Why The Oscars Are ALWAYS On The Wrong Side Of History

Ah, the Oscars. The glitz, the glamor, the insufferable celebrities. It’s all here! I was happily skipping over this year’s festivities to watch an old Dracula movie, a better choice in my opinion, when a good friend of mine talked me into watching the end. 

I had seen most of the Best Picture nominated films this year, so I gave it a chance. Once again, the Academy proved to me they’ll pick a film that they think makes them look brave and far more sophisticated than us common folks instead of the more obvious choice. 

For the past 92 years, Hollywood has made some of the most baffling decisions of any entity I’ve ever witnessed. Let’s take a look at the Oscars’ tendency to award the wrong movies.

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Completely Out-of-Touch Choices

In 1941, a movie many now consider to be the greatest of all time was made. It was nominated for multiple Oscars, made a new star out of its director, writer and led Orson Welles and had rave reviews. The film is Citizen Kane. Regardless of your personal feelings on the movie nobody could argue it’s the most well-known and highly regarded film of that year. It won a single Oscar for best screenplay. It lost most other categories to How Green Was My Valley, a good film by the masterful John Ford but not one of his best and hardly remembered as a classic now. 

This is the earliest example I can think of where the Academy is completely out of touch with the culture, but it’s certainly not the most egregious. Now I wanna clear the air, Star Wars losing to Annie Hall is understandable, even if I prefer the loser. There’s instances where it’s a tossup and I might not agree with the choice but I get it. This isn’t what I’m talking about now. 

Instead, I’ll take you to 1981. Best Picture winner? Chariots of Fire. How many of you have seen this film? How many have even heard of it? Few I would wager. What film did it beat? Raiders of the Lost Ark — a cultural touchstone that changed how action films are made. There are tons of examples like this where they make a confusing choice because they don’t “get” culture. 

1956 is the most ridiculous in my opinion. The winner was Around the World in 80 Days, an okay comedy starring David Niven. The losers? Friendly Persuasion, Giant, The King and I, and The Ten Commandments. If you know anything about cinema, you can see how ludicrous that choice was. But to make it even better, there was a movie released that year which never even received a nomination that’s now considered one of the greatest films ever made: The Searchers. 

The list can go on and on. Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas? Wrong side of the debate once again. Saving Private Ryan losing to Shakespeare in Love is another example and it shows a glaring issue with the process. Pressure. 

See, a producer or studio or whoever can do a full-court press and make their movie win even if the movie is sub-par. These snubs lead to another issue I want to point out with the Academy

Make-Up Oscars

I love John Wayne. I watched his movies with my dad growing up and he’s an icon, in my opinion. Having said that, go back and watch True Grit. It’s not exactly his best performance, he’s basically playing John Wayne with an eye patch, but he was due. 

See, despite popular opinion, John Wayne could act. Go watch The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or The Quiet Man. They didn’t even nominate him for anything except Sands of Iwo Jima. The panic he’d never win made them award him over more worthy nominees because they’d get their chance again and he may not. 

Cecil B. DeMille, a legend who never won an award for best picture finally got his in 1952 for The Greatest Show on Earth, the worst-reviewed best picture winner of all time, which won over High Noon and the aforementioned Quiet Man. Al Pacino won for Scent of a Woman over Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven and Denzel Washington’s powerhouse performance in Malcolm X all because they’d gave Art Carney the award for Harry and Tonto over Pacino in The Godfather Part II. It’s an endless cycle of the completely wrong choice leading to making it up to the artist which leads to further snubs. It’s the circle of idiocy. If they had more connection to our culture, the actual audience, maybe these things wouldn’t happen but they have to be above the fray which leads to the biggest issue of all. 

The Idea Wins Over The Movie

Racism is bad. We all know this. It’s been pretty well known for a while now. In 2005 the academy felt that message was lost on us so they awarded Crash the Best Picture award. Every other nominee that year deserved it more than Crash, but the message of “racism is bad” was far too important to ignore. Never mind the movie was an obvious, pretentious mess, the message was what won the award. 

Sometimes it’s the idea that Hollywood is awesome that makes them select a film. The Artist was a fine film but better choices existed. However, those other films never had the idea that Hollywood is awesome behind them. Birdman and Argo are more films that got the edge because they put the idea of entertainment on a pedestal. Themes and messages often blind them to the actual quality of the films they have to choose from. Something has to change if we want to continue holding the Oscars up as the highest honor. 


The Oscars are so out of touch with the zeitgeist that I would say they’ve been on the wrong side of cinematic history for 92 years. Critically sub-par movies that they feel should win because someone involved was due, bizarre choices based on pressure, letting the message of a movie cloud them to its quality, and just outright not liking movies because of the genre. Something has to give. 

I’d suggest one of two things, either a new system where review scores and audience opinion helps influence the picks or make the academy wait five years before they’re allowed to make their choices. Movie award malpractice needs to stop. Then again, maybe I should just try enjoying movies and ignore the whole thing.

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