By how many votes did Barack Obama beat John McCain in the 2008 presidential election? 9,522,083.
By how many votes did Hilary Swank beat Annette Bening in the 2000 Oscar race? That’s top secret information. We will never know. Ever.
Don’t even waste your time trying to find out.
The motion picture academy strictly enforces its policy of keeping the final Oscar tally under wraps. (Votes are counted by hand in a securely locked room.) But through the years, some of us would have bet serious Bernie Madoff money on who placed second. We obviously can’t know for sure, but educated guesses can be made:
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (after Sean Penn, Milk)
Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give (after Charlize Theron, Monster)
Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver (after Peter Finch, Network)
Jessica Lange, Frances (after Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice)
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain (after Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote)
Julie Christie, Away From Her (after Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose)
Jack Nicholson, Chinatown (after Art Carney, Harry and Tonto)
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys (after Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy)
Angela Bassett, What’s Love Got To Do With It (after Holly Hunter, The Piano)
Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie (after Ben Kingsley, Gandhi)
Annette Bening, American Beauty (after Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry)
Annette Bening, Being Julia (after Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby)
The academy members get it right about seventy-five per cent of the time. Not a bad average. But when they’re wrong, the mistakes can be colossal. In 1998, Saving Private Ryan lost the Best Picture award to Shakespeare in Love. Years later, most serious movie lovers (with the possible exception of Harvey Weinstein) would agree this was an egregious error that probably happened because of a humongous publicity push by Miramax.
Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash. This likely happened because conservative members of the academy were a wee bit skeptical about a gay cowboy love story as its Best Picture.
In 2005, Sideways garnered five nominations in five major categories including Best Picture, but the central performance of Paul Giamatti was overlooked. As if recognizing this sinful omission, the following year the academy nominated Giamatti for his supporting performance in that stellar work of cinematic art, Cinderella Man.
In 1982, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial nabbed nine nominations. Henry Thomas, with those big soulful eyes, gave one of the best child performances in movie history, but the poor kid was passed over for a nomination.
In 1997, almost everyone on the Titanic was recognized except its leading man, the heart and soul of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio.(Since then, Leo’s been nominated twice.)Similarly, almost everyone in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button received Oscar nods except its leading lady Cate Blanchett who matched Brad Pitt (nominated) every step of the mesmerizing way. When My Best Friend’s Wedding was released in 1997, critics couldn’t come up with enough superlatives to describe Rupert Everett’s performance, but the academy neglected to nominate him. Why? Maybe because it was more of a comedic turn than a dramatic one, and we all know the academy discriminates against comedy.
My Fair Lady received thirteen nominations back in 1965, but the fair lady herself Audrey Hepburn was left out, presumably because Marni Nixon dubbed the vocals. Singing seems to be an important consideration in Oscar history. Let’s be real: Jennifer Hudson took home the supporting actress award (Dreamgirls) for singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” If that song had been dropped from the movie or if Marni Nixon had dubbed her voice, do you really think Hudson would have won? Doubtful.
Does the box office failure of a film mean a great performance isn’t as great as people thought it was? Judging from the academy’s history, the answer is a resounding yes. For the few dozen of us who saw Being Julia, it was clear Annette Bening deserved to win, but the picture fizzled while Million Dollar Baby sizzled right up until Oscar night, and it was Hilary Swank’s name that was announced. In 2004, critics called the performances of Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger in The Door in the Floor the best of their long, impressive careers. But the movie tanked at the box office, so both were ignored come Oscar time. Other highly praised performances that were passed over for any number of reasons: Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. Steve Martin in All of Me. James Stewart in Vertigo. Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire. Vanessa Redgrave in Prick Up Your Ears. Both Diane Keaton and Albert Finney in Shoot the Moon. Jim Carrey in, take your pick: The Truman Show, The Man in the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
As the most nominated performer in Oscar history with sixteen nods, Meryl Streep certainly hasn’t been ignored. But she hasn’t taken home the statuette since 1982 (for Sophie’s Choice), and members of the academy have been wanting to present her with a third award for years. (Her first win was in the supporting category for Kramer vs. Kramer when anybody under thirty who’s reading this hadn’t been born.) Unfortunately, each time she comes close to copping the gold, another performance creeps up, sometimes at the last minute, to overshadow her: Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking, Helen Mirren in The Queen, Kate Winslet in The Reader. It 1988 it was Jodie Foster in The Accused who snatched the statuette from Streep for her work in A Cry in the Dark, one of the all time great screen performances. Rent it.
This year, conventional wisdom tells us to bet on the three Bs: Bullock, Bridges and Bigelow (Sandra, Jeff and Kathryn) for Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Director. In the supporting categories, it would be a startling upset if either Mo’Nique or Christophe Waltz leaves the Kodak Theatre without clutching the little golden guy.
But don’t be shocked if Meryl (for Julie & Julia) makes her way across the finish line and Sandra (The Blind Side) is the first to congratulate her. Best Actress will be the tightest race of the night.