There are many reasons you can win an Oscar. You can win an Oscar because your peers decided you gave the best performance or directed the best film of the year. You can win because everyone liked your movie the most, and you're being carried along by the momentum. You can win because Oscar bloggers decided you were going to win back in September, and wishing made it so. You can win because your distributor placed the most ads and threw you a bunch of parties. Or sometimes, you can win because you should have won years ago, and they want to make it up to you before it's too late.
The last of these options is more common than you might otherwise think, with more of a few legends over the years picking up statues for films that, in the grand scheme of their careers, are rather minor, but landed at the right time. So with a little more than two weeks before we find out if Bruce Dern takes Best Actor (what do you mean, "What are you implying?"), we thought we'd pick out ten of the more notable Oscar winners who, if we had our way, would have won for an entirely different picture, before or after. Take a look at our (highly subjective) list below.
Total Nominations: Four, all for Best Actress in "Darling" (1965), "McCabe & Mrs Miller" (1971), "Afterglow" (1997) and "Away From Her" (2006).
The Film She Won For: Unlike many of our picks here, Julie Christie didn't win her Oscar as a way of the Academy making up for previous snubs, she won at pretty much the start of her career. Christie was the sort of Carey Mulligan of the day, a young starlet with real acting chops and serious promise, and she quickly became one of the most in-demand actresses around, thanks to her Oscar for "Darling." Christie's still luminous in the picture, but it's aged very badly—shallow and flashy in a way that so much of John Schlesinger's other work isn't, and pretty judgmental and misogynistic with it. As far as Christie's work goes, much, much better was to come.
The Film She Should Have Won For: Many of Christie's best performances didn't get nominations ("Petulia," "Doctor Zhivago," "Don't Look Now," "Shampoo"), and she's brilliant in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," but we actually wish she'd won for a more recent picture, Sarah Polley's devastating "Away From Her." Christie appears on screen rarely enough these days that it can't help but feel like an event (yes, even in "Red Riding Hood"), but an older actress couldn't wish for a better role than in Polley's picture, where Christie plays the Alzheimer's-inflicted woman who starts to forget her relationship with her husband. It's a tough and unsentimental picture, with a tough, unsentimental, and totally committed performance from Christie.
Total Nominations: A whopping eleven, if you include the controversial "write-in" nomination for "Of Human Bondage" in 1934. The others were: "Dangerous" (1935), "Jezebel" (1938), "Dark Victory" (1939), "The Letter" (1940), "The Little Foxes" (1941), "Now, Voyager" (1942), "Mr. Skeffington" (1944), "All About Eve" (1950), "The Star" (1952) and "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" (1962).
The Films She Won For: Bette Davis is one of early Hollywood's most iconic and memorable actors, and you'd be hard pressed to say that she was hard done by the Academy: ten nominations, including five consecutive ones between 1939 and 1943, and two Oscars, for "Dangerous" in 1935 and "Jezebel" in 1938. But you'd be equally hard pressed to say that she won for the right movies. Both "Dangerous" and "Jezebel" stand up today as rather creaky melodramas, and while Davis is fairly good value—the former sees her play a selfish, destructive actress, the latter a Southern belle who loses the man she loves—they're also the work of a not fully-formed talent (it doesn't help that both films seem to despise their central character so much).
The Film She Should Have Won For: By "Dark Victory" in 1939, Davis was approaching the height of her powers, and she's brilliant in "The Little Foxes" and "Now, Voyager," especially. But how could it be anything except "All About Eve"? The film is a cousin of "Dangerous" in some ways; once again Davis as a destructive actress, but a decade-and-a-half on, the star really knows how to knock it out of the park, giving an infinitely more textured and impressive performance, and proving eminently quotable at the same time. It was a tough year—she was up against co-star Anne Baxter, "Sunset Boulevard" 's Gloria Swanson and "Born Yesterday" 's Judy Holliday, who won, but it's Davis who's stood the test of time the best.
Total Nominations: Eight. One in supporting, for 1955's "Mister Roberts," and seven in lead for "Some Like It Hot" (1959), "The Apartment" (1960), "Days Of Wine And Roses" (1962), "Save The Tiger" (1973), "The China Syndrome" (1979), "Tribute" (1980) and "Missing" (1982).
The Films He Won For: When you think of Jack Lemmon, you think of his glorious collaborations with Billy Wilder, or his moving work later in his career as he became an elder statesman and moved into more serious, dramatic fare. You probably don't think of "Mister Roberts" or "Save The Tiger," and yet those were the films that Lemmon won Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor for, respectively (making him the first actor to do the double). The former is a troubled adaptation of a stage hit (John Ford was fired after punching star Henry Fonda in the jaw) that gives the young Lemmon a good showcase, but is otherwise fairly minor when put against some of his better career works. The latter is an affecting though rather loose and overstuffed performance showcase—a very atypical Oscar winner—that helped Lemmon shift into more middle-aged, dramatic roles. It's a very good performance in a film that's maybe unjustly neglected these days, but Lemmon probably should have picked up a Best Actor trophy long before it.
The Films He Should Have Won For: Given the Academy's usual distaste for comedy, it's remarkable that Lemmon was even nominated for Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" and "The Apartment." But given that they're two of the greatest comedic performances in American cinema, was it too much to hope that he'd win for either of them? Impressively, the two turns, delivered in back-to-back years, are very different—as Jerry in "Some Like It Hot," he's a comic whirlwind, brilliantly and accidentally getting swept up in his drag disguise, while he's positively heartbreaking in "The Apartment" even as he makes you laugh 'til you're snorting out of your nose. He was beaten by Charlton Heston in "Ben Hur" and Burt Lancaster in "Elmer Gantry," respectively, but we know which way we'd have voted in both cases.