Oscar File: How Academy Makes Up For Its Screw-Ups (Al Pacino, Anyone?)

In honor of perpetual nominee (and likely winner) Martin Scorsese, we examine how awards show has covered its tracks.

This year's Oscar for best makeup won't go to "Apocalypto." It won't go to "Click." And, all indications otherwise, it won't even go to "Pan's Labyrinth." That's because the Academy Award for best makeup will go to, well, the Academy itself.

After nearly 40 years of near misses (and missed opportunities), the Academy looks poised to finally crown Martin Scorsese the best director — even if it won't be for his best movie.

It's business as usual for the Academy, which all too often has awarded Oscars based on lifetime achievement or because they want to compensate for a past mistake. Makeup or not, should Scorsese win, he won't be handing back his little golden statue anytime soon. After all, it's better to be known as someone who won an Oscar, even for a film that wasn't their best, than someone who never won at all.

Just ask these recent "makeup" winners:

Actor: Morgan Freeman

Oscar: Best Supporting Actor

Role: Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris in "Million Dollar Baby" (2004)

Should Have Gone To: Thomas Haden Church, "Sideways"

Should Have Won For: "Street Smart" (1987)

As the fierce pimp Fast Black, Freeman stole so many scenes in "Street Smart" he should have been given an Oscar and denied parole. His first nomination, Freeman lost the 1988 Oscar to Sean Connery — itself a case of an actor being rewarded for his entire body of work as opposed to a performance in one particular movie.

Freeman brought pathos to his role in "Million Dollar Baby" (and we still think he should narrate every single film), but it wasn't the best supporting performance of the year — and far from the best career performance for an actor rightly considered among America's best.

Actor: Cate Blanchett

Oscar: Best Supporting Actress

Role: Katherine Hepburn in "The Aviator" (2004)

Should Have Gone To: Virginia Madsen, "Sideways"

Should Have Won For: "Elizabeth" (1998)

Blanchett sparkled and cracked as the Connecticut Yankee in King Howard's Court in Scorsese's "The Aviator," but we can't help but feel like she got a little extra boost by Hepburn's own remarkable Oscar track record — as if the Academy couldn't help but give the four-time winner another award.

But, regardless, the Academy surely had 1999 on their minds. That was the year Blanchett was nominated for playing Queen Elizabeth in what may have been the performance of the decade. She lost Best Actress to Gwyneth Paltrow for "Shakespeare in Love."

Actor: Renée Zellweger

Oscar: Best Supporting Actress

Role: Ruby Thewes in "Cold Mountain" (2003)

Should Have Gone To: Shohreh Aghdashloo, "House of Sand and Fog"

Should Have Won For: "Chicago" (2002)

It's always somewhat suspicious when an Oscar goes to an actor or actress for a performance one year after he or she was nominated for a better performance in a different film (and lost). We doubt she's stewing over the indignity, but the Oscar on Zellweger's mantle should share a dual inscription: "This award was as much for 'Chicago' as it was for 'Cold Mountain.' "

Actor: Nicole Kidman

Oscar: Best Actress

Role: Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" (2002)

Should Have Gone To: Julianne Moore, "Far From Heaven"

Should Have Won For: "Moulin Rouge!" (2001)

Kidman's Oscar isn't just a makeup; it might have been primarily because of makeup. Oscar loves beautiful women who ugly themselves up, and Kidman's prosthetic nose left her nearly unrecognizable. Crazy beautiful may not win awards, but it should — Kidman shined far brighter the year before as the gorgeous yet doomed prostitute Satine in "Moulin Rouge!"

Actor: Russell Crowe

Oscar: Best Actor

Role: Maximus in "Gladiator" (2000)

Should Have Gone To: Ed Harris, "Pollock"

Should Have Won For: "The Insider" (1999)

"Are you entertained?" Crowe asked a crowd full of spectators early on in "Gladiator." Well, no, now that you mention it Russell, we weren't. How "Gladiator" steamrolled "Traffic" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to win Best Picture is still an utter mystery. Crowe's victory, while equally undeserved, is less so. In a classic makeup, Crowe should have won the year before as an executive taking on Big Tobacco in "The Insider." A powerfully talented actor, Crowe's win was sandwiched between two nods (he was also nominated for "A Beautiful Mind"). His work in "Gladiator" was the worst of the three.

Actor: Judi Dench

Oscar: Best Supporting Actress

Role: Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" (1998)

Should Have Gone To: Kathy Bates, "Primary Colors"

Should Have Won For: "Mrs. Brown" (1997)

It was one of the more bizarre Oscar wins in recent memory, if only because the character of Elizabeth was onscreen for only eight minutes. Dench's pitch-perfect portrayal of the Virgin Queen aside, her win is a near flawless example of the makeup award: Dench was nominated the previous year for "Mrs. Brown," eventually losing to Helen Hunt for "As Good as It Gets." (No, really, Helen Hunt is an Oscar winner.) Maybe Oscar thought she wouldn't get another nomination. Fool us once, Academy — Dame Judi has been nominated four times since.

Actor: Al Pacino

Oscar: Best Actor

Role: Colonel Frank Slade in "Scent of a Woman" (1992)

Should Have Gone To: Denzel Washington, "Malcolm X"

Should Have Won For: "The Godfather" (1972), "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)

What can we say about Al Pacino? He's one of the two or three greatest actors of the last 30 years. That's probably what the Academy was thinking too. His win for "Scent of a Woman" stinks of being an award for lifetime achievement. HUA! (And for us non-military folk, that stands for "Heard. Understood. Acknowledged!") How about you hear, understand and acknowledge this: Since his win for Best Actor, Pacino has been off his game, essentially playing Frank Slade in a number of roles. Consider this: After eight nominations in the 20 years prior to his win, Pacino hasn't been nominated once in the 14 years since.

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