Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top 20 Oscar Surprises Since 1980

There is a very interesting list at IMDB, their highlighted list, that is the top 20 most surprising Oscar winners since 1980, posted by Mark Englehart. Mark has done a pretty good job, I agree with many of them.

He has The Pianist with two surprises, Adrien Brody for actor and Roman Polanski for director. I'm sure most felt that Polanski had been slighted for Chinatown in 1974.

At least two were responsible for exposing to the world two of the best actresses to come along in generations: Marion Cotillard of France and Hilary Swank of the U.S., who later added a 2nd Oscar for Million Dollar Baby (photo rt), certainly one of the top 10 acting performances of all time, and perhaps (along with Raging Bull) the best boxing film as well. This is a film I can watch anytime I see it on just to see Hilary's knockout acting (pun intended). Ironically, both are based on the lives of real boxers. Hilary joined Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind, Streetcar Named Desire) in film history as winners in 2 of 2 best actress chances. (Ironically, in Streecar, Marlon Brando was the only actor of the four to not win an academy award, as Karl Malden and Kim Hunter also won)

For my money, the German film The Lives of Others is an all-time classic foreign film; it's one of just five to win both the US and British academy awards in that category. For me that Oscar was no surprise, but is 19th on his list since it won over the tedious and overblown Pan's Labryinth - it's a much better film and belongs on the top shelf of espionage films with Coppola's The Conversation, a Palm d'Or winner at Cannes over his own Godfather Part II, which was considered by many to be superior to the first, and was rewarded with 7 academy awards vs just 3 for the first. Many would argue that these are perhaps Coppola's finest two films, which places Lives in some fairly elite company.

Another of my favorites scored a surprise, Traffic, which won all the Oscars it was nominated for (five) except picture, losing to Gladiator, with the equally artistic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon likely a close third - this was arguably the toughest year ever for best picture voters, as any of the three deserved to win. Personally I'd have voted for Traffic, but secretly wished Crouching Tiger had won.

Ironically, after seeing Gladiator at the theater at its opening, I told friends "look for about five Oscars for this one", and was laughed at by everyone. It ended up with six, the best pic win for that was more surprising to me along with the only loss for Traffic than Steven Soderbergh's win for director that year over Ridley Scott and Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, though he had another Chinese director for all the martial arts so it was really directed by two).

I agree with Mark that Crash for picture belongs at the top. For me, that wasn't even the best film with that title - I prefer David Cronenberg's earlier film of the J.G. Ballard science fiction novel that is about people turned on by car crashes and scarred survivors. What can compare to James Spader's sexual liaisons with Holly Hunter, Debra Kara Unger, and Roseanne Arquette, two of which occurred in cars? It also had a re-enactment of the crash in which James Dean died. This later Crash pales in comparison, looking more like a tv movie of the week.

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