If I Got To Change the Oscars…
I love what-if scenarios. This is one of those experiments where I asked myself: if given the chance to change the outcome of a certain number of categories in the history of the Academy Awards, which ones would I change?
It sounds easy. I thought it would be, too. It’s very easy to come up with a list of poor choices when you think about what the “worst” Oscars are. But when you get into it, and actually start looking, you’d be surprised at which ones you’d actually allow to be kept and where you really want to make the changes. I was a bit surprised at how it turned out. Here’s how the whole thing works:
If I got to change any ten results in the history of the Academy Awards, in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director, which ones would I choose?
That’s it. Not why, no justification required, just — change from one result, to another result. Simple as that. Which would I change? Here are my answers, as well as some observations about them afterwards. Also, just in case, I feel I should point out that these answers are in no particular order at all. There’s nothing to read into there. It’s just, how it turned out. So here are the ones I decided to change:
If I got to change ten Best Picture winners…
1. 1941, Citizen Kane over How Green Was My Valley.
2. 1980, Raging Bull over Ordinary People.
3. 1948, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre/The Red Shoes over Hamlet. If pressured to pick one, I guess I’d take Sierra Madre.
4. 1952, High Noon over The Greatest Show on Earth.
5. 1979, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now over Kramer vs. Kramer. If pressured, I’d take Apocalypse.
6. 1990, Goodfellas over Dances with Wolves.
7. 1940, The Grapes of Wrath over Rebecca.
8. 1967, Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner over In the Heat of the Night. If pressured — shit — honestly, I’d leave it up to chance. Put them in a hat and pick one. If really pressured, I’d take Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
9. 1951, A Streetcar Named Desire over An American in Paris.
10. 1938, Fargo over The English Patient.
Notes and Observations: Most of these are one picture over another. The one real note I want to make on the choices that has the most consequences is #9. 1951. If An American in Paris doesn’t win Best Picture that year (which, it really shouldn’t have), then it’s possible that Singin’ in the Rain could have been nominated for Best Picture in 1952. And maybe, if they didn’t want to go for High Noon, then maybe that’s the year they went for the innocuous and likable musical. Just sayin’.
As for the ones I chose to keep, this is where I find it most interesting.
1981. Chariots of Fire. Perhaps the single worst Best Picture winner in history. And yet — I kept it. I find that fascinating. One, you need some bad films on there just to bitch about. We wouldn’t want everything to be perfect. And also, as much as I love Raiders of the Lost Ark, I don’t see it as a Best Picture winner. I just don’t. And Reds — I’m not gonna change it just to put that film on there.
Then there’s 1977. I love Star Wars. But frankly, it just doesn’t need Best Picture. It doesn’t. It’s doing all right on its own. Though, if I got five more choices, I almost certainly would have put it on there. So, you know, it’s a choice, just not a top priority for me.
1989. Driving Miss Daisy. Easily a bad choice, but — what do you pick over it? I, personally, would have voted Field of Dreams that year. My Left Foot was a close second. Still, I don’t need them to have won Best Picture. Especially if I picked Field of Dreams. I bet that would be under as much scrutiny as any of the nominees would have been if they won this year. So I left it. Again, five more spots — easily would have done it. Probably.
1956. Interesting that I kept Around the World in 80 Days on there. Love Giant, but I felt that might have been more controversial than it was worth. Still, probably would be on an 11-15. (Closer to 11 than 15.)
1950 — Sunset Boulevard over All About Eve — too close to call. I just left it. I don’t mind that decision at all. I feel it should be more about changing bad decisions. Now, if The Third Man were nominated for Best Picture…
1932/1933 — I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang over Cavalcade. Thought about it for a long time. It’s a much better choice, historically, and on another day, I’d probably replace Fargo with it. It fluctuates. Maybe it’s just because it’s old, and I hate The English Patient, which is why I left it.
1985 — The Color Purple over Out of Africa — just not a priority. Ten choices makes it very exclusive. This is not one I feel is absolutely essential. I’d have picked it that year, but, for all time, it’s not a top ten necessary change.
1970 — Love Story over Patton. Too much of a personal choice. I tried to keep those off until I made the decisions that were beneficial to everybody. I ran out of spots. Plus, I feel that would have been really controversial, since I know there are people who hate Love Story. Plus Patton is a great movie.
