We are used to the disappointment when our favorite performance fails to win an Oscar, but what about when an actor wins for the wrong performance? Here are ten Oscar winners that won for the wrong role.
With the Oscars only 31 days away, it’s hard not to think about who will walk away with the highly sought after gold plated statues. It’s been an interesting awards season that once felt wide open, but now feels completely predictable. Both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards awarded the exact same four actors in the major categories.
If the Oscars follow suit, Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney are all set to win on March 4. While these performances no doubt have their fans, all of these actors have arguably given better performances before. With that in mind, take a look back at ten recent Oscar winners that won for the wrong performance.
Won for: ‘The Revenant’
Should have won for: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
You would be hard pressed to find someone that would argue Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t one of the best working actors today, but his performance in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant was hardly a showcase of his talents. The film is essentially a glorified version of Man vs. Wild, without any charm, dialogue, or compelling reason to exist. As such, Leo’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. Watching him grunt and moan his way through the snow is far more tedious than it is impressive.
DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant cannot hold a candle to role in The Wolf of Wall Street just two years prior. Martin Scorsese’s outrageous and damning portrait of Jordan Belfort lit up movie screens, showcasing DiCaprio’s range as a performer. DiCaprio failed to take home the trophy, perhaps due to the sheer unlikeability of the character he portrayed which is disappointing given that this performance is far better and more memorable than The Revenant.
Won for: ‘The Danish Girl’
Should have won for: ‘Ex Machina’
Do you remember The Danish Girl? I’m asking because I sure as heck don’t. Somehow Alicia Vikander managed to take home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in a movie that, two years later, almost everyone has forgotten. What’s especially frustrating about this win is that Vikander gave a far more worthy performance in the same year.
Her performance as Ava in Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller Ex Machina was all at once charming and haunting. She played a robot undergoing testing to determine her various capabilities and level of consciousness. It’s a performance that requires Vikander to give a nuanced, affected performance that blurs the line between what is human and what is not.
Critics circles rewarded Vikander’s performance all year, but the Oscars (and other more prestigious awards bodies) opted for her far less impressive role in The Danish Girl – a period drama about one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery. The Academy’s bias against genre films – particularly sci-fi – no doubt kept Vikander from winning an Oscar for a much better performance.
Won for: ‘Still Alice’
Should have won for: ‘Far From Heaven’
When Julianne Moore won the Oscar for her role in Still Alice, there was a sense of justice being served. Moore, who had been nominated three times before, including her double nomination in 2003, was long overdue for a win. However, it’s hard not to be disappointed that Moore won for a performance that ranks so low in her filmography.
Moore’s performance in Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven remains a far more memorable and superior performance. In the style of 50s melodramas, Far From Heaven tells the story of a housewife whose life begins to fall apart amid scandal and forbidden romance. The performance captures Moore’s range as a performer. She disappears into the role, channeling a remarkable energy that remains a high point in her career.
Won for: ‘The King’s Speech’
Should have won for: ‘A Single Man’
Tom Ford’s stylish and heartbreaking directorial debut A Single Man features Colin Firth at the top of his game. His performance as an English professor struggling to cope with the loss of his boyfriend in 1960s Los Angeles remains one of his best – depicting the complicated nature of grief and the isolation that accompanies it.
Unlike Firth’s performance in The King’s Speech, one that is largely forgettable save for his stutter, A Single Man aches with a timelessness, subtlety, and vulnerability that’s not often seen in the Best Actor category. It was a career high for Firth and worthy of an Oscar win.
Won for: ‘The Reader’
Should have won for: ‘Revolutionary Road’
In 2008, Kate Winslet starred in both The Reader and Revolutionary Road. In the latter, she gave a powerhouse performance that elevated the film, depicting a marriage in shambles and a woman desperate for fulfillment in her life. It was a performance that should have earned Winslet an Oscar, but she wasn’t even nominated for it. Instead, she was nominated, and won, for her performance in The Reader.
