Michael Musto's 5 Craziest Oscar Wins, Losses and Upsets of All Time

by Elizabeth Thompson
Is there anything worse that watching an Oscar nominee lose to someone totally undeserving, or, better, watching an underdog totally steal the show? We reached out to  Michael Musto, who is, in our book, the foremost expert on Oscars history, to discuss the biggest Oscar upsets, surprises and travesties of all time.



In 1951, Judy Holliday won best actress for Born Yesterday. This was the year of the ultimate gay diva battle between Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard playing a Grand Guignol gargoyle and Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve playing a Grand Guignol gargoyle. This was a battle royale equal to King Kong vs. Godzilla. Gloria had won all of the awards up to that point and she was expected to bag the Oscar. I think Gloria and Bette ended up cancelling each other out, which was combined with the fact that Anne Baxter was also nominated in that category for All About Eve and may have taken some of the votes away, so Judy just snuck in there. This is one of the most traumatizing events in gay history. But I have to say I watched Born Yesterday again last year, and Judy was really transcendent. It wasn't really highway robbery that she won, but it was a surprise that has stood the test of time.


The second biggest gay upset in Oscar history was in 1954, when Judy Garland was nominated for A Star is Born. She was actually [recovering from just giving birth] to Joey Luft the night of the Oscars, so a camera crew had gathered around her to film her acceptance speech from her hospital bed. The winner, however, was Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. Are you noticing a trend here? It's always the younger, prettier actress who wins -- it's still the case today except for the year Helen Mirren won for The Queen. Grace Kelly had drabbed herself down for The Country Girl and proved she really had the chops, but most people thought she couldn't compare to Judy's incredible, luminous performance in A Star is Born. The problem, however, was that A Star Is Born was kind of a mess -- it was badly edited and just sort of all over the place -- and it didn't make much money. So Grace won and Judy sat there while the camera crew unplugged and left without saying a word. Poor Judy the loser.


In 1993, they announced Best Supporting Actress as Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny. This was one of the biggest shocks of all time. Not just in the Oscars but in history. She was up against four really grand divas with hoity-toity accents, where as Marisa was featuring sort of a pre-Jersey Shore demeanor in My Cousin Vinny. She was a gum-popping Guidette and beat out Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson. Conspiracy theories started immediately that they had read the wrong name, or that something really fishy had happened. But, like Judy Holliday, in retrospect, I don't think its horrible that she won. And she acquitted herself really well. She got two other nominations after that for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler, so she had the last laugh after that, proving herself to be a real Academy Award-type of actress. But, it really....people's jaws just dropped when she won. That had to have been rough for her.


Sideways, by Alexander Payne, was up for Best Picture in 2004, as well as a million other categories including Best Supporting Actor and Actress. The heart and soul of the movie, though, was Paul Giamatti, who was strangely snubbed for a Best Actor nomination. There was such a backlash when that happened and he got such sympathy from the media for having been left out. How could you have Sideways nominated for Best Picture and not nominate Paul Giamatti for Best Actor? It was almost criminal! You wanted to lock people up! That was the year Jamie Foxx won, and he deserved it, but I think they could have dumped Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland from the nominees and made a place for Paul.


But the biggest horror of all time was in 2006 when Crash won for best picture. I actually think Crash was a really fine film, but everyone was expecting Brokeback Mountain to win. It had won all of the awards so far at the Oscars and Ang Lee had even won Best Director earlier that night. So it was extremely bizarre when they announced Crash for Best Picture. Immediately, the media started delving into how this could have happened and the reality is that some of the Academy voters, when they knew it was a 'gay movie,' didn't even watch the screeners that were sent. Some even admitted, 'Oh, I saw what it was about and I didn't even want to watch it!' It's really sad that a movie like Crash, which is about bigotry, only won because of bigotry. .

Crash image via ThatWasJunk.com

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