1938 — Grand Illusion over You Can’t Take It With You. That was my #10 for the longest time, and then I realized, The English Patient is a much shittier film than You Can’t Take It With You is. You Can’t Take It With You is just a poor Best Picture choice. So that had to be changed. This almost made it on there, though.
And then there’s ones like: Midnight Cowboy — I don’t need Butch and Sundance over it. Forrest Gump — which do you pick, Pulp Fiction or Shawshank? Best to just leave it. Shakespeare in Love — I like it. Not as a choice, necessarily, but as a film. I can accept it as having won. Saving Private Ryan would have been a better choice, but, it’s not an essential change for me. Not a top ten essential, anyway. The Defiant Ones over Gigi — is that really a top ten change? (Close.) 1937, A Star is Born over The Life of Emile Zola. That was on the list for a while, but honestly, that was just me saying, “I love one film, the other was a bad choice.” But honestly, it didn’t need it. There were better choices. And, Going My Way — harmless. Double Indemnity was a better choice, but, it’s not life or death that it won instead. I like my choices. I think most people would agree on at least half of them.
I will say, though, the one that I did leave the same, that is a big one for me, is 1934. It Happened One Night. My favorite film of all time, as we all know, is The Thin Man. And you’ll notice that I chose not to change that one. The reason is — I don’t need it to have won. It’s always going to be my favorite film of all time. I don’t need it to have the extra validation. It was a real contender for #10 for the longest time, but ultimately I felt — let’s try to make this about what universally needs to be changed rather than what I want. Though, if somehow I were the only one allowed to make these changes, and people allowed me one to do what I wanted with, I’d absolutely do it. Let’s not paint me as some saint.
Also, I attempted to leave the most recent ten years off of this one, because — I’m not sure which film I’d pick to beat The King’s Speech. Plus my gripe with that film is over Best Director more than Best Picture. The Hurt Locker — I don’t have a winner (I don’t really want to have to vote for Avatar, and Inglourious Basterds just doesn’t feel like the right choice. I’d rather bitch about it having not won than defend it for why it should have won). Crash — I don’t like the other choices. The film I’d have beat it was Good Night, and Good Luck, not Brokeback. And I have much higher priorities than that film, as much as it sucks as a choice. Million Dollar Baby — meh. I love The Aviator, but it’s a matter of priorities. Same with Chicago and A Beautiful Mind. The former — priorities. The latter — what beats it? I’m not changing three decisions just for Rings. Not doing it. So I left this past decade the same. I feel my top ten were the best decisions for the overall greater good.
So, that’s Best Picture. Now —
If I got to change ten Best Actor winners…
1. 1974, Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II over Art Carney in Harry and Tonto.
2. 1968. Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter over Cliff Robertson in Charly.
3. 1939, Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington over Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
4. 1940, Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath over Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story.
5. 1941, Orson Welles in Citizen Kane over Gary Cooper in Sergeant York.
6. 1943, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca over Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine.
7. 1961, Paul Newman in The Hustler over Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.
8. 1996, Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade over Geoffrey Rush in Shine.
9. 1993, Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List over Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.
10. 1965, Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold over Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou.
Notes and Observations: To answer the obvious — my apologies to all for leaving Roberto Benigni on there. But Batman always keeps the Joker alive.
Also, regarding #10 — I love Lee Marvin to death, but in terms of which actor should have had an Oscar, and the performances they gave — Burton wins that, hands down.
Other possibilities that didn’t make it on:
2003 — Bill Murray in Lost in Translation over Sean Penn in Mystic River. I’m gonna be honest, I like Bill Murray’s performance, but if I really had this power, you know I’d give that shit to Johnny Depp in Pirates. Why wouldn’t you? That way people could be like, “What the fuck?” And assume they were either drunk or decided to have fun. Plus, the ten I chose were much more important.
2002 — Adrien Brody, The Pianist. I don’t love the performance, but Nicholson had two, Cage had one and Day-Lewis had one and would later win a second. So, really, he lucked out. Ten more spots (maybe even five), I might put him on.
1992 — Denzel Washington in Malcolm X over Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Honestly — it starts too much of a chain reaction (not to mention the fact that I’d also be fucking over Clint Eastwood and Robert Downey Jr.); I’d have to then change Denzel winning in 2001 and give it to either Sean Penn or Russell Crowe, which would necessitate the 2003 change or a 2000 change, and then the 2000 change would make me give it to Tom Hanks (or Geoffrey Rush, but probably Tom Hanks). That’s too many spots. Had to leave it as is. Unlimited spots? Oh you fucking know I would.
