when she won. Paquin was nominated for The Piano at age 11 against actresses like Winona Ryder, Rosie Perez and Emma Thompson and surged ahead of her competitors in a surprise win that would propel her career to incredible heights through adulthood. Paquin herself was so surprised by the win that she could barely squeak out her acceptance speech!

‘How Green Was My Valley’ Beats ‘Citizen Kane’

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with How Green Was My Valley, John Ford’s classic about a Welsh coal-mining family, but every film since Citizen Kane has been consistently and unfavorably compared to, well, Citizen Kane. However, it’s important to remember that Orson Welles was more or less blacklisted by William Randolph Hearst, who the film was clearly about, and thanks to that, he was truly lucky to be nominated that year.

‘The King’s Speech’ Beats ‘The Social Network’

The King’s Speech is a good film with excellent performances (including Colin Firth who took home Best Actor that year) and a truly touching story, but many believe that this was a case of the Academy playing things safe as usual. David Fincher’s Facebook’ movie, The Social Network, was an ambitious, daring project with a totally different feel that many critics regarded as the superior movie and better choice, but it only took home Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin’s script and Best Original Score for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ compositions, with Fincher losing Best Director to King’s Speech director Tom Hooper as well.

‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ Beats ‘High Noon’

History has not been kind to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, as it was a fairly silly movie, even with the huge, cinematic train crash that happens smack in the middle of the film. But it is viewed especially unfavorably when compared to High Noon, which it beat out for an Oscar in 1953. High Noon is regarded as one of the greatest Westerns ever made and has seriously stood the test of time, leading viewers to realize that the Academy doesn’t always make the right call.

Alejandro González Iñárritu Beats Richard Linklater

This may have not been shocking to all viewers, as many were split fairly evenly between Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. But as one of the only directors in history to spend a full 12 years capturing one film in small pieces at a time, Linklater was the long-term favorite to win Best Director. However, Iñárritu reigned supreme at the ceremony (Birdman beat out Boyhood for Best Picture as well).

‘Argo’ Wins Best Picture

Though Argo was arguably the long-term frontrunner for Best Picture, it was still a shock to see it win because of one small discrepancy — its director, Ben Affleck, was left off the shortlist for Best Director. Following the precedent set by Driving Miss Daisy years earlier, Argo surged to victory even though its director wasn’t nominated. Very few films have ever taken the top prize without at least a nod for the director.

‘Dances With Wolves’ Beats ‘Goodfellas’

Dances With Wolves, Kevin Costner’s directorial debut and star vehicle, has not aged particularly well, as its heavy-handed, idealized approach to race relations between Native Americans and white Americans is not exactly realistic. In contrast, Goodfellas, which many regard as one of the best films of the ’90s, has only improved with. It still managed to lose the top prize to Wolves at the 1991 Oscar ceremony. Director Martin Scorsese had been beaten in the ’80s as well, with his epic Raging Bull losing to Ordinary People. He wouldn’t win Best Picture or Director until 2007’s Boston-based crime drama The Departed.

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