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10 Oscar Winners Who Won For The Wrong Film

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist February 11, 2014 at 3:40PM

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.
Terms Of Endearment

Shirley MacLaine
Total Nominations:
Six—five leading actress nominations, for "Some Came Running" (1958), "The Apartment" (1960), "Irma La Douce" (1963), "The Turning Point" (1977) and "Terms Of Endearment" (1983), plus a Documentary Feature nod in 1976 for "The Other Half Of The Sky: A China Memoir."
The Film She Won For:
"Terms Of Endearment," James L. Brooks' comedy-drama that proved to be an unexpected Oscar juggernaut, picking up eleven nominations and winning five, including Best Picture and acting prizes for MacLaine and co-star Jack Nicholson. The film is a fairly superior example of an unfashionable genre, and probably ranks in the upper tier of Brooks' spotty filmography (though "Broadcast News" obviously takes the top slot). MacLaine gets a lot to chew on, and satisfyingly underplays the material even when Brooks tips into sentiment, which is quite often. But the power of the film and the performance has been somewhat lessened over time by its many imitators and competitors (plus its unwelcome 1996 sequel "The Evening Star"). But ultimately, in retrospect, it doesn't much stand up among even MacLaine's subsequent work—her turns in "Postcards From The Edge," "Bernie" or even the undervalued "In Her Shoes" are eminently more nominatable. Not to mention...
The Film She Should Have Won For:
"The Apartment." Billy Wilder's picture is credited by some these days as inventing the manic pixie dream girl, but MacLaine's wondrous performance is far more complex than that. Few actresses have ever found the truth and pain of unrequited love, of despair, and of your life spiraling down the drain with as much lightness of touch or grace as MacLaine does here. Try to imagine the film without MacLaine and Lemmon, and you'll see why we think they both should have won.

The Color Of Money

Paul Newman
Total Nominations:
Ten in total, with one supporting nomination, for 2002's "Road To Perdition," one for Best Picture for "Rachel Rachel" in 1968, and eight in Best Actor, for "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" (1958), "The Hustler" (1961), "Hud" (1963), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "Absence Of Malice" (1981), "The Verdict" (1982), "The Color Of Money" (1986) and "Nobody's Fool" (1994). He also won an Honorary Award in 1986, and a Humanitarian award in 1994.
The Film He Won For:
"The Color Of Money," Martin Scorsese's 1986 sequel to one of Newman's best known roles, in "The Hustler" (which he was also nominated for). Seeing Newman reprise Fast Eddie is an undeniable pleasure, but the film, an unusually anonymous and workmanlike one from the director, isn't even the best performance the star gave as the character, let alone across his whole career. He's very good, obviously, but if you were going to give one of the all-time great movie stars only one award for acting, why would it be for this movie? (Though in fairness, it wasn't the most competitive year.)
The Film He Should Have Won For:
Almost any of the other nominations would have done, including "The Hustler" (which has much more for Newman to play with), but we'd either go for the effortless charisma and iconic presence of "Cool Hand Luke," or, if you're going to award late-era Newman, 1981's "The Verdict," where Newman takes David Mamet's phenomenal screenplay about a faded alcoholic lawyer and plays it like a symphony.

Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino
Total Nominations:
Eight. Three in supporting—"The Godfather" (1972), "Dick Tracy" (1990) and "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992)—and five in lead, including "Serpico" (1973), "The Godfather Part II" (1974), "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), "...And Justice For All" (1979) and "Scent Of A Woman" (1992).
The Film He Won For:
Hoo-hah! It was, of course, "Scent Of A Woman," which has become something of a byword for the kind of odd, sorry-we-didn't-do-this-earlier Academy decision that we're talking about in this piece. Martin Brest's film isn't bad, really, though it's way too long and somewhat inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. And Pacino is pretty good in it, and clearly having fun, even if it clearly marks the start of his descent into the Shouty Al persona that we all know today. It's far from Pacino's last great performance ("Carlito's Way," "Donnie Brasco," "The Insider" and "Insomnia" all were nomination-worthy), but to give him the award in the year of Denzel Washington's turn in "Malcolm X" (or, indeed, Robert Downey Jr. in "Chaplin" or Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven," also nominated alongside him) was insanity.
The Film He Should Have Won For:
Bar "Dick Tracy" and "...And Justice For All," any of his other nominations are deserving, but "Dog Day Afternoon" is our absolute fave. Sure, it might have elements of Shouty Al, but for the most part, Sidney Lumet's masterpiece lets Pacino play beautifully against type, a sensitive and brave performance that's easily the most moving work he's ever put on screen. Still, he was up against winner Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," so it's at least understandable why he missed out.

Trip To Bountiful

Geraldine Page
Total Nominations:
Eight, with four for supporting including "Hondo" (1953), "You're A Big Boy Now" (1966), "Pete 'n' Tillie" (1972) and "The Pope Of Greenwich Village" (1984) and four for lead in "Summer and Smoke" (1961), "Sweet Bird Of Youth" (1962), "Interiors" (1978) and "The Trip To Bountiful" (1985).
The Film She Won For:
When he opened the envelope at the 1986 Oscar ceremony, F. Murray Abraham was clearly palpably delighted that he would get to read out Page's name, saying "I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language," and with seven nominations without a victory, Page was certainly overdue, even if the actress was arguably better known as a Broadway star than in the movies. But the win is probably the only reason that "The Trip To Bountiful" is remembered at all. The adaptation of Horton Foote's play is sweet enough, and Page is great in it, but it's fairly dull and creaky stuff that never finds much of a reason to exist on screen. Page might have been the best of rather a quiet year, but there were definitely previous performances that were more deserving.
The Film She Should Have Won For:
Page's work in the two Tennessee Williams adaptations are fairly definitive, but we really love her as the depressed matriarch in Woody Allen's "Interiors." The bleak film, Allen's first drama, isn't the easiest watch, but at the very least has a superb cast, with Page first and foremost among them. It was a competitive field—Jane Fonda for "Coming Home" won, with Ingrid Bergman, Ellen Burstyn and Jill Clayburgh also nominated—so it's understandable that Page missed out, but it might have been a more fitting summing-up of her career than "The Trip To Bountiful."

This article is related to: Awards, Academy Awards, Oscars, Features, Feature

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