1982 — I love this year. Because with my changes, everything works out. Peter O’Toole and Paul Newman get their Oscars, so then Ben Kingsley becomes the best decision in the category without the residual guilt. I love that. I just wanted to mention how awesome that is.
1981 — Dudley Moore in Arthur (or Warren Beatty in Reds) over Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond. I know I changed the other Fonda one, and this would give him two, but, honestly, while Arthur is one of my top ten or twenty favorite films of all time, I don’t need Dudley Moore to have won the Oscar. And I’m cool with Fonda having two. Plus, it was a strong contender for #10. So, 11-15, I’d totally do it. Everyone should have a fun one.
1951 — Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire over Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. This should be on my list, since I gave Bogart the first one. But I ran out of spots. At that point, you’re just asking me to pick what I want for every year. Shit happens. This is why this power doesn’t exist. Changes beget more changes.
1964 — Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove over Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. I love Rex Harrison’s performance too much for this to be enough of a priority to make the top ten. Though yeah, more spots — totally.
1958 — Sidney Poitier or Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones over David Niven in Separate Tables. (No Paul Newman, because I gave him his Oscar already, added to the one he already won.) This is one where, David Niven shouldn’t have won, but, I’d want to give it to Poitier, just because he shouldn’t have won for Lilies of the Field in 1963. But that would necessitate an extra change there (Richard Harris. That’s not even a question). So, I left it, since Poitier has an Oscar and that’s really what matters.
1956 — Rock Hudson in Giant over Yul Brynner in The King and I. Too few spots.
1938 — Leslie Howard in Pygmalion over Spencer Tracy in Boys Town. Oh, trust me. Just one more spot is all I’d need for this fucking category.
That’s it, really. Everything else was mostly acceptable and worked itself out or is too minor to matter.
So, that’s Best Actor.
If I got to change ten Best Actress winners…
1. 1970, Ali MacGraw in Love Story over Glenda Jackson in Women in Love.
2. 2009, Carey Mulligan in An Education over Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.
3. 1999, Annette Bening in American Beauty over Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry.
4. 1947, Rosalind Russell in Mourning Becomes Electra over Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter.
5. 1961, Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass over Sophia Loren in Two Women.
6. 1963, Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room over Patricia Neal in Hud.
7. 1978, Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman over Jane Fonda in Coming Home.
8. 1952, Julie Harris in The Member of the Wedding over Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba
9. 2002, Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven over Nicole Kidman in The Hours
10.1956, Carroll Baker in Baby Doll over Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia.
Notes and Observations: To answer the big one — 1960. Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment over Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8. The reason I left it the way it is has to do with the fact that Shirley MacLaine got her Oscar. Liz won two and Shirley won one. That’s okay by me. Plus, if I changed it, I’d have to change Shirley winning in 1983, and I didn’t want to waste another spot, so I considered that a poor choice rectified by the Academy. Too often are we not this lucky.
Now, here’s the other big thing I had to mention. #9 and #10 were the absolute last categories I wrote for this, because, I had four options to place in two spots. Obviously you see the two I chose. The other two options were first, giving Deborah Kerr the Oscar in 1958 for Separate Tables over Susan Hayward for I Want to Live! and then giving Hayward the Oscar in the year she should have won it, in 1955 for I’ll Cry Tomorrow over Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo. But that felt too much like shuffling, and I felt I could take a bigger chunk out of (Oscar) crime by doing it the way I did.
These were ones that got more than a passing consideration:
2000. Anyone over Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. I left Julia winning because Ellen Burstyn had an Oscar, and I didn’t consider Allen’s or Linney’s performances strong enough to win. (Though, if I gave Burstyn the Oscar here, I could also give Gena Rowlands the Burstyn Oscar in 1974 for A Woman Under the Influence. That would be cool. But I don’t have any spots in which to do that, so we’ll just have to leave it as is.)
1995. Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas over Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking. Susan Sarandon should have an Oscar (career-wise) more than Elisabeth Shue should. Shue gave the better performance and should have won, but, I ran out of spots. Sarandon has earned a statue (generally. Though not specifically, by my vote).
1994. Jodie Foster in Nell over Jessica Lange in Blue Sky. Performance was better, but Foster had two and Lange was terribly overdue, so it’s fine. Weak, but fine.
