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Check out these compelling culture commentaries by a gifted wordsmith from the South. Volume 1.

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Chris Queen

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May 4, 2014 - 6:00 am
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February 24, 2012:

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5. The 10 Biggest Academy Awards Blunders

Oscar’s Only Human…

Jack Haley, Jr. hit upon a brilliant idea. The producer of the 1979 Oscars telecast devised a special medley of hit songs the Academy never nominated. Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis, Jr. would perform it at the ceremony. The Academy’s Music Branch protested, but when Haley and host Johnny Carson threatened to walk they relented.

A smash hit, the audience applauded “Oscar’s Only Human” throughout and treated the performers to a prolonged ovation.

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Oscar is only human, and he’s made some terrible mistakes over the years. From controversial wins to unfortunate slights to sins of showmanship, the Academy Awards have failed time and time again.

In honor of this Sunday’s broadcast, here are my personal picks for Oscar’s ten most egregious screw-ups:

10. Makin’ Whoopi… Into An Oscar Winner

In 1985 Whoopi Goldberg made a big splash. She earned a Grammy for her first comedy album as well as a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod for her film debut in The Color Purple. Five years later, her movie career had faltered, thanks to a series of flops.

But then came the perfect storm that was Ghost. With the makings of the quintessential chick flick — sexy stars in Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and a supernatural romantic subplot —  Goldberg appears for comic relief as the medium used to communicate beyond the grave.

While a surprise box-office smash,critics didn’t take kindly to Ghost. Julie Salomon of the Wall Street Journal said the film wasn’t “awful enough to be a great trash movie, but it often comes close.” Yet when the Academy Award nominations came out, Ghost scored five, including one for Best Picture.

The big story at the Oscars that year was Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western Dances With Wolves, but Goldberg managed to walk home with the Best Supporting Actress trophy. Considering her competition that year — Lorraine Bracco, Annette Bening, Mary McDonnell, and Diane Ladd, all from dramatic films — it’s curious that Goldberg won for such a comic role.

9. And The Winner Is…Robert Donat?!?!?!?!

Film historians and critics have long considered 1939 a golden year for movies. A list of the year’s notable films reads like the cream of the classic crop: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach, Ninotchka (“Garbo laughs!”), Wuthering Heights, The Wizard Of Oz, and a little Civil War drama called Gone With The Wind.

The Best Actor category that year was packed with iconic performances. The nominees included Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind, James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights, and, um, Mickey Rooney for something called Babes In Arms.

Strangely enough, the voters chose British actor Robert Donat for the inspirational teacher drama Goodbye Mr. Chips over Gable, Stewart, and Olivier.

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Donat’s win cast a black cloud over Gone With The Wind’s triumphant night — eight Oscars and two special awards — and producer David O. Selznick considered Gable’s loss his greatest disappointment that year.

Time has not been so kind to Donat. His is one of the least remembered performances in a banner year for cinema, and he isn’t as highly regarded as his competitors. Or, as one writer put it:

Seventy years later, we’re still quoting Gable, while we’re googling who Robert Donat was, how his performance could have outshone Gable’s, and what Goodbye Mr. Chips was about.

8. The Best Picture That Directed Itself

It’s an odd tradition for directors of highly regarded films to miss out on a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. It happened to Steven Spielberg twice — first for Jaws and again a decade later for The Color Purple. Barbra Streisand failed to get a nod for The Prince Of Tides, and Rob Reiner didn’t garner a nomination for A Few Good Men.

Driving Miss Daisy was one of the most beautiful films of 1989. Its depiction of mid-20th century Atlanta was meticulous, and the cast gave tremendous performances. Australian director Bruce Beresford brought the pieces together yet the Academy did not see fit to nominate him for Best Director.

Beresford’s omission became a focal point of the awards broadcast. In his opening monologue, host Billy Crystal referred to Driving Miss Daisy as “the movie that apparently directed itself,” a remark that led to cheers from the crowd. Best Adapted Screenplay winner Alfred Uhry called Beresford “great and unheralded,” while Best Actress Jessica Tandy thanked her “forgotten” director. Finally, producer Richard Zanuck gave Beresford his due when he accepted the Best Picture award:

We’re up here for one very simple reason, and that’s the fact that Bruce Beresford is a brilliant director, it’s as simple as that.

Driving Miss Daisy became the first film in 57 years to win Best Picture without a nominated director. On a successful night for the team behind Driving Miss Daisy, it was a real shame for Bruce Beresford to walk away empty handed.

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