The Oscars Just Disqualified A Nominee From This Year’s Awards

One major category will now only have four contenders. It's not the first embarrassing controversy the Academy's had to face.

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Oscar seasons can be fraught with all sorts of scandal and controversies. Whether it’s the producer of low-budget indie The Hurt Locker (2009) telling members not to vote for James Cameron’s gazillion-dollar Avatar (2009), or whisper campaigns against the real life subjects of A Beautiful Mind (2001) and The Hurricane (1999), there’s always something ugly bubbling under the surface when careers and money are at stake.

Still, nothing quite comes close to the truly bizarre turn of events that have befallen the Academy Awards’ Best Original Song category this year. Even Academy president and nomination announcer Cheryl Boone Isaacs seemed to stifle a laugh when reading out Alone Yet Not Alone as a nominee for its song of the same name from the film about 18th century colonists. It wasn’t long before the internet was unearthing the film’s disturbing right-wing supporters and claims of prejudice, given that nominated songwriter Bruce Broughton is a leader of the very branch that voted for him (individual categories are nominated by branch members — costume designers nominate costume designs, etc — but the entire roster of 6000+ Academy members votes for the winners), and highlighting the fact that the film was an unheralded religious drama with potential racist overtones that skirted eligibility and made little more than a pittance in its brief box office run.

Well, last night the Academy took the unheard of step of actually disqualifying Broughton and his co-writer Dennis Spiegel on the grounds that his self-promotional techniques offered an “unfair advantage”. In the grand scheme of things, a tiny, unheard of independent release needs all the help it can get — missing out on nominations were big names with even bigger money-spinning corporations behind them like Lana Del Rey (‘Young And Beautiful’ from The Great Gatsby), Taylor Swift (‘Sweeter Than Fiction’ from One Chance), and Coldplay (‘Atlas’ from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) — but it’s obvious voters hadn’t seen the film and were merely selecting it because of a respected colleague. Broughton released a statement saying “I’m devastated”, before taking a swipe at his own organisation.

For all the hubbub that Alone Yet Not Alone‘s nomination has sparked, it’s not even the strangest nominee the Academy has thrown up. Okay, maybe it is, but here are a few equally confounding nominations from Oscars past.

Amy Irving for Best Supporting Actress in Yentl (1983)

Almost everything about this film’s Oscar history could be fodder for this column — fans at the time even protested claiming the Academy was sexist for not nominating Barbra Streisand for the film that Steven Spielberg apparently called “the best film I’ve seen since Citizen Kane” — but what makes Irving’s nomination such a surprise is that, to this day, she remains one of only two actors to ever be nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Razzie for the same performance (the other was James Coco for 1982’s Only When I Laugh). Naturally, that Irving was deserving of neither nomination has long been forgotten.

Gustavo Santaolalla for Best Original Score for Babel (2006)

Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla won his first of two back-to-back Oscars for his sublime work on Brokeback Mountain (2005). His second win, however, for Babel was not as universally celebrated. The problem? Large parts of the score’s most memorable moments weren’t original, but rather reworked old pieces or ‘borrowed’ from other sources and integrated so perfectly that nobody noticed. The Academy now has a rule where film scores that derive too much from other sources — like Clint Mansell’s score for Black Swan (2010) — are deemed ineligible.

Nia Vardalos for Best Original Screenplay for My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Ignoring the bizarre fact that Nia Vardalos’s 90-odd minutes of ethnic-based dad jokes was selected in the first place, what makes this nomination for the surprise blockbuster all the more galling is the small issue of it not being ‘original’ in the definition of the category. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was openly based on Vardalos’s one-woman show from 1997, until Oscar campaigners began fudging the details to help it secure a nomination in the easier Original category. Likewise, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York (2002), which was based on Herbert Asbury’s 1928 book of the same name, until it conveniently wasn’t.

Best Foreign Language Film for Dogtooth (2009)

The Oscar-watchers of the world had a collective meltdown when Yorgos Lanthimos’s austere, dark, and all-’round weird Greek film Dogtooth snagged a nomination alongside the likes of Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful, with Javier Bardem. New rules to the category following multiple high-profile snubs like Cache (2005) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (2007) have made such left-of-centre nominations less unexpected, but still wacky.

Ingrid Bergman for Best Supporting Actress in Murder On The Orient Express (1974)

The Academy were so desperate to welcome back their favourite Swede that they went and gave her a third Oscar for little more than five minutes of screen time in this Agatha Christie mystery. Bergman was so embarrassed by the citation against fellow nominees Valentina Cortese (Day for Night), Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles), Diane Ladd (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and Talia Shire (The Godfather Part II) that she couldn’t help but say so in her acceptance speech.

Best Animated Feature for The Secret Of Kells (2009) 

Perhaps the only nomination of the modern era to raise more of a simultaneous “Huh?” than Alone Yet Not Alone was this obscure cartoon about an eighth century religious manuscript that nobody outside of Ireland had ever heard of. What people soon discovered, though, was that The Secret Of Kells — nominated alongside Coraline, The Fantastic Mr Fox, The Princess And The Frog, and eventual winner Up — was actually pretty good. It’s visually awe-inspiring animation is a wonder, and in retrospect it was fitting to see it nominated against such Hollywood heavyweights.

Pretty much the entire Make-Up category

Only one category can boast such critically acclaimed masterworks as Heartbeeps (1981) about two robots that fall in love, The Clan Of The Cave Bear (1986) about a Cro-Magnon woman who’s raised by Neanderthals, Guy Pearce’s box office bomb The Time Machine (2002), and Eddie Murphy’s other “lol fat people are funny” flick, Norbit (2007). The Oscars’ make-up and hairstyling branch aren’t known for their discerning taste, but that’s kinda why we love them: they genuinely focus on the craft, as opposed to the films that are popular with voters in any given year. This year’s nomination for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa will, if nothing else, make for a humorous moment for whichever actor is charged with reading the nominees with a straight face.

As for Alone Yet Not Alone? Well, its brief moment in the sun will have to suffice now that it has been stripped of its only Oscar nomination. When the Oscars are presented on March 2, there will only be four nominees in the Best Original Song category and the Academy will have to hope everyone forgets this embarrassing prelude to Hollywood’s biggest night.

Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.