It remains to be seen whether insider Hollywood politics or the preferential Oscar ballot is to blame for Winslet’s snub, but ten years later, it’s hard to deny that she won for the wrong performance. Her performance, delivered opposite Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since Titanic, demonstrated the heights of Winslet’s talent.
Won for: ‘Blue Jasmine’
Should have won for: ‘Carol’
It’s hard to argue that Cate Blanchett, an actress that’s been nominated for six Oscars, won for the wrong performance, given how fantastic she is in every role she inhabits. However, it would have been nice to see Blanchett win her second Oscar for Todd Haynes’ 2015 film Carol, rather than Blue Jasmine. Unfortunately, Blanchett’s win for Blue Jasmine is just another piece of evidence that reveals the Academy’s bias towards flashier performances.
Blue Jasmine follows a woman in the wake of misfortune; once absurdly wealthy, Jasmine finds herself broke after her husband ends up in jail. The film plays up Jasmine’s mental instability as she tries to get her life back on track. Blanchett’s performance is great, elevating a rather superficial script, but it’s frustratingly one-note. On the other hand, Blanchett’s performance in Carol is a far subtler, yet impressive performance. In a more just world, she would have won for that performance.
Won for: ‘Les Miserables’
Should have won for: ‘Rachel Getting Married’
Anne Hathaway didn’t so much win for her performance in Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Miserables as she did for a single scene. In the film, Hathaway sings, “I Dreamed a Dream” after she is fired from her job and thrown onto the streets. In order to support her daughter, she is forced into prostitution. Hathaway’s performance is stellar, but it cannot compare to her work in Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married.
Unlike this scene in Les Miserables that requires Hathaway to play one very particular emotion, Rachel Getting Married captures a far more complex and difficult performance. Hathaway plays Kym, fresh out of rehab and home for her sister’s wedding. Her return home brings back painful memories and causes friction within the family. It’s a challenging role in which Hathaway shines. If only the Academy had fallen in love with it, too.
Won for: ‘Crazy Heart’
Should have won for: ‘True Grit’
After several nominations stretching all the way back to 1972 for The Last Picture Show, Jeff Bridges won his first Oscar in 2010 for his role in Crazy Heart. It’s too bad the Academy couldn’t hold out for one more year because it’s Bridges’ role in the remake of True Grit that should have won him an Oscar. While Crazy Heart played right into a narrative the Academy loves – a faded star reassessing his life late in his career – True Grit features a much finer performance.
Won for: ‘Syriana’
Should have won for: ‘The Descendants’, ‘Up in the Air’, or ‘Michael Clayton’
George Clooney has been nominated for eight Oscars, including directing and screenplay categories. He was nominated four times for acting, yet the performance he won for is arguably the worst of the bunch. Clooney won for his performance in Syriana, an intense drama about those involved in the overseas oil industry. He won for this performance in the same year that he was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for his film Good Night, and Good Luck. His win in the Supporting Actor category was arguably a consolation prize for his contributions to the other categories.
His win is particularly disappointing given the performances he’s delivered since Syriana. His roles in The Descendants, Up in the Air, and Michael Clayton all use Clooney’s potent blend of charm and gravitas to more affecting ends.
Won for: ‘The Blind Side’
Should have won for: ‘The Proposal’
If the Academy didn’t have such a bias against comedies (look no further than Tiffany Haddish’s snub this year for Girls Trip), then Sandra Bullock should have won, or at least have been nominated for her performance in The Proposal. Unlike The Blind Side, a film that sticks Bullock in a blonde wig and asks her to talk in a southern accent for two hours, The Proposal pulls out Bullock’s strengths as both a comedic and dramatic performer.
The Proposal racked in a whopping $317.4 million dollars at the box office and remains one of Bullock’s best performances. The Academy’s tendency to balk at films or performances that do not fit the predetermined mold is a disappointing trend that often leads actors to win Oscars for performances that pale in comparison to their other work.