A Look Back at the Academy Awards 10 Years ago

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by Jason Koenigsberg

Recently Pan and Slam took a look at the 69th Academy Awards, how the nominated and winning films have aged, and if the win helped the individual careers of actors, writers and directors. Since the 89th Academy Awards are right around the corner, let’s rewind back to ten years ago and take stock of who The Academy decided to honor and how it has helped or hindered their careers. Did the Academy make the right calls? Should another film or actor have won? Let’s find out. 

Best Motion Picture of the Year

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?
Absolutely. Many people look at The Departed as just a lesser Scorsese picture. Well compared to Goodfellas, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver, almost everything is less than those films. But the Academy failed to honor any of those more than worthy masterworks with the top honor. So ten years ago they decided to make up for lost time and give Martin Scorsese his long awaited but well deserved Best Director Oscar and the satisfaction of being able to say he directed a Best Picture of the Year. 
What should have won?
Personally, I think The Departed is one of the best films of Martin Scorsese’s illustrious career and not only was the best film of the nominees, but the best film of 2006. This group of nominees were four very strong films, ranging from good (Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen), to great (The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima)… and then there was Babel (the only weak and undeserving of Academy recognition). For once in a rare occasion I agreed with the Academy 100% with their Best Picture selection. 
Did the Academy get it right?
One of the strangest and weakest Best Actor categories in many years. None of the Actors nominated really deserved it. Two well established leading men of their era, one really old guy, one up and comer, and a hard working character actor playing a real life villain. They chose to honor the character actor. Forest Whitaker won for playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in what was basically a supporting role. I guess the Academy loved his accent and they were a sucker for accents that year because Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for Blood Diamond which was a much weaker performance than his leading role in The Departed. But he had an accent in Blood Diamond so I guess people considered that to be better acting. His nomination for that film instead of the Best Picture winner The Departed made it where he had almost zero chance of winning. Ryan Gosling and Will Smith were both just OK, in their roles and Peter O’Toole, four years after winning the Lifetime Achievement Oscar was the sentimental favorite to win after he expressed his desire to win a competitive Academy Award. This would be O’Toole’s eighth and final nomination for a very flawed movie and probably his weakest nominated performance. 
Who should have won?
None of them. I guess if I had to vote I’d have picked DiCaprio and pretended that it was for The Departed and not Blood Diamond to make myself feel better. The loss would not effect his career trajectory and he would go on to win an Academy Award on his fifth nomination for The Revenant (2015). Forest Whitaker’s win hardly seemed to improve his career. In fact I am willing to bet that more people saw him in last years Arrival or in his breakout role in Fast Times as Ridgemont High (1982) than they did in the film he won Best Actor for. In fact I think many people do not even realize Forest Whitaker has an Oscar. He still balances his time between big budget movies and small arthouse pictures, while also taking lead roles as much as supporting parts. His big Oscar moment was a blip on the radar of his career and has not helped or hindered him at all. Ryan Gosling was an up and comer and has seen his career grow since he is nominated again this year for La La Land. Will Smith has not had much to smile about in recent years since Pursuit of Happyness. This was his second and final nomination at this point. He has been starring mostly in flops and misguided prestige pictures for the past few years like Seven Pounds (2008), Concussion (2015) and last years Collateral Beauty. I would have loved to have seen Hugh Jackman nominated for The Fountain, Clive Owen nominated for Children of Men and Guy Pearce nominated for The Proposition that year instead of some of these good-but-not-great performances. 
Did the Academy get it right?
I would say yes. In retrospect this is one of the strongest Best Actress groups in years. Helen Mirren would have been my choice for the Oscar. She was pitch perfect as Queen Elizabeth II and added detailed layers to a mostly fictional characterization of one of the most well known figures in the world, adding human elements and emotion to someone we all know but have never seen their personal and private side. Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz all delivered exceptional performances and any other year I would say they should have won. Judi Dench was the weakest nominee but certainly made the most out of her weekday afternoon soap opera of a film. All of their careers either improved or at the very least stayed the same. Cruz and Winslet would win Oscars a few years later, and even Meryl Streep would add another Best Actress Academy Award, her third, along with many more nominations. 
Did the Academy get it right?
I would say no, but I cannot argue too much since the Oscar acted more as a Lifetime Achievement Award for the great Alan Arkin, than actually honoring his brief but funny role in Little Miss Sunshine. Since then he has appeared in more large scale films than he used to like Get Smart (2008), The Muppets (2011) and Ben Affleck’s Best Picture winner Argo (2012). Eddie Murphy was the front runner going into the Awards ceremony that night and since his loss, he has starred in a series of big budget vehicles that have flopped badly. Many still blame his Oscar loss on Norbit (2007) which was released a few weeks before the Oscars as people often cite that film as the worst of his career. Mark Wahlberg and Djimon Hounsou have continued to work steadily in mainstream pictures and the Oscar probably boosted their dramatic credibility, especially Wahlberg, his career started off as ’90s pop star Markie Mark and now he is a well respected and bankable leading man. Former child star Jackie Earle Haley saw a career resurgence after his disturbing role in the indie film Little Children. He would go on to get the biggest parts of his career in big budget films such as Watchmen (2009) and play Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). Plus, he would work with some of the biggest and best directors in the business taking roles in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010), Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012) and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012). All the nominated actors careers would improve other than Eddie Murphy’s. 
Who should have won?

