The clock ticks past 1 a.m. on a Wednesday, and “Saving Private Ryan” is on HBO, each scene more riveting than the last.
Sleep is just gonna have to wait.
When Tom Hanks’ Capt. Miller finally reveals to his platoon that he’s a high school English teacher back home, if only to keep two of his frayed-nerve soldiers from killing each other, the emotional shrapnel hits you with a wallop. And one thought leaps to mind:
“How in the world did this movie lose to ‘Shakespeare in Love’ for the Best Picture Oscar in 1999?!?”
Surely Ryan’s director, Steven Spielberg, has had the same haunting notion running through his brain for the past 14 years.
But he’s hardly the only filmmaker, and his is hardly the only film, that has had to swallow a big fat dose of Oscar injustice.
At this year’s ceremony Sunday, Ben Affleck will be forced to grin and bear the fact that his hostage thriller “Argo” may win Best Picture, but the one-time star of “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl” wasn’t deemed worthy of a Best Director nomination.
Nobody ever said that life (or Academy Awards voters) plays fair.
With that in mind, we offer some of the most egregious Oscar injustices of the past few decades, in no particular order. (Note: In parenthesis is the year of the films’ release.)
• “Dances With Wolves” whacks “Goodfellas” (1990)
We love Kevin Costner in “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup,” but Little Kevin on the Prairie was no match for Martin Scorsese’s shiveringly good mob saga.
• Quentin Tarantino gets “Gump”-ed by Robert Zemeckis (1994)
This was one of the most divisive Oscar years ever. Tarantino’s brutally funny and pioneering “Pulp Fiction” provided the starkest of contrasts to “Forrest Gump,” the story of a lovable, slow-witted, endlessly quotable galoot who finds good fortune along his amazing journey in life. Given the academy’s sensibilities, it’s no shock that the hipster violence of “Pulp Fiction” didn’t prevail in the Best Picture category, but Tarantino’s brashness may have cost him against the more affable Zemeckis.
• “The Dark Knight” gets shut out of Best Picture (2008)
Don’t get us wrong, “Slumdog Millionaire” — which won Best Picture that year — is a supremely enjoyable story about a part of the world invisible to many Western audiences. But the fact that Christopher Nolan’s darkly powerful “The Dark Knight,” featuring a magnetic performance from Heath Ledger, didn’t even get a place at the table along with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/ Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader” and “Slumdog Millionaire” is an evil worthy of a comic-book villain.
• Robert Redford (“Ordinary People”) KOs Martin Scorsese (“Raging Bull”) (1980)
The celebrity director syndrome cost Scorsese what should have been his first Oscar. In hindsight, he never stood a puncher’s chance against Redford, but that doesn’t make it right.
• “The King’s Speech” talks over “127 Hours” (2010)
Director Tom Hooper’s tale of tongue-tied royalty is fine in its PBS way, but Danny Boyle’s visually electric story of survival is far more moving and inspiring.
• John Wayne outguns “Midnight Cowboy” (1969)
Yes, the Duke had one of his most iconic roles as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” but his Best Actor win felt like a sentimental choice, since Wayne had never won before and Jon Voight and especially Dustin Hoffman were phenomenal in “Midnight Cowboy” — the only X-rated movie ever to win Best Picture. But then, Hoffman and Voight later got their own Oscars — and Wayne and one of his best movies, “The Searchers,” had been completely ignored by Oscar more than a dozen years earlier.
•“Crash” runs over “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
Good intentions don’t equal good filmmaking. That could be the tagline for “Crash,” a heavy-handed look at race relations in America. Compared to Ang Lee’s more intimate and deeply felt forbidden-love story in “Brokeback Mountain,” it feels especially forced and shallow. In the end, Hollywood couldn’t bring itself to vote for a movie about love between two cowboys.
• “Shakespeare in Love” guns down “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
As we mentioned above, this one just doesn’t add up — unless you consider the tireless campaigning Miramax did for “Shakespeare,” a sweet and airy confection that was the perfect contrast to Spielberg’s camo- and blood-soaked World War II epic. This still ranks as one of the biggest Oscar upsets of all time, and one of the worst injustices.
• “The Color Purple” sees red, loses all 11 awards (1985)
The film, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, rightfully racked up 11 nominations, even without one for director Spielberg. But one by one — Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Quincy Jones and others — were shut out, mostly by “Out of Africa.” Considering the academy’s record on honoring people of color up to that that time, it was pretty shameful.
• “Gandhi” sends “E.T.” home empty-handed (1982)
Ben Kingsley was great as the spiritual leader, but compared to “E.T.”? C’mon! One film went on to become a cultural touchstone and one of the most beloved movies in history. The other is collecting dust on a shelf at Blockbuster. Actually, “Tootsie,” starring Dustin Hoffman as an actor who dresses as a woman to get a part in a soap opera, would have been a better Best Picture winner.
• Brad Davis is forgotten for “Midnight Express” (1978)
Granted, he had some stiff competition — Robert De Niro in “The Deer Hunter” and Jon Voight in “Coming Home” — but Davis was dynamite in “Midnight Express,” a film about an American in a Turkish prison that received six nominations and won two Oscars with Davis not even getting nominated. Voight went home with the Best Actor statue.
• “The Sting” buzzes “American Graffiti” (1973)
George Lucas’ portrait of ’50s teenage hope and heartbreak spoke to a generation, while George Roy Hill’s “The Sting” was a well-made but ultimately lightweight diversion.
• Carol Reed’s “Oliver!” sends Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” home hungry (1968)
The Best Director award — as well as Best Picture — went to a buoyant musical retelling of the “Oliver Twist” story, but Kubrick’s startlingly original and groundbreaking science-fiction epic was far more deserving.