What Was the Biggest Oscar Night Mistake Ever Made?

The snubbing of Alfred Hitchcock, misplaced accolades for Kate Winslet, and more
Graham Roumieu

Peter Bart, producer and former editor in chief, Variety

It was April 5, 1965, and everyone I knew was talking about Dr. Strangelove and other edgy new pictures, but there I was, attending my first Oscar ceremony, and Mary Poppins was battling My Fair Lady for Best Picture, Father Goose won Best Screenplay, and Dr. Strangelove was snubbed. I realized Hollywood was caught in a time machine.

Carrie Rickey, former film critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer

In 1993, Al Pacino won Best Actor for his forgettable turn in Scent of a Woman over Denzel Washington’s nuanced, once-in-a-career performance in Malcolm X. Everyone knows that Pacino won because he was previously 0-for-7, while Washington already had a supporting-actor trophy for Glory.

Lisa Schwarzbaum, film critic

Shakespeare in Love’s taking Best Picture in 1999 instead of Saving Private Ryan marked the game-changing moment when Oscar marketing campaigns became a cutthroat business. Not coincidentally, by 1999, it had become common practice for production companies to send out screeners, which saved voters the “effort” of schlepping to movie theaters. Proportion distortion is the legacy: grand-scale pictures suffer, while TV-size fluff (like Shakespeare in Love) looks cute.

Mick LaSalle, film critic, San Francisco Chronicle

While Luise Rainer’s performance in The Good Earth was perfectly adequate, the Academy’s 1938 choice of that over Greta Garbo’s stunning work in Camille really does stink in the nose of history. The fact that Rainer was European and made up to look Chinese only makes it worse.

Anne Helen Petersen, author, Scandals of Classic Hollywood (May 2014)

Never recognizing Marilyn Monroe, for anything, ever. Her image was that of a vapid ditz, but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot showcase the sort of nuanced, charismatic performance whose chief attribute is its own effacement. And just imagine what industry validation could’ve done for Monroe’s confidence.

Tim Grierson, vice president, Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Crash’s Best Picture win in 2006. On the same night that the maverick director Robert Altman was awarded an honorary Oscar for his influential career crafting intelligent, challenging ensemble films, the Academy gave its top prize to a movie that was a pale knockoff of Altman’s finest work. Crash is little more than a simplistic, manipulative multicharacter portrait of racism in Los Angeles that flatters its audience’s enlightened views.

Mark Lisanti, writer, Grantland

It's still hard to believe that Crash won Best Picture. Even if its intentions were noble, it’s an almost absurdly bad movie. The subtlest thing that happens is a snowstorm in Los Angeles.

Christopher Orr, senior editor, The Atlantic

Granting Kate Winslet a Best Actress Oscar for The Reader in 2009, when she gave a far better performance in a far better film the same year (Revolutionary Road). If that weren’t enough, she herself had mercilessly mocked the Academy’s fetish for over-awarding Holocaust movies just four years earlier on the comedy show Extras.

Willie Geist, co-host, NBC’s Today show and MSNBC’s Morning Joe

With all due respect to Kevin Costner, and to all those who dance with wolves, Dances With Wolves had no business beating Goodfellas for Best Picture in 1991. Dances With Wolves is a big, beautiful film, but it would have been a little better if it had Joe Pesci asking Costner, “I’m funny how? Funny like I’m a clown? ... I’m here to amuse you?”

Tasha Robinson, film critic, The Dissolve and The A.V. Club

Making jokes about the Oscar ceremony’s length into an annual host tradition. The digs date back at least to Johnny Carson in the 1970s; by this point, they’re tired, rote, and hypocritical. And who benefits from a joke that amounts to “We’re doing a terrible job of managing our own presentation, like we always do”?

Chris Nashawaty, film critic, Entertainment Weekly

The fact that Alfred Hitchcock, hands down the greatest filmmaker who ever lived, never won for Best Director. Although he was nominated five times (for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho), the Master of Suspense always slunk off sans statuette.

Billy Eichner, comedian, Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street

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