I would say Mark Wahlberg for The Departed even though you could have easily nominated other actors from that film for Best Supporting Actor. All the nominees were great in their roles, I just thought Wahlberg stood out holding his own in scenes with some of the best actors of his generation (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon) and his father’s generation (Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen) and that is no easy task. Plus, he helped make The Departed the best movie of the year. 

Did the Academy get it right?
Not really. What was one of the strongest Best Supporting Actor categories that same year saw one of the weakest Best Supporting Actress categories. You had two women that did not speak any English that were nominated for the same mediocre movie, so they canceled each other out. A child actor that just had to look cute and dance badly in the climactic scene, an actress that just won Best Supporting Actress two years prior, and an American Idol runner up in her motion picture debut in a role that did not require much acting but a lot of singing and she sure belted out and wailed her songs. So the Academy chose to give it to the newcomer and American Idol loser, since it was the showiest role of the bunch. 
What should have won?
I suppose I would have voted for Jennifer Hudson for all of the reasons I listed above, which say more about why the other nominees should not win, not necessarily why Hudson should win. If the Oscars were a music award show then yes, Jennifer Hudson is an outstanding singer, but acting? I guess because she was in a movie and sang from the top of her lungs in most of her scenes, she deserves it over the others. It sure took a lot of talent and energy to pull that off. Toni Collette gave a better performance in Little Miss Sunshine than Abigail Breslin did. If she were nominated instead I would have cast my vote for her. 

Best Achievement in Directing

WINNER

NOMINEES




Did the Academy get it right?
Do you even have to ask? Arguably the greatest living director and one of the best filmmakers of all time finally took home his long awaited Best Director Oscar which he should have won several times before and has been nominated and deserved to win several times since. After winning for The Departed, Scorsese has continued on with his career renaissance with Best Director nominations for Hugo (2011) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu would continue to improve his craft and become the first director in over sixty years to win two Best Director Academy Awards in back-to-back years with Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015). Paul Greengrass and Stephen Frears have both continued to make their style of films with success giving us Captain Phillips (2013) and last years Florence Foster Jenkins respectively. Even though some would consider Letters From Iwo Jima Clint Eastwood’s finest directorial effort, he already had two Best Director Oscars on his shelf for Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004), the latter of which he bested Martin Scorsese for The Aviator
What should have won?
Hmmm, let me think about that… yes, yes they did. Just watch the video below. 
Did the Academy get it right?
Hell No! As enjoyable as Little Miss Sunshine was, the script did not have a single original thought to display, nor did it have any unique ideas to convey. It was recycled pieces from other strong lighthearted comedic films from its era and somehow managed to become an Oscar darling and won over the Academy voters. Since winning the Oscar, Michael Arndt has done nothing noteworthy other than being a screenwriter for hire on such big studio blockbusters as Toy Story 3 (2010), Inside Out (2015) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). 
What should have won?
Honestly, any of the other nominated screenplays are superior. Even Babel which disappointed as a completed film, had ideas in its script that were noble and risky. I would have given the Oscar to Guillermo del Toro for his imaginative, and hauntingly beautiful screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth. I also would not have minded to see Letter from Iwo Jima or The Queen take home the award. Both are excellent movies from intelligent scripts. 
Did the Academy get it right?
It is tough to argue against The Departed since it was the best movie of 2006 with superb performances and expert direction, but they all had to come from someplace and the screenplay created the foundation for the actors, director, editor and everyone else involved to make The Departed the fantastic movie that it is. Since winning his Oscar William Monahan has mostly written workman-like scripts for action movies, the most notable being Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008) which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. 
What should have won?
I would have voted for The Departed, but there is no denying that the screenplay for Children of Men was an outstanding one, and Borat was the funniest movie of the year. Would not have minded if either of those films took home the gold. 
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