Good Call: Nine Times the Academy Got it Right

April 26

We all know the Academy gets it wrong sometimes.

Like when Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan, or how The Shining wasn’t even nominated, or when Dances With Wolves cleaned up in 1991 (I mean, c’mon, it’s good, but not that good).

But what about when they called it right? When tradition was defied with a surprising choice, or an overlooked creative was finally given his or her due?

We don’t hear about those moments as much.

Here are some of the wisest, most surprising, just plain best decisions ever made at the Oscars.

Parasite Wins Best Picture

It was assumed that Parasite would take home Best International Feature in 2020.

A turn up for the books so, when it was awarded Best Picture too.

It’s even more surprising when you consider the stacked card from that year: The IrishmanMarriage Story1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… All great films, all more classic, Oscar-y, choices than the winner.

But, win it did, becoming the first non-English film to take home the night’s biggest prize.

Hopefully it opens the door for many more.

Roger Deakins Wins Best Cinematography

It was fourteenth time lucky for Roger Deakins at the 90th Academy Awards.

One of Hollywood’s most celebrated cinematographers, his filmography speaks for itself – The Shawshank RedemptionPrisoners, and No Country For Old Men, to name a few – and although oft nominated, he’d never won the big one.

That was until 2018, when he was rewarded for his depiction of the brutal, beautiful dystopia of Blade Runner 2049.

He wouldn’t have to wait as long for his second, winning in 2020 for his innovative work on 1917.

Frances McDormand Wins Best Actress

Of all the films nominated in 1997, Fargo is the one that has passed the test of time (and with flying colours, I might add).

However, it underperformed on the night, winning only two of its seven nominations.

At least Frances McDormand won Best Actress. I’ll leave it to writer Dan Jackson to sum up why (you can read the full article here):

The Coens have worked with some incredible actors -- Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Holly Hunter, and The Jesus, to name a few -- but they've never had a collaborator who feels so keyed into their peculiar view of the human experience like Frances McDormand.

Oh, you betcha!

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King‘s Record-Equalling Haul

Fantasy movies: the only genre less popular than Horror and Sci-fi at the Oscars.

It’s rare to see one nominated, let alone win. So it was nice to see the Academy go against tradition in 2004.

Besides cleaning up with a massive 11 awards – equalling Ben-Hur and Titanic‘s record – The Return of the King was also the first bona fide Fantasy to win Best Pic.

A well-deserved victory lap for a staggering cinematic achievement.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch Win Best Original Score

Career pivots don’t come more successful than Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch’s foray into movie music.

The Social Network would be the first of many, and what a way to start.

It’s a fantastic score. All moody synths and twitchy rhythms, it’s atmospheric, anxious, and haunting, and key to why the film works so well.

Hans Zimmer was nominated that year too, for his awesome Inception soundtrack. Any other year, he probably would have won – but Reznor and Finch deserved it.

The Academy doesn’t often go for newcomers, but I’m glad they did in 2011.

Martin Scorcese Finally Wins Best Director

The Academy hasn’t been kind to ol’ Marty.

Not only has he missed out on Best Director for some absolute masterpieces, but he wasn’t even nominated for some of his best work – I’m talking Mean StreetsCape FearKing of Comedy and Taxi Driver.

Still, at least he won for the ludicrously entertaining The Departed.

Almost makes up for him not winning for Goodfellas. Almost…

Adrien Brody Wins Best Actor over Daniel Day-Lewis

It was expected, for his scene-stealing Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, that Daniel-Day Lewis would win his second Best Actor statue.

But Adrien Brody, as Władysław Szpilman in The Pianist, took it in the end – and deservedly so.

It’s a wonderful performance. See for yourself:

While a lesser actor may have gravitated towards theatrics and melodrama, Brody wisely opts for subtlety, restraint and understatement. His physical transformation, while shocking, is incredible too.

The menacing Bill or the dignified Władysław. A tough call between two very different, and two very great, performances – but the Academy was on the money.

Spirited Away Wins Best Animated Feature

Pixar and Dreamworks have generally dominated this category, but this Studio Ghibli wonder was an exception to the rule.

It would have been a crime if it hadn’t won, really. Delightful, charming, moving, stunning to look at… All those things and more. Spirited Away is timeless.

Should have won Best Picture that year, too.

La La Land Wins Best Picture Over Moonlight

No, wait… Moonlight won over La La Land. Damn, it is easy to mix them up!

Seriously though. #Envelopegate was unfortunate for all involved. The La La Land team were stranded onstage holding an award that wasn’t theirs to hold, and everyone assumed it was poor Warren Beatty’s fault (it wasn’t).

Most unfortunate of all, I’d argue, for Moonlight, whose win has been a bit overshadowed by the controversy on the night.

This shouldn’t be.

A stunning piece of work, it’s also one of the Academy’s most unexpected Best Picture decisions; remember it wasn’t just La La Land that year, but big hitters like Hidden FiguresArrival, and Manchester By the Sea too.

Definitely one the Academy got right.

After they got it wrong. 😉

Written by Conor Regan.

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