Oscar Best Picture trivia and shockers! Read all about it

If you read our Gold Derby combined odds for Oscar Best Picture, you see that the race is over and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is about to be crowned at the Academy Awards on March 12. But the favorite doesn’t always win the horserace. Upsets happen. The longshot comes in. Jaws drop. Calculations go awry. Something that no one could see coming winds up coming in. Chaos reigns.

And we love it.

If there is anything we’ve learned, it’s that there are no guarantees. Films that the majority think should have won, don’t. That’s particularly true in hindsight. “Citizen Kane,” widely regarded as the finest film of the 20th century, lost. So did the film many consider to be Martin Scorsese’s best, “Raging Bull.” “Moonlight” beat “La La Land.” “Crash” upset “Brokeback Mountain.” “Shakespeare in Love” upended “Saving Private Ryan.” “Chariots of Fire” snared the trophy over “Reds.” Sometimes, it’s the passage of time that makes the upset seem more shocking in hindsight. Some wins simply age better than others.

There is also some fascinating trivia surrounding the Oscar Best Picture category. For instance, John Cazale, who died at 42 in 1978, appeared in only five feature films in his career – and all five were nominated for or won Best Picture. They were “The Godfather” (1973), “The Conversation” (1975), “The Godfather, Part 2” (1975), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1976) and “The Deer Hunter” (1979). There’s a record that likely will never be equaled.

Let’s look back at a dozen of the biggest Oscar shockers in he Best Picture race along with some intriguing factoids.

In no particular order:

Shocker #1: “Ordinary People” over “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The Elephant Man,” “Raging Bull” and “Tess” (1981) – Early in that Oscar season, it was “The Elephant Man” that was being hyped for all the big prizes. Then it was “Raging Bull,” once it premiered and showed itself to be such a classic. But at the end of the day, it was “Ordinary People” and director Robert Redford who swooped in to take the DGA and the Oscar – and the film itself won, too. It’s a fine movie, too. But in retrospect, it’s no “Raging Bull.”

Shocker #2: “Kramer vs. Kramer” over “All That Jazz,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Breaking Away” and “Norma Rae” (1980) – An example of a movie whose star power (Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman) overwhelmed “Apocalypse Now” and “All That Jazz” in particular, two films of singular greatness and grandeur. At the time, the “Kramer” win didn’t feel quite as shocking as it does today.

Shocker #3: “Moonlight” over “La La Land,” “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion” and “Manchester by the Sea” (2017) – There was simply no way “La La Land” was going to lose. It had 14 nominations, for crying out loud. The envelope fiasco (presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope) that accompanied its loss in which it was first announced as the winner didn’t feel weird at all – until it was. It was a considerable upset, made more so by the crazy circumstances surrounding it.

Shocker #4: “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain,” “Munich,” “Capote” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2006) – “Brokeback Mountain” was considered something of a shoo-in to claim the top movie gold. “Crash” had failed to receive a Golden Globe bid for top film, and the only movie that had managed to win a Best Picture Oscar in spite of that was “The Sting” in 1974. But “Crash” would be the second, even though “Brokeback’s” Ang Lee won for director.

Shocker #5: “Rocky” over “All the President’s Men,” “Network,” “Bound for Glory” and “Taxi Driver” (1977) – At the beginning of awards season, the odds that a little boxing movie starring an unknown named Sylvester Stallone could win Best Picture at the Academy Awards could not have been longer. But it took the trophy over what we view today as three cinematic greats in “Network.” “All the Presidents Men” and “Taxi Driver,” any of which could/should have won in a year when Rocky Balboa wasn’t competing.

Shocker #6: “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan,” “Life is Beautiful,” “Elizabeth” and “The Thin Red Line” (1999) -Everything was lined up for Steven Spielberg to win the biggest prize for his World War II epic “Saving Private Ryan,” especially after he won for directing. But the now-famed “Shakespeare in Love” campaign spearheaded by Harvey Weinstein paid off, resulting in a triumph no one can believe actually happened.

Shocker #7: “How Green Was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane,” “Blossoms in the Dust,” “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” “Hold Back the Dawn,” “The Little Foxes,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “One Foot in Heaven,” “Sergeant York” and “Suspicion” (1942) – It was the year of the Orson Welles masterpiece “Citizen Kane,” not to mention Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” and “Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart. The fact a nice little movie like “How Green Was My Valley” could emerge triumphant over them remains a travesty.

Shocker #8: “Parasite” over “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Joker,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “1917,” “Little Women” and “Marriage Story” (2020) – Parasite,” a black comedy from South Korea with English subtitles, somehow knocked off eight rivals, including the film Quentin Tarantino considers his best (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), a Scorsese film (“The Irishman”) and Sam Mendes’s WWI masterwork “1917” to become the first non-English language film to win Oscar’s biggest trophy. “Parasite” also won for Bong Joon-ho’s directing.

Shocker #9: “Around the World in 80 Days” over “Giant,” “The King and I,” “The Ten Commandments” and “Friendly Persuasion” (1957) – The Biblical epic “The Ten Commandments” was supposed to wipe out its competition here, but voters failed to heed the memo. They instead went for the adaptation of the Jules Verne novel about a hot air balloon adventure, but split their loyalty by choosing George Stevens as Best Director for “Giant.”

Shocker #10: “Chariots of Fire” over “Reds,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Atlantic City” and “On Golden Pond” (1982) – Twelve-time Oscar nominee “Reds” from and starring Beatty had the inside track to snare the biggest prizes of the night (movie, directing, screenplay) but instead won only for Best Director. The other two went to “Chariots,” a British import with major audience appeal. In hindsight, “Raiders” wouldn’t have been a bad choice, either. But it was not to be.

Shocker #11: “Argo” over “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Amour,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” “Life of Pi,” “Les Miserables” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2013) – It seemed like Academy Award voters weren’t taking “Argo” entirely seriously, seemingly giving it a reluctant nom for picture while snubbing director Ben Affleck. Spielberg and his “Lincoln” were seen as the favorites for pic and direction. But Ang Lee took Best Director and “Argo” was a surprising Best Picture victor, a rarity of rarities for a film without a directing nom.

Shocker #12: “An American in Paris” over “A Place in the Sun,” “Decision Before Dawn,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Quo Vadis” (1952) – The pundits were picking “A Place in the Sun” to take home the Oscars for picture and directing. George Stevens would again win the directing prize for “Sun,” but the sumptuous musical “An American in Paris” snapped up the biggest statuette of the night.

A few other interesting pieces of Best Picture trivia:

  • Only six performers have starred in three Best Picture-nominated films in the same year: Claudette Colbert in 1935 for “It Happened One Night,” “Cleopatra” and “Imitation of Life”; Charles Luighton in 1936 for “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Les Miserables” and “Ruggles of Red Gap”; Adolph Menjou in 1938 for “Stage Door,” “One Hundred Men and a Girl” and “A Star is Born”; Thomas Mitchell in 1940 for “Gone With the Wind,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Stagecoach”; John C. Reilly in 2003 for “Chicago,” “The Hours” and “Gangs of New York”; and Michael Stuhlbarg in 2018 for “The Shape of Water,” “The Post” and “Call Me By Your Name.”
  • Can you name the last entirely black-and-white film to win Best Picture? It was “The Artist” in 2012. The first time all five Best Picture nominees were shot in color was 1957.
  • This year’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” is one of only a dozen foreign-language films nominated for Best Picture. The others are “Grand Illusion” (1939), “Z” (1970), “The Emigrants” (1972), “Il Postino” (1996), “Life is Beautiful” (1999), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2001), “Amour” (2013), “Roma” (2019), “Parasite” (2020) and “Drive My Car” (2022).
  • The longest Best Picture winner in terms of time was “Lawrence of Arabia” (1963) at 3 hours, 42 minutes, a single minute longer than “Gone With the Wind” (1940). The shortest is “Marty” (1956) at 91 minutes.
  • William Wyler holds the record for directing the most Best Picture nominees (13) and winners (3).

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