The Oscars' Best Original Song category is responsible for Juicy J having as many Academy Awards as Christopher Plummer, and yet I still hate it. That's how bad it is. We could have built an entire Oscar-travesties ballot consisting of nothing but egregious Best Song snubs and inexplicable Best Song winners. No Oscar category is more broken, or operates from a more antiquated methodology; Best Original Song is a travesty-generating machine. Given the choice in the first round, Grantland's readers voted pretty overwhelmingly that Samuel L. Jackson losing to Martin Landau constituted a bigger blot on the Oscars' legacy than the entire ignominious history of the Best Song category as a whole, which means we didn't get to fully explore said ignominy. So let's do that now.
This is it. The last envelope of the night. We’ve waited through a lot of travesties to get to this point, so I won’t bother prolonging the suspense any longer. Drumroll, please …
 Stanley Kubrick never wins Best Director (WINNER): 1,871  Martin Scorsese doesn't win Best Director until The Departed: 704
This is a just result, as Stanley Kubrick is unquestionably one of the best film directors (if not the best) who ever lived. This result is also bullshit, as Martin Scorsese is unquestionably one of the best film directors (if not the best) who ever lived, and making him wait nearly 35 years after he filmed the single coolest scene of all time — I’m talking about the part in Mean Streets where Harvey Keitel watches Robert De Niro and two girls from the Village walk into Rick Romanus’s bar in slow motion as the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” plays in the background — for his Oscar is simply ludicrous. But at least Scorsese won something, amirite? But doesn’t Kubrick’s win sort of completely go against the rules laid down for this tournament, which is that only post-1972 travesties will be considered, which means the guy who made Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut (all great-to-excellent, iconic films) walloped the guy who made Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, After Hours, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Casino, The Aviator, AND The Departed (which is many more great-to-excellent, iconic films)?
Welcome to the Oscar Travesties finals! As expected, Crash, the most egregious error of collective judgment in the long and distinguished history of the Academy of Crash Mistakes and Haggis Sciences will face off against ... wow, Crash again, in a winner-takes-all battle for the honor of being the most contentious kudos recipient since two Cro-Magnons bludgeoned each other to death with jagged rocks over a disagreement about the artistic merits of a poorly rendered cave-scrawling of a three-legged bear that earned an approving nod from a blind elder.
Roberto Benigni's pair of over-caffeinated acceptance speeches from 1999 didn't survive the first round of Grantland's Oscar Travesty bracket. It lost to The King's Speech’s stealing what the cool, the young, the Fincher-besotted believe was The Social Network’s best picture Oscar. It is the greater travesty since Benigni's wins for foreign-language film and actor constitute no conventional travesty.
What exactly did he really do, anyway? Benigni wrote, directed, and starred in a film that Hollywood seemed to like. The movie, Life Is Beautiful, is a comedy in which an Italian family winds up in a World War II Nazi concentration camp, and the father concocts a parallel universe of comedy and fun to shield his son from the abounding horrors. The moral objections to the movie make sense — for one thing, it is predicated on a sort of Holocaust denial. But the film's tonal ingenuity resides in the deftly crafted necessity for that denial. We know what Benigni's up to. He recalibrates his famous clown persona to fit a story about altruism and doom. The game he constructs isn't for the audience. The second half of Life Is Beautiful asks us to watch two ways at the same time: as a desperate parent and as an innocent child. Having to apply that double vision is what breaks your heart.
So how's your Oscar Travesty bracket looking? Are you crushing it? Can you just about taste the victory ribs you're going to order from Chili's with that gift certificate up for grabs in your office pool? I wouldn't know about that — the Grantland office has nothing riding on our individual predictions because we figured it was a little pointless if we all predicted the same final winner. While it's true that there was a particularly contentious pre-tournament debate, most of that hair-pulling and mean-tweeting was about the seeding of everything else; we were largely interested in where exactly everything else would fall below that 1-seeded front-runner from 2005 we figured would win it all. But now, with everything we took for granted lying in a heap of flaming wreckage on an ethnically diverse block in South L.A., it's time to reassess what we thought we knew about how much everybody hated Crash.
In 1980, Raging Bull loses to Ordinary People. Sometimes we need a little time with our art.
During the 1980 Best Picture race, the Academy needed a standing eight count to clear its collective head. If it had gotten one, it would’ve seen the truth. Art can be immediate — instantaneous even — and a piece can stab you right in the heart the moment you see it. But it can also be too much to comprehend at the point of experience and the remove of time is required to fully appreciate it. That’s the story of the 1980 Best Picture.
It was The Wizard of Oz in 1939 that provided Hollywood with its most enduring depiction of the divide between the head and the heart. In their desperation to gain the organs they lacked, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man proved themselves willing to endure any indignity, from flying monkeys to grabby munchkins. No task was too great, no road too yellow or too long. Everything was worth it in their tireless quest to appear either smarter or more caring.
The Wizard of Oz didn't win the Oscar for Best Picture — the trophy that year went to some overheated epic about wind. But in many ways the shared journey of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man toward wildly disparate goals presaged every stupid Academy decision for the next 70-plus years. When given the chance, the Oscars always trip themselves up lunging for hearts or smarts, never rewarding actual artistic achievement when something tear-jerking or historical is there to get in the way. Hollywood, as one or two (million) people have blithely commented, is a wildly insecure town, its denizens desperate to be thought of as both relatably human (they are not) and inspirationally erudite (ditto). The Oscars, more often than not, reflect this; the final tally saying more about how the voters wish to be perceived than anything about the movies themselves.
Last week I went to the L.A. County Museum of Art to check out its Stanley Kubrick exhibit, an exhaustive collection of props, concept art, scripts, correspondence, set photos, costumes, and other cinematic footnotes that has been on display since November. It was originally scheduled to run until the end of January, but was extended through the end of June due to popular demand. A representative from LACMA told me that on weekends, the exhibit averages about 8,000 visitors a day.
In the epic, contentious, slanderous 40-person e-mail chain that kickstarted this endeavor a few weeks back, I slavishly recalled more than 20 perceived Oscar Travesties" occurring before 1972, our cutoff year in this arbitrary contest. (Here's one: Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine beat Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca for Best Actor in 1942. Think about that.) I never thought we would vote on these ancient mistakes, no matter how deeply I believe Dr. Strangelove deserves that shine over My Fair Lady. I was merely trying to point out that the Oscars, before we were watching them, before we were born, hell, before our parents were born, have been blowing it. And though the voting procedures have changed over the years (revisit Mark Harris's essential Oscarmetrics coverage from 2012 for more details on the evolving voting body), the fact has remained: Getting it wrong is the only way Oscar can be right.