1987. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (since Holly Hunter won her Oscar) over Cher in Moonstruck. Trust me, five more spots — you know it.
1985. Whoppi Goldberg in The Color Purple over Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful. I really ran out of spots, and Whoopi having won an Oscar (even though it’s Supporting) puts her down the queue than some of the other ones. Another five spots, definitely.
1959. Anyone over Simone Signoret in Room at the Top. My big thing there was — all the other actresses had Oscars. Taylor got two, Kate Hepburn would win three more, and Audrey had one. (Doris Day had no shot. Come on now.) I thought to give Audrey another just to get this decision out of there, but it was a waste of a spot. I had more pressing issues to deal with.
1950. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard over Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. Not enough spots. Plus I like the performance. I’d rather take an Oscar away from a performance I hate.
1944. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity over Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. Strongly considered this. But the thing is, since I can’t change it to have Bergman win in 1943 (she wasn’t nominated for Casablanca), changing this would have her only win be for Anastasia, which I already undid up there. So I just left it. Sucks, but, you can only change so much, and Best Actress is the most fucked up category in Academy history.
1937. Babara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas or Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth over Luise Rainer in The Good Earth. I didn’t realyl like the performances enough, but if I had more spots, I’d totally just do it. Since whoever won here wouldn’t have really mattered in the grand scheme of things.
Or, if not 1937, I’d change 1936, giving Carol Lombard the Oscar for My Man Godfrey over Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld. Shit, I might even change both, with enough spots.
2005, Felicity Huffman in Transamerica over Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line. One more spot, this goes on. Only reason it wasn’t — I liked those performances better.
I also just want to note — the only personal choice I made was the Leslie Caron one. I feel no shame in it at all.
So, that’s Best Actress. Pretty shady business overall. I’m glad I’m done with it.
If I got to change ten Best Supporting Actor winners…
1. 1979, Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now over Melvyn Douglas in Being There.
2. 2001, Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast over Jim Broadbent in Iris.
3. 1943, Claude Rains in Casablanca over Charles Coburn in The More the Merrier.
4. 1946, Charles Coburn in The Green Years over Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives.
5. 1970, John Marley in Love Story or Chief Dan George in Little Big Man over John Mills in Ryan’s Daughter. (If pressured, Chief Dan George all the way.)
6. 1949, Ralph Richardson in The Heiress over Dean Jagger in Twelve O’Clock High.
7. 1962, Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia over Ed Begley in Sweet Bird of Youth.
8. 1971, Roy Scheider in The French Connection over Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show.
9. 1972, James Caan in The Godfather over Joel Grey in Cabaret.
10. 1996, William H. Macy in Fargo over Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire.
Notes and Observations: This is actually a very strong category. They are very good, the Academy, at getting actors Oscars via this category. Especially recently. They’re like marksmen. Just, precision, with who they need to give statues to.
Regarding #10 — I had to. Sorry, Cuba. History has spoken too loudly for me not to have. You really gave that thing away over the past fifteen years. And Macy’s earned it twice over.
#8 was a personal choice. I haven’t taken too many of those in all. I feel I’m allowed some. Plus Scheider earned it between this and All That Jazz. It’s not that bad.
Other possibilities that didn’t make it:
1999, Tom Cruise in Magnolia over Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules. Not high enough of a priority.
1998, Billy Bob Thornton in A Simple Plan over James Coburn in Affliction. I honestly love James Coburn too much to do this to him. Plus I gave Thornton Best Actor in 1996, so this doesn’t end up being so bad.
1991, Michael Lerner in Barton Fink over Jack Palance in City Slickers. Not enough spots, plus, when you think macro, Palance should have an Oscar, so I say leave it.
1984, Adolph Caesar in A Soldier’s Story over Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields. Okay, here’s my thing. First, Ngor lived through what his character went through. Taking away the Oscar would feel cruel, even though Caesar really gave the better performance. I didn’t want to waste a spot on that. And plus, if I really was gonna change this, do you really think I’d be able to avoid the temptation to give this to Pat Morita for The Karate Kid? You must be crazy. Best to just leave it.
1982. James Mason in The Verdict over Lou Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman. Honestly, I didn’t have enough spots and I’d also think about John Lithgow and Charles Durning. Confusion leads to inaction.
1973. As much as I’d have given it to Vincent Gardenia for Bang the Drum Slowly or Jason Miller for The Exorcist, it’s not a top ten priority.
1968, Gene Wilder in The Producers over Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses. Too much of a personal decision. Not top ten material.
1961. George Chakiris in West Side Story. Too many options. Gleason, Falk or Clift. Can’t choose. Plus I love Chakiris’s performance.
1957, Sessue Hayakawa in The Bridge on the River Kwai over Red Buttons in Sayonara. Give me more spots, I guarantee you this will be on. Just barely missed. Was on for the longest time.
1956, Robert Stack in Written on the Wind over Anthony Quinn in Lust for Life. Not high a priority enough. You see the amount of options I had to choose from.
1941, Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon over Donald Crisp in How Green Was My Valley. Give me one or two more spots, oh yeah. On.
1938, Basil Rathbone in If I Were King over Walter Brennan in Kentucky. Not enough spots. Plus I kinda like that Walter Brennan won three of these things.
If I got to change ten Best Supporting Actress winners…
1. 2000, Kate Hudson in Almost Famous over Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock.
2. 1960, Janet Leigh in Psycho over Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry.
3. 1948, Agnes Moorehead in Johnny Belinda over Claire Trevor in Key Largo.
4. 1955, Betsy Blair in Marty over Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden.
5. 2007, Saorise Ronan in Atonement over Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton.
6. 1959, Susan Kohner/Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life over Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank. (If pressed, I guess I’d take Kohner.)
7. 1974, Talia Shire in The Godfather Part II over Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express.
8. 1957, Hope Lange in Peyton Place over Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara.
9. 1937, Andrea Leeds in Stage Door over Alice Brady in In Old Chicago.
10. 1961, Judy Garland in Judgment at Nuremberg over Rita Moreno in West Side Story.
Notes and Observations: I can’t believe I kept Jennifer Hudson. (But who would beat her? Abigail Breslin?)
Regarding #10 — it’s simply to give Judy an Oscar. That’s the only reason.
Also, almost considered putting Amy Adams in Doubt over Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona in 2008 on there, but something tells me Amy will definitely have one of these in the future, so I’m not gonna jump the gun on that. Let’s wait and see what happens. (Also, if I didn’t love Rachel Weisz so much, I’d also totally give Amy Adams the Oscar there for Junebug.)
1985 was also considered, but again, I wouldn’t be able to choose between Oprah or Tilly. (That’s not true, I’d totally give it to Tilly. But Anjelica Huston is okay to have an Oscar, so I left it.)
Also considered 1988, giving it to Michelle Pfeiffer for Dangerous Liaisons over Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist, but I ran out of spots.
Same for 1993, Winona Ryder in The Age of Innocence over Anna Paquin in The Piano. Not enough spots.
This is the one category with the most personal decisions. It almost had to be. Either they made good decisions or it just doesn’t matter what the outcome was. There were very few to choose from for me.
But, that’s it for this category. Definitely the most subjective of all my lists.
If I got to change ten Best Director winners…
1. 1950, Carol Reed for The Third Man over Joseph L. Mankiewicz for All About Eve.
2. 1968, Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey over Carol Reed for Oliver!.
3. 1941, Orson Welles for Citizen Kane over John Ford for How Green Was My Valley.
4. 1972, Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather over Bob Fosse for Cabaret.
5. 1979, Bob Fosse for All That Jazz over Robert Benton for Kramer vs. Kramer.
5. 1960, Alfred Hitchcock for Psycho over Billy Wilder for The Apartment.
6. 1963, Federico Fellini for 8 1/2 over Tony Richardson for Tom Jones.
7. (2001, David Lynch for Mulholland Drive over Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind.)
(alt: George Lucas over Woody Allen, Billy Wilder over Leo McCarey)
8. 1994, Quentin Tarantino for Pulp Fiction over Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump.
9. 1980, Martin Scorsese for Raging Bull over Robert Redford for Ordinary People.
10. 1990, Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas over Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves.
Notes and Observations: Regarding #9 and #10 — I think I made my point.
I didn’t put on David Fincher over Tom Hooper even though I think that one was one of the worst five decisions of all time. Not just for Fincher, I mean, Hooper in general. He beat four more deserving nominees. But I figured I’d let that one play out a bit and see what happens before I made any rash decisions.
I think most of this list speaks for itself.