In the 88 years that the Academy Awards have been presented, there have been some head-scratchers in terms of winners and losers. How, for instance, did Jennifer Connelly beat both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith in 2002 for best supporting actress? How did “The Lego Movie” not even get nominated for best animated feature in 2014? How can it be that Charlie Chaplin’s only Oscar is for co-writing the score for “Limelight”?
These are egregious, to be sure. So in preparation for the 89th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, we look back on 7 of the biggest WTH things in Oscar history.
1. Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for best director. Let that sink in for a moment. The guy who created “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “North By Northwest,” “Rebecca” and dozens of classic movies never brought home the gold statuette in this category – and that’s out of five nominations.
2. “Rocky” beat out “All the President’s Men,” “Network” and “Taxi Driver” for the best picture of 1976. Look, I like “Rocky” just fine, and I can appreciate that Sylvester Stallone continues to make his character interesting. (Did you see “Creed”? You should.) But c’mon. At the end of the day, the only thing groundbreaking about “Rocky” is that it avoided total cliche by having our protagonist not win the big fight. He still manages to get the girl, though.
3. Tom Cruise has never won an Oscar. It’s not unusual for really big stars to be overlooked at the Oscars, especially when they make a lot of big-budget action movies. All you have to do is look at Harrison Ford’s career to see that play out. But Cruise has been nominated three times – for “Jerry Maguire,” “Magnolia” and “Born of the Fourth of July” – and he’s very good in all three of these performances. It’s partly been a matter of bad luck. For “Fourth of July,” he was up against Kenneth Branagh (“Henry V”), Morgan Freeman (“Driving Miss Daisy”), Robin Williams (“Dead Poets Society”) and the winner, Daniel Day-Lewis (“My Left Foot”). With “Maguire,” he lost to Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) and with “Magnolia” he lost the supporting actor nod to Michael Caine (“The Cider House Rules”).
4. Apparently, “Citizen Kane” is not the best film released in 1941. That title belongs to John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley.” Of course, Orson Welles’ masterpiece has gone on to be widely regarded as one of the greatest films of the 20th century, and was named the greatest American movie of all time by the American Film Institute. “How Green Was My Valley” is a good film about Welsh coal miners, but it certainly didn’t break ground stylistically that “Kane” did. (That “Kane” cinematographer Gregg Toland lost out to “Valley” adds insult to injury.)
5. Cary Grant never got an acting Oscar, either. He was nominated twice for great performances in two dramas, “None But the Lonely Heart” (1944, lost to Bing Crosby in “Going My Way”) and “Penny Serenade” (1941, lost to Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York”). But over 76 films, he turned in so many great and memorable performances: Roger Thornhill in “North By Northwest,” John Robie in “To Catch a Thief,” C.K. Dexter Haven in “The Philadelphia Story,” and Walter Burns in “His Girl Friday” to name a few.
6. Amy Adams is still waiting. She’s been nominated five times already, for her work in “American Hustle,” “The Master,” “The Fighter,” “Doubt” and “Junebug.” Her work in two acclaimed films this year – “Nocturnal Animals” and (especially) “The Arrival” – garnered not even a nomination. An actress equally at home in kiddie fare (“Enchanted,” “The Muppets”), comic book movies (“Man of Steel”) and top-shelf dramas (“The Arrival,” “The Master,” “The Fighter”), we know she’ll eventually earn her statue. But it can’t come soon enough.
7. Peter O’Toole. The movie legend, who died in 2013, was nominated eight times for an acting Oscar. One would think he would have won for his iconic work in “Lawrence of Arabia.” But no. Then there was “My Favorite Year,” when he hilariously and poignantly played a broken-down and drunken movie star from yesteryear making an appearance on a 1950s television variety show. Or “The Stunt Man,” as a charismatic film director? Or his two nominated performances for portraying Henry II, “Becket” and “The Lion in Winter.” Nope. The academy tried to make up for this gross oversight with an honorary Oscar in 2003. Still, the fact that his work was never honored for what it was is a real shame.