Oscars History: The most competitive races since 1990

Submitted article With the 2015 Academy Awards coming up, many of the top categories don't have clear frontrunners. Often by this ti...

Submitted article

With the 2015 Academy Awards coming up, many of the top categories don't have clear frontrunners.

Often by this time, we more or less know which films are going to win which awards, thanks to the general buzz around Hollywood, as well as indications from other awards shows. But right now, the races for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director — along with other exciting categories — remain quite competitive.

And that got us thinking about some of the other particularly competitive categories in Oscars history. So just for fun in anticipation of the big show, here's a look back at some of the most tightly contested categories we can recall since 1990 (because we had to cut it off somewhere!).

Best Director - 1990 

Oliver Stone won this race for "Born On The Fourth Of July," and it's impossible to argue with that result. It was some of the best work from one of the most renowned directors in Hollywood, but this was an incredibly competitive field. Woody Allen and Kenneth Branagh were the other heavyweights (for "Crimes And Misdemeanors" and "Henry V," respectively), and Peter Weir ("Dead Poets Society") and Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot") may well have helmed the two most memorable films of 1990.

"Dead Poets Society" in particular proved to have enduring power, and it was brought up as a sad but fascinating talking point in the wake of Robin Williams' death in 2014. Interviewed by the Today show, Ethan Hawke — who was essentially a kid when he appeared in the film — spoke of the obvious pain Williams was feeling personally even back in 1990. It's a testament to both Williams' and Weir's greatness that such issues were worked through to craft an exceptional film. And yet, it's still hard to argue with Stone having earned the award.

Best Picture - 1995

Perhaps the most infamous race in recent history, the Best Picture contest in 1994 focused primarily on three films: "Pulp Fiction," "The Shawshank Redemption" and the eventual winner, "Forrest Gump" (though "Four Weddings And A Funeral" and "Quiz Show" were also nominated). Of those unofficial top-three, any would have been a worthy winner, and in fact many refer to "Forrest Gump" as one of the more surprising winners of all time. While "Pulp Fiction" helped to establish Quentin Tarantino as a genuine mastermind and "The Shawshank Redemption" is always high on lists of the best films of all time, "Forrest Gump" has probably proven to have the most staying power.

More than any other piece of work, it defined Tom Hanks' career. Even now — despite 20 years having elapsed (and no sequel having been made) — there are pop culture references aplenty referencing "Forrest Gump." Gaming platform InterCasino is home to a "Forrest Gump" game, applying the famous "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get" quote rather cleverly to the concept of a slot wheel. It's equipped with a design mimicking the iconic film poster for "Forrest Gump," and it naturally appeals to a broad audience of fans of the film. Most interestingly though, is the fact that games like these—slots with film themes—tend to be reserved for more current films, such as Marvel and DC comic adaptations. And yet, there's good old Forrest Gump right among them. That's some pretty serious staying power for the winner of arguably the most competitive single category in decades.

Best Actor - 1999

In 1999, Tom Hanks was at the height of his reign. He had consecutive Oscar wins from 1994 and 1995 under his belt, proved irresistibly enjoyable even in the fluffy 1998 film "You've Got Mail," and turned in a stirring performance as the lead in "Saving Private Ryan." Meanwhile, Edward Norton delivered what's still the best work of his career as neo-nazi Derek Vinyard in "American History X"; Nick Nolte wowed audiences in "Affliction"; and Ian McKellen earned his only Best Actor nomination for his role as James Whale in "Gods And Monsters." And none of these men won.

Instead, Roberto Benigni took home the award for his outstanding work in "Life Is Beautiful," one of the most successful foreign films ever at the Academy Awards. Empire Online called it one of the "most shocking Oscar injustices" that Norton didn't win, but the truth is this was an absolutely stellar lineup of contenders.

Best Actress - 2001

This is another race that many have referred to as a snub or injustice, but the reality is that it was simply very competitive. Joan Allen and Laura Linney were nominated for "The Contender" and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, and both were spectacular. But the three frontrunners turned in truly elite performances. Juliette Binoche could easily have won for her amazingly natural work in Chocolat, as could have Ellen Burstyn for "Requiem For A Dream." But in the end it was Julia Roberts, who may just have been the biggest name in Hollywood at the time, who took home the statue for her role as Erin Brockovich in the film of the same name. And perhaps it's time for a sequel!

The real life Brockovich has been back in the news of late, campaigning for change in what she's called "undrinkable" water supplies in Michigan. Some feel that Burstyn or Binoche should have won the hardware, but there's no pretending Roberts wasn't spectacular. Also, a sequel — to be clear, there's nothing in the works here — would be fascinating.

Best Picture - 2013

Finally, there's the most recent category that seemed almost unfairly competitive. Just two years ago at the 2013 Oscars, nine films from 2012 were nominated with no clear frontrunner. "Argo" eventually took the award, despite several other films boasting advantages for various reasons. "Life Of Pi" was the most visually interesting; "Lincoln" was the year's best biopic and perhaps included the strongest performance; "Silver Linings Playbook" was the underdog indie darling; and "Zero Dark Thirty" was the powerhouse drama that at one point had seemed destined for Oscars glory. That's without even mentioning "Amour," "Les Misérables," "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" or the outrageously enjoyable Tarantino film "Django Unchained." This one truly could have gone to any of nine nominees.

The 87th Academy Awards, for outstanding film achievements of 2014, will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and will be televised live on ABC and in more than 225 countries worldwide.

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The Gold Knight - Latest Academy Awards news, predictions and insight: Oscars History: The most competitive races since 1990
Oscars History: The most competitive races since